December 10, 2018
By: Michelle Courtright, Window into COP24 Delegate

Journey to Poland: Unrest in Paris

As I’m headed to Poland with the excitement of world engagement on climate change, I’m reminded of the economic realities of policy change with a carbon tax.

Yellow VestsFrom my window in the Marais area of Paris, I can see hundreds of “yellow vests” that are taking to the streets to revolt against Macron’s carbon tax and the burden it puts on lower income citizens. We all bear the responsibility of creating solutions that will slow greenhouse gases immediately, but what happens when it disproportionately affects people on the lower end of the economic spectrum?

We’ve created a global economy that encourages consumption and excess but now that reductions in greenhouse gases need to be made quickly, we’re hoping individuals will bear the financial brunt of the problem instead of requiring corporations and governments to adapt their technologies. Not to say that we shouldn’t encourage people to consume less gas or use public transport, but it’s not realistic to ask a minimum wage worker who is barely making ends meet to pay an additional tax for their carbon consumption, when we know technologies exist that would allow for massive reductions in GHG emissions at an institutional level.

I am heading to Poland to learn more about livestock agriculture and its effect on climate change, and there is nothing related to individual economic security more than food.

Agriculture experts say farmers could be caught between policy changes that not only raise their production costs but face climate impacts that erode their productivity. Yields for crops such as corn, soybeans, and wheat are projected to decline as the century continues because of higher temperatures, changes in water availability, and disease, as the National Climate Assessment warns.

But although the USDA’s approach to managing climate risk has included drought tolerance research, water management, and improved irrigation systems, we need to take a closer look at the inefficiencies of creating crops that largely serve to produce livestock for us to eat. It’s a massively ineffective way to feed the world and can easily be replaced with more plant-based eating that requires far less water and energy to produce.

I often hear that people cannot eat a plant-based diet because it’s too expensive to buy vegetables, yet a pound of beef can cost $5 to $8 per pound. Protein-packed lentils, beans, and legumes by comparison are generally under $2 per pound and create far less water and energy waste.

External costs of producing meat will disproportionately affect low income people globally as the world heats up.

Severe weather, heat waves, and lack of clean water will kill millions in this century and although it’s something we won’t think about at the grocery store, it will be felt economically as we pay more for everything from gas to consumer goods.

As people take to the streets to fight carbon taxes, it’s worth considering what policies will create more economic stress on the average citizen.