Carbon sinning

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

I'd just finished yet another Skype meeting when I noticed the article in the Huff Post on academic airmilesThe Climate Change Hypocrisy Of Jet-Setting Academics.  There wasn't much new in this about the problem of academics (and others) jet-setting around the globe lecturing other people on climate change (most of whom will also have jet-setted as well).  As a reformed sinner, I read it with interest, and probably too much satisfaction.

The self-serving rationales were all too familiar:

  1. We bike to work (or drive a Prius or a Leaf), therefore international or cross-country travel is OK.
  2. Because we are the global experts, travel is required to disseminate knowledge and to solve global problems.
  3. We buy carbon offsets.

Of these, [2] is particularly egregious.  The authors wrote:

"One way is to increase the cost of travel by requiring professors and their funders to pay for the social cost of carbon. Higher travel costs would force academics to prioritize and they would travel only for the most important events.  We suggest a two-step approach: [i] transparency;[ii] an internal carbon tax.


In relation to a carbon tax, they wrote:
"Scholars have developed very good estimates of the social cost of carbon. Based on these estimates, universities could tax carbon emissions. ... an internal carbon tax of $20 per ton (as per Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s 2018 proposal) would amount to slightly less than $500,000, a very small sum for a university with an operating budget of over $7 billion. The tax would be paid either by the department in which the traveler was located, or by the funding agency defraying the cost of the research-related travel. Of course, if the university hosting the professor wanted to pay the tax instead, that could be credited to the professor’s carbon account.  For equity reasons, a carbon tax should be tiered. Those below a specific travel threshold ― say 25,000 miles per year ― could be exempted. The marginal tax on carbon emissions could rise in a graduated fashion, with the rates for every tier adjusted so that on average, the university fully internalizes the social cost of carbon for the professional travel of its professors.  Universities could then use these funds to buy carbon offsets. Professors could buy offsets on their own as well and universities could then deduct the amount from that person’s carbon tax payment.
 But will it catch on?  Why don't we FaceTime to talk it through ...

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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