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Gigantic Cost Of Requisite Climate Change Action Threatens  
Massive Intergenerational Inequity And Intergenerational Injustice

By Dr Gideon Polya

01 August, 2013

Climate change inaction is threatening massive intergenerational inequity and intergenerational injustice Despoilation of the environment due to greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution and resultant climate change are the legacies to future generations of current climate criminal, carbon pollution profligacy and climate change inaction. However a huge violation of intergenerational equity and intergenerational justice (and hence intergenerational inequity and intergenerational injustice)  is the immense cost of reversing 2 centuries of fossil fuel burning by biochar-based return of the  atmospheric CO2 concentration to the pre-industrial 300 ppm  from the current 400 ppm, this being variously estimated below at $13 trillion to $53 trillion (US dollars)  or 15-62% of the current world annual GDP of $85 trillion. The good news is that these numbers, while daunting, show that it is still possible to save the world from climate genocide. However massive predicted methane release from the warming Arctic means that we are doomed unless there is extremely rapid action to stop further Arctic warming and disastrous  man-made climate change.

Eminent US climate scientist Dr James Hansen (former head, NASA's Goddard Institute of Space Studies and adjunct professor at 96-Nobel Laureate Columbia University) has commented on this key intergenerational equity and intergenerational justice issue in arguing for a progressive and effective Carbon Tax with the proceeds being paid directly to the public (“carbon fee and dividend”: “Fee and dividend can begin with the countries now considering cap and trade. Other countries will either agree to a carbon fee or have duties placed on their products that are made with fossil fuels. As the carbon price rises, most coal, tar sands and oil shale will be left in the ground. The marketplace will determine the roles of energy efficiency, renewable energy and nuclear power in our clean energy future. Cap and trade with offsets, in contrast, is astoundingly ineffective. Global emissions rose rapidly in response to Kyoto , as expected, because fossil fuels remained the cheapest energy. Cap and trade is an inefficient compromise, paying off numerous special interests. It must be replaced with an honest approach, raising the price of carbon emissions and leaving the dirtiest fossil fuels in the ground. Are we going to stand up and give global politicians a hard slap in the face, to make them face the truth? It will take a lot of us – probably in the streets. Or are we going to let them continue to kid themselves and us and cheat our children and grandchildren? Intergenerational inequity is a moral issue. Just as when Abraham Lincoln faced slavery and when Winston Churchill faced Nazism, the time for compromises and half-measures is over. Can we find a leader who understands the core issue and will lead?” [1].

The key issue is that fossil fuel users are not paying the true price of fossil fuel burning for present and future generations. As Dr Hansen states: “Fossil fuels are cheapest because they are not made to pay for their effects on human health, the environment and future climate”  [1]. A study commissioned by the Ontario Government, Canada , found that the true price of coal-based power in Ontario taking environmental and health impacts into account is 4-5 times the actual market price. Paul Gipe on Ontario coal burning-based deaths (2005):  “ Ontario 's ruling party swept to power in the fall of 2003 on a series of promises. One of the most far reaching was its proposal to close the province's coal-fired power plants by 2007. They argued that it was necessary to close the plants to protect the health of Ontario residents who lived downwind. Critics, notably in North America 's fossil-fuel industry, have labeled this unrealistic if not foolhardy. Ontario generates nearly 27 TWh per year from 6,450 MW of coal-fired power plants, almost one-fifth of total provincial generation… Despite these and other limitations, the study provides sufficient economic grounds for the province to close the coal plants because of the plants' excessive environmental and social costs. Coal plants kill 668 people per year in Ontario , says the report, and cause 1,100 emergency room visits, and more than 300,000 minor illnesses per year. These and previous findings by the Ontario Medical Association were the rationale used by Ontario 's ruling party in arriving at its campaign promise… The study estimated that the total net present value of coal-fired generation is costing Ontario $0.164 CAD/kWh. Environmental and health costs accounted for 77% to total generation costs” [2, 3].

