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Environment Magazine September/October 2008


September-October 2012

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Books of Note

Roberto Repetto, America's Climate Problem: The Way Forward

Earthscan, 2011

In America's Climate Problem, Robert Repetto, an economist, articulates why the United States must address climate change and lays down economic and policy strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The book emphasizes that carefully designed policies can reduce greenhouse gas emissions without hurting the U.S. economy.

Repetto's main argument is that the most effective policy strategy is an “upstream cap-and-trade system” to regulate sales of fossil fuels to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Repetto discusses how a cap-and-trade approach will not have a negative impact on the U.S. economy, and in fact will drive innovations and transition to cleaner energies: “In serious economic analysis there is just no support for claims that enacting a comprehensive cap-and-trade regime designed to lower GHG emissions by 80% by 2050 would impose excessive or unsustainable costs on the economy or on households.” Implementation of an upstream cap-and-trade policy will result in net job gains, and these jobs will be in domestically based industries. Further, such an encompassing policy will be easy to monitor, will ensure compliance, and will reduce cost of administration. He also makes it clear that weak policies, or policies that do not encompass all sources of greenhouse gas emissions, will not succeed, will be more costly to regulate, and will have significant environmental damage and costs.

Repetto's book frankly discusses the many challenges the United States faces in acting intelligently about reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Challenges raised include the role of lobbyists and interest groups in funding election campaigns, getting public support around strong policies, reducing or removing subsidies to industries that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, and the resistance to factoring in future projections of the impact of climate change on resource management and policy decisions. Repetto acknowledges that some of these challenges arise due to the uncertainty of climate model predictions for the future, but he convincingly argues that ignoring climate change is dangerous and will be costly.

The book discusses how other nations are doing a lot more to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions compared to the United States. For example, China's fuel efficiency standard for vehicles is more restrictive than the United States', and China has begun to explore “clean-coal” technologies more aggressively than the United States. China is now the leader in the solar energy industry. Repetto points out that there are economic gains to be made by a country taking the lead on renewable technologies. The message is that the United States needs to act immediately to implement comprehensive policies that not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but also promote energy efficiency and serious investments in renewable energies. Such policies will only help the economy. By not instituting these policies the United States will suffer significant environmental damages as a result of climate change, as well as lose out in leading the development of new technologies.

The book is not an easy read. It presents the stark reality of inaction and the huge challenges in getting the political system and public to pay serious attention to climate change. It packs details and must be read carefully. The book includes statements that could have been more clearly supported if examples had been provided or that seem to overlook underlying complexities. Yet the book's main arguments on the importance of comprehensive policies to reduce greenhouse gas emission, which will help, not hurt, the U.S. economy, are strong and well supported. This book provides clear ways forward to avoid significant environmental and economic damages now and in the future.

Bhawani Venkataraman, Eugene Lang College, The New School for Liberal Arts, New York, New York

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