Wisdom From France: Mitigation and/or Adaptation of Global Ills Must be Inclusive

After an election, it is not unusual for the winners to declare that they were chosen to be the government of all the people. Such declarations, to be credible, require that the most important legislations include the equivalent of an “economic impact” statement to measure winners and losers. In legislations directed at climate change, the most important initiatives involve mitigation and adaptation – i.e. trying to minimize the impacts and adjust to the changes. The international community, mainly via the United Nations, recognized this need for inclusion even before the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. But the recognition was extended only to sovereign states, not to individual citizens. We are now paying the price.

Last week’s blog focused on the Yellow Vest demonstrations in France. Somewhere, toward the end of the blog, I tried to summarize the situation:

The conditions in France were ripe and the trigger was the small increase in the price of fuel. Fortunately, we now have data that will help us to form an opinion on whether the conditions exist elsewhere for such an explosion of dissent.

After posting the blog, I emailed the link to my friends and family in France. I got immediate responses from two of them. One family member preferred to send his feedback directly via email. The other posted his comment on last week’s blog. I decided to focus this last blog of 2018 on their replies.

Below is the comment that was emailed directly to me:

Interesting way to put things in perspective.
In my opinion, one of the key is the timeline: the government try to implement comportemental behaviour (using tax pression or gift) in less a decade, which is violently short.

Give some time to people, especially low income people, to swift from fossile to renewable energies and changes will be smoother, and personal present consideration will meet future humanity survival.

Mathieu’s comment, directly posted on last week’s blog, includes the following paragraph:

You had in Paris about 10 K people protesting, 8 K policeman, 1 K arrests! (1/10)
BUT. There was in the same time a march for climate. How many people? Organizers say 25 K. Police 17 K. They thanked police (and media) not for being there, so it was calm.

Some interesting comments here https://www.ft.com/content/e2fabeaa-fd9e-11e8-aebf-99e208d3e521

My immediate thoughts on these comments were that they weren’t very helpful. But I was thankful Mathieu had made me aware of the second demonstration that I had no idea about. I also promised to respond in detail to my other relative’s suggestion that people need more time with some estimates of how much time people might need to “digest” policies targeted at climate change mitigation.

Let me try to be a bit more helpful here.

The recent IPCC report emphasizes that we have almost missed the deadline to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5oC (2.7oF) at the end of the century and all signs indicate we are presently on our way to a rise of 3oC (5.4oF). However, such a drastic shift in our energy use on a global scale has to be a political move. In “liberal” or even “illiberal” democratic countries, political moves on such a scale have to be inclusive. The international community recognized this necessity and any calls for such a shift were predicated on nearly unanimous agreement from all sovereign countries as well as recognition of the different needs and responsibilities of the developed and developing countries. However, there was no attempt to be inclusive of individual citizens within those countries.

Less than two months ago (October 30, 2018), I tried to identify the main global changes that have taken place in my lifetime. Many of these have strong political ramifications that need to be addressed before any major global change can take place. Almost all of the metrics mentioned in Table 1 have direct ramifications for climate change. The only one whose connection is less than obvious is the degree of urbanization that took place over this period. However, even this indicator is included in the climate change category of the World Bank database (see April 7, 2015 blog).

Table 1 – Yardsticks for the global transition

Presently, the most direct tool that governments have to try to shift energy use to a more sustainable mix is the carbon tax. Wikipedia’s description of the global distribution of carbon taxes includes the measure’s status in France:

In 2013, a carbon tax was again announced for France. Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault launched the new Climate Energy Contribution (CEC) on September 21, 2013. The tax will apply at a rate of €7/tonne CO2 in 2014, €14.50 in 2015 and rising to €22 in 2016.[102] As of 2018, the carbon tax is at €44/tonne.[103]

