This week the Government gave more details about the planned carbon tax, aimed at putting a price on carbon dioxide emissions.
The awareness of climate change in governments across the globe is a clear example of governments responding to rigorous work and solid evidence from the natural sciences.
However, will responses like the carbon tax work in practise? Here, we are on far less firm ground. The planet’s responses to our emissions are becoming fairly well understood. We are beginning to be able to say that if we double the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, then we can predict the chances of particular climate changes. However, the responses of people and the economy to mitigative actions are far less well known. The understanding of these responses among social scientists and economists requires more research. This makes up the flip side of the coin in how humanity and the global climate interact and is just as serious a problem as the natural problem.
Because of this lack of understanding, researchers are limited in their ability to guide policy makers. There are many questions to be studied: around changing land use, measuring the nation’s carbon cycle, what changes people’s desires and their behaviour, and markets for emissions.
And for a specifically New Zealand research question – unlike most western nations, almost half of our greenhouse gas emissions are methane and nitrous oxides from agriculture, not carbon dioxide. Can we reduce this, aside from just getting rid of all our cows? NZ is supporting research into different pasture species, and possible additions to animal foods to reduce methane emissions, all questions for natural scientists. If this approach does work, then how should the costs and benefits of these solutions be distributed? That is another question for social scientists and economists.
Four, FOUR cents on a litre of petrol. Oh ffs! That’s going to make bugger all difference. No, we need something with muscle. Try UK petrol prices, $2 per litre. That might shift things a tad.