It is future generations who will have to pick up the cost of this huge hidden current subsidy of fossil fuel burning.  There are various ways of assessing this ever-increasing carbon debt and ever-increasing intergenerational inequity and intergenerational injustice as outlined below.

1. The cost of sequestering generated CO2 as biochar.

Top climate scientists and biologists say that the atmospheric  CO2 concentration must be rapidly returned from the present circa 400 ppm CO2 to about 300 ppm CO2 for a safe planet for all peoples and all species [4]. Currently, apart from re-afforestation, a major way of returning atmospheric CO2 back to 300 ppm CO2 is through producing biochar (carbon, charcoal,  C) through anaerobic pyrolysis of cellulosic  biomass waste in renewable energy-driven microwave furnaces at 500-700C. With  existing  agricultural  and forestry waste this could achieve about 9 Gt C per year, roughly the same as the annual industrial output of carbon into the atmosphere [5].

The cost of conversion of cellulosic waste to biochar in the US mid-West is about $49-$74 per tonne CO2 as compared to $210-$303 per tonne CO2 in the UK [6]. The current price of Australian thermal coal is about $90-$105 per tonne of coal  [7]. Assuming a price of $100 per tonne of coal,   and assuming an average 70% carbon content by weight (about 60% for brown coal and 80% for black coal) the price would be ($100/tonne coal) x (tonne coal/0.7 tonne carbon) x (12 tonne carbon/44 tonne CO2) =  $39.0 per tonne of CO2 on eventual combustion. It can thus be estimated that  for every $1 received for coal by the coal industry our children, grandchildren and further generations will have to spend about $1.3 - $1.9 at present prices converting the consequent CO2 back to biochar at the US mid-West cost of biochar (or about $5.4-$7.8  on the UK-based cost basis) .

One can similarly determine that the biochar production-related debt for future generations for every $1 received by the gas-based electricity industry. Thus the current wholesale price of electricity  in Queensland, Australia  is $50 per MWh  and a modern gas turbine gas-fired power station  generates about 0.65  tonnes  CO2/MWh  or  about ($50/ MWh) x (1 MWh/ 0.65 tonnes CO2)  = $77 per tonne CO2.  Accordingly for every $1 received by the gas-based electricity industry, the cost at present prices of  converting the resultant CO2 back to biochar   will be about $0.6-$1.0 at present prices for  the US mid-West  and  $2.7-$3.9 for the UK .

2. The biochar-based cost of returning  the atmosphere to 300 ppm CO2.

There are now about 700  billion tonnes of CO2 in the atmosphere  and the additional CO2 that has increased the atmospheric CO2 from the preindustrial circa 300 ppm to a current 400 ppm is 0.25 x 700 billion tonnes = 175 billion tonnes CO2. The cost of returning the atmospheric CO2 back to 300 ppm CO2 via biochar production and storage is accordingly $8.6 trillion to $13.0 trillion (based on the cost of US mid-West biochar production and storage ) or $36.8 trillion to $53.0 trillion (based on the cost of UK biochar production and storage).   To put these numbers into an economic context, the Gross World Product (GWP), the combined gross national product of all the countries in the world  (that,  because imports and exports balance exactly when considering the whole world, also equals the total global gross domestic product , GDP) totalled about US$85.0 trillion in 2012.

Thus the immense cost of reversing 2 centuries of fossil fuel burning by biochar-based return of the  atmospheric CO2 concentration to the pre-industrial 300 ppm  from the current 400 ppm is  $13 trillion to $53 trillion. or 15-62% of the current world annual GDP of US$85 trillion. While this is an immense cost, a positive view of these estimates is that they  show that it is still possible to save the world from disaster.

3. $390 trillion to $1,590 trillion biochar-based bill for tackling Arctic methane leakage.

