Climate agnostic talks economics and climate change

Karla Karcioglu, Roving Editor Ω

James Gordon brought composting to TRU in the hopes it will influence people to start doing it at home to reduce green house gas emissions. Karla Karcioglu/The Omega

James Gordon brought composting to TRU in the hopes it will influence people to start doing it at home to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Karla Karcioglu/The Omega

TRU faculty, staff, students and Kamloops community members packed into a classroom in the science building on April 3 to attend a talk by self-proclaimed “climate agnostic” and economist, Jason Shogren.

With standing room only, more than 50 people listened as Shogren described how he measures probability of events and potential outcomes regarding climate change.

In 1997, Shogren served as senior economist of environmental and natural resource policy for the White House under the Clinton administration, he was a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, and he is currently professor and chair for the Department of Economics and Finance at the University of Wyoming.

Shogren described his role as advisory, determining how to balance what people want with what they need and the trade-offs between the economy and the environment, stressing that although the average person may not care about markets, they are important.

Shogren explained to the audience his system of calculation, describing the potential costs of doing nothing and the cost of doing something. If nothing is done there will be chronic damages and catastrophic risks, according to the scientific research, but if something is done there will be a drop in global GDP.

“So long as business leaders believe it’s a carbon constrained world, things will change not from the bottom up, but the midrange down,” Shogren said, calling it the most significant change in attitudes he has seen thus far.

Shogren said a major part of the problem is the developing countries, like China and India, who are heavily dependent on coal. Shogren said the developed world only produces “luxury emissions” with coal, but the developing world produces “survival emissions,” and that makes it more difficult to expect them to cut down.

“The smartest thing I should have done when I left the White House was build a consulting firm and call it ‘Engaging China,’” Shogren said.

According to Shogren, 20 to 25 per cent of targets can be easily met by doing simple things like replacing light bulbs with low carbon alternatives, but that is dependent on the motivations of individuals. Shogren said people are often motivated by costs and cited the example of Copenhagen, where most people ride bikes and gas costs $10 per gallon, which could be seen as an influencing factor.

Shogren pointed out that a lot of recent policy has been guided by behavioural economics.

“Do we want to be riding a bicycle everywhere in January?” Shogren asked.

For James Gordon, TRU’s environment programs coordinator, his job is all about engaging the people on campus, to convince them to do the little things that impact climate change.

Like Shogren, Gordon believes that behaviours as simple as changing a light bulb can make a difference. “We haven’t quite got the easy things figured out yet,” Gordon said.

The major role for the TRU department of environment and sustainability is education, according to Gordon.

Just recently the department organized a Sweater Day event on campus, which spread awareness about the impact of the demand for heating and cooling systems. According to Gordon, approximately 90 per cent of the campus’ CO2 emissions come from heating the buildings.

Gordon said people often “pray to the god of technology” for a solution, but it hasn’t happened yet.

Gordon advised starting with the easy stuff, like not idling your car in the winter, because according to him the engine does not need time to warm up.

“Don’t be such a wimp, you don’t need a warm cab,” Gordon said. “Put on a scarf.”

Gordon said composting is another way to make a difference, because when organic material enters the landfill it creates an anaerobic process due to a lack of oxygen which then produces methane gas. TRU recently began composting on campus as part of a pilot project being run by the environment and sustainability department.

Gordon said he wants people to recognize that it isn’t all bad news. The green economy and green jobs are creating lots of opportunity for entrepreneurs. For university students especially, according to Gordon, who called students the next generation of entrepreneurs with great opportunities.