Climate change deniers misuse hunger study (as predicted)

  • Published on August 4th, 2018

study published in Environmental Research Letters last month provides a stark warning about unintended consequences of putting a single global price on carbon: higher food prices, and therefore an increase in global hunger. This would be particularly acute in developing regions that are already struggling with food security.

Failure to act on climate change will cost TRILLIONS of dollarsBy Climate Denier Roundup

The modeling showed that if a blanket carbon tax were imposed across all sectors and all countries, it would lead to more food insecurity than climate change alone would. By levying a tax on agricultural emissions and making land more valuable for growing biofuels instead of crops, for example, a blanket carbon tax would worsen global food insecurity.

But the press release is clear in that the authors “stress that their results should not be used to argue against greenhouse gas emissions reduction efforts.” Rather, they’re illustrating the need for well-designed and nuanced policies to prevent or ameliorate these accidental impacts.

Deniers, of course, seem to have conveniently missed that part. WUWTGWPF and JoNova all spun the research as showing that climate action is bad and that even aiming for the 2C target will lead to world hunger.

Reuters unfortunately uses this framing in its headline, but did get into some of the details about the need for targeted policies. Carbon Brief, though, does a great job reporting on the findings and unpacking what it means for policymakers.

In short, the study means that the simplest policy, and the one preferred by the scant few conservatives who aren’t in denial about the problem, is far from a silver bullet. Instead, solutions must be paired with policies that reflect the fact that the US and European nations grew rich off of our fossil fuel use, accumulating wealth in part by not paying to properly dispose of our carbon waste. Now that we know other nations can’t follow suit, it is only fair that we use some of that wealth to ensure people aren’t starving.

This idea also gets to the heart of the issue last year with Washington state’s failed carbon tax initiative. Yes, a carbon tax is a market-friendly policy that conservatives can support without abandoning their ideology. But it’s also a blunt instrument that, as this study shows, can lead to some rather unsavory outcomes. In Washington, there were problems because the initiative failed to incorporate the voices of underserved communities. This is the same sort of story, on the global level.

In contrast to the claims of deniers, this study isn’t evidence that climate action is futile or worse. Instead, it’s an argument for inclusivity, for paying particular attention to the needs of those who are already suffering to ensure that mitigating emissions doesn’t exacerbate existing inequities. It’s just the latest piece of evidence demonstrating the absolute need for intersectionality. Because if there’s anything that the NYT Magazine issue about climate failure should teach us, it’s that a handful of mostly white mostly men aren’t going to save the world by themselves.

(Originally appeared at DailyKos.)

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