Dr Chris Hope (Judge Business School, University of Cambridge, UK) (in collaboration  with colleagues) has estimated the cost of a predicted 50 billion tonne methane leakage from the warming Arctic in coming decades: “The $60 trillion is the impact that this extra emission of methane, about 50 billion tonnes of it, it's the extra impact it would have over the whole time period that that methane would stay in the atmosphere and across all the countries of the world. So, methane typically stays in the atmosphere about 10 years or so and its effects would carry on probably for another 30, 40, 50 years after that. So what we're talking about is the extra impacts over that sort of time period, all discounted, brought back to a present day value and the mean value we get for that is about $60 trillion extra, which is roughly the size of the world economy in one year at the moment” [8, 9].

However methane (CH4) has a Global Warming Potential (GWP) 105 times greater than that of carbon dioxide (CO2) on a 20 year time frame and taking aerosol impacts into account. [10, 11]. Accordingly this predicted 50 billion tonnes of CH4 is equivalent  to 50 x 105 = 5,250 billion tonnes CO2-equivalent (CO2-e ) and the cost of $13 trillion to $53 trillion for 175 billion tonnes CO2 (see item  #2) translates conservatively to $390 trillion to $1,590 trillion for conversion of 5,250 billion tonnes of CO2-e via CO2  to biochar . This estimate represents about 5 to 20 years of  world GDP and tells even the most optimistic person that we are doomed unless radical action is taken now to stop Arctic warming immediately (for an alphabetical  compendium of related views see the website  “Are we doomed?” [12]).

4. $150 per tonne CO2-e Carbon Tax to help stop fossil fuel burning.

What is required to save the world  is rapid transition to 100% renewable energy or non-carbon energy (solar PV, concentrated solar thermal, wind, wave, geothermal),  massive re-afforestation and massive CO2 sequestration as biochar, coupled with rapid cessation of population growth, deforestation, and of agricultural and industrial greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution. As outlined by top climate economists like Dr Chris Hope (89-Nobel-Laureate University of Cambridge ) [8]  and top climate scientists  like Dr James Hansen (NASA and 96-Nobel-Laureate Columbia University) [1], a market-based mechanism to promote this is an appropriately  tough Carbon Price.

Top climate economists and top climate scientists  have slammed the Cap-and Trade, Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) approach for being (a) empirically unsuccessful, (b) accordingly  utterly counterproductive, and (c) inherently  fraudulent in that particular governments would be selling something that they have no right to sell, namely licences to pollute the one common atmosphere of all countries of the world . In short, the ETS approach is an elaborate con designed to enrich  dishonest, climate criminal  politicians and corporations at the expense of the environment, Humanity and the Biosphere.

Climate criminal Australia is one of the world's worst annual per capita GHG polluters with an annual per capita Domestic GHG pollution of about 25 tonnes CO2-e per person per year (as compared to 6.7  for the world) and an annual per capita Domestic plus Exported GHG pollution of 74  tonnes CO2-e per person per year. The Australian Liberal Party-National Party Coalition Opposition and the Australian Labor Party Government  (collectively  known as the Lib-Labs or the Liberal-Laborals) have exactly the same disastrous policy of a derisory “5% off  2000 GHG pollution by 2020” coupled with unlimited coal, gas and iron ore exports that will see Australia exceed by a factor of three (3) the whole world's 2010-2050 terminal GHG pollution budget of 600 billion tonnes of CO2 that must not be exceeded if are to have a 75% chance of avoiding a catastrophic 2C temperature rise [13, 14, 15].  In order to have a 75% chance of avoiding a catastrophic 2C temperature rise the world must cease fossil fuel burning within 5- 16 years [16, 17].

The Australian Labor Government adopted a Carbon Tax-ETS plan but recently terminated the Carbon Tax for dishonest political reasons and will revert to an ETS in mid-2014 with the Carbon Price collapsing from about $25 per tonne CO2-e to about $6 per tonne CO2-e. The Opposition rejects the Carbon Tax and ETS approaches and has a much-too-little-too-late  Direct Action plan involving subsidies for dirty industry  willing to clean up somewhat. Dr Chris Hope ( Judge Business School , University of Cambridge , UK ) has slammed  both the ETS and Direct Action approaches in the following recent interview:

“EMMA ALBERICI [ABC]: But specifically on the reason it was initially conceived, has the EU [ETS] system actually worked, eight years after it was launched? Has it managed to reduce carbon emissions in the European region?