In the fall of 2018, French President Emmanuel Macron, who campaigned on the pledge to “Make Our Planet Great Again,” introduced a carbon tax. The tax revenues were meant to subsidize green industries like wind and solar, shut down of 14 nuclear power plants, and eventually shut down all French coal plants by 2022.[104] His proposals led to mass protests, however, with hundreds of thousands of angry French citizens wearing yellow vests as a symbol of unity. Some protesters felt the tax on fuel would be especially costly to citizens living outside the cities, as they did not have as many mass transportation options as urban residents.[105] On December 4, the government suspended the carbon tax, justifying the suspension because, as French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe, said, “No tax is worth putting in danger the unity of the nation.”[106]

It is a complicated issue and one of the major unsettled disputes is what to do with the income generated through such taxation. There are various suggestions, but a clear analysis of (potential) winners and losers through such tax, to my knowledge, is not yet available. Directing some of the resources to facilitating transportation in rural environments – one of the Yellow Vest demonstrations’ triggers – might help.

I will expand on these issues in future blogs.

I hope that in some near future we will be able to unite the two French demonstrations to join together with a joint cry to save us all!

Happy 2019!!

About climatechangefork

Micha Tomkiewicz, Ph.D., is a professor of physics in the Department of Physics, Brooklyn College, the City University of New York. He is also a professor of physics and chemistry in the School for Graduate Studies of the City University of New York. In addition, he is the founding-director of the Environmental Studies Program at Brooklyn College as well as director of the Electrochemistry Institute at that same institution.
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7 Responses to Wisdom From France: Mitigation and/or Adaptation of Global Ills Must be Inclusive

  1. Markela Agolli says:

    Although I think that when it comes to climate change we need to act quickly and drastically, ensuring our actions will actually be effective, I see how it’s important to give people time to adjust to the changes. Easing into new climate practices will allow people to get comfortable with the ideas as well as allow us to see the effects of the practices. But I think that while we shouldn’t rush into things and give people a reasonable amount of time to adapt, we also shouldn’t wait longer than necessary to move forward with climate change policy.

  2. Vincent Tang says:

    Working towards a climate-friendly environment is important, but we should ease into instead of rush into new practises to reduce carbon emissions to improve our climate. Too quick of a change may result in unforeseen consequences, whereas going gradually would allow us to try new methods and observe the effects they have. However, we should be focused on what we need to do and be diligent in our efforts and not elongate the process.

  3. Jennifer Dong says:

    Leaning towards more climate-friendly environment is harder than it sounds. We been dealing with this problem for so long and it is still an issue. I agree that raising the tax on things like fuel will make people looking for more friendly sources but this all depends on the government. Our carbon footprint can’t change if our government isn’t focused on global warming issues.

  4. Kristina Wetterich says:

    Though I can understand why people might need to ease into a more climate-friendly environment due to changes in businesses, I think it is more important to make changes as quickly as possible so we can get on the right track to fixing the climate. If we don’t fix the climate and start taking important measures like taxing fuel, then we will never combat this issue.

  5. Mhetaz Karim says:

    A tax on fuel will give people incentive to look for alternatives, if successful it will help the planet be more sustainable in the long run.

  6. climatechangefork says:

    Fully agree.

    Happy New Year.

  7. Mathieu says:

    In my opinion, in France about fuel taxation, the problem is that fuel is so much taxed (about 0,60-0,70 cts/l plus 0,25 VAT which means tax on tax for a global price of 1,30-1,50 euro/l) is the that you can add about 0,10 its/l of carbon tax, nobody see it a climate contribution. Today, 31st december, fuel is at it lowest price of 2018. But it has little to do with the 6 month suspension of the carbon tax decided by the government. Prices have dropped about 0,30 cts in 6 weeks, and Yellow Vests extremists are still here. When the taxes are about 60 % of a good’s price
    there is no way to say that you add a little % for the planet. It’s just invisible. People just see what they have to pay for a full tank. If there is in there 10 cts more because of a tax or a global petrol price, it makes no difference.
    I have no idea how you can communicate about the carbon cost in this sad situation.

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