CHRIS HOPE: It's very hard to say because it's very hard to work out what the emissions would've been without the emissions trading scheme, because as you know, we've been through in Europe quite a severe recession as a result of the financial crisis of 2007 onwards and so it's very hard to see what the emissions would've been. But I think most people would say that it has been nowhere near as successful at reducing emissions as we would've hoped it would be and as a sensible carbon tax at a sensible level of maybe $100 per tonne of carbon dioxide would be.

EMMA ALBERICI: And we're running out of time, but I also wanted to ask you because our Opposition conservative Coalition favours a direct action plan involving the buying of emissions reductions through a series of government grants. Is that a system you're familiar with anywhere else in the world and does it work?

CHRIS HOPE: It's a system effectively of giving subsidies to people not to emit pollution. It's a very bad system. The last thing you want to be doing is subsidising people who are doing bad things. What you want to do is use the polluter-pays principle, make sure that anybody who is emitting pollution pays for the damage that that pollution is causing. And the best estimate that we have for the damage that's being caused by carbon dioxide emissions is about $100 worth of damage for every tonne of carbon dioxide that goes into the atmosphere. That's the carbon price you should be setting and it should be set ideally as a carbon tax which is charged on every tonne of emissions and increases over time.” [8].

 Indeed Dr Chris Hope advocates a Carbon  Tax of $150 per tonne CO2-e, stating (2011): “If the best current scientific and economic evidence is to be believed, and climate change could be a real and serious problem, the appropriate response is to institute  today a climate change tax equal to the mean estimate of the damage caused by a tonne of CO2. emissions. The raw calculations from the default PASGE09 model suggest that tax should be about $100 per tonne of CO2 in the EU. But correcting for the limited time horizon of the model, and bringing the calculations forward to 2102, in year 2012 dollars, brings the suggested tax up to about $150 per tonne of CO2.” [18]. I have estimated a $150 per tonne CO2-e  cost of (1) $12 billion per year of Australian subsidies for fossil fuel burning and (2) about 10,000 Australian deaths annually associated with pollutants from carbon burning  [19].  

Unfortunately, the Western democracies like climate criminal Australia have become Murdochracies, Lobbyocracies and Corporatocracies in which Big Money buys politicians, parties, policies, public perception of reality, votes and political power. The Corporatist West resolutely refuses to take requisite action on climate change. Corporate and Corporatist Mainstream media resolutely refuse to report reality, this disastrous failure being exemplified by the taxpayer-funded Australian Broadcasting  Corporation (the ABC, Australia's equivalent of the UK BBC) that has an appalling record of censoring, incorrect reportage and lying by omission [20, 21].


Failure of the world to tackle man-made climate change massively  violates i ntergenerational equity and intergenerational justice. The cost of reversing 2 centuries of fossil fuel burning by means of biochar-based return of the  atmospheric CO2 concentration to the pre-industrial 300 ppm  from the current 400 ppm has been estimated at $13 trillion to $53 trillion (US dollars)  or 15-62% of the current world annual GDP of $85 trillion. These  numbers, while horrifying ,  nevertheless show that it is still conceivable (albeit unlikely) that we could  save the world from climate disaster. However massive predicted methane release from the warming Arctic in coming decades means that we are doomed unless there is extremely rapid action to stop further Arctic warming and disastrous  man-made climate change.

The climate criminal older generation still refuses to act and accordingly young people must seize their future by rejecting the terracidal  neoliberals dominating Western politics and by boycotting all corporations, countries, people, politicians, parties and policies  linked to the worsening climate genocide. In practice, at the ballot box, that means that young people must vote 1 Socialist or vote 1 Green to help save Humanity and the Biosphere. The world is badly running out of time to act on the worsening climate emergency.


[1]. James Hansen, “ It's Possible To Avert The Climate Crisis ”, Countercurrents, 29 November 2009: http://www.countercurrents.org/hansen291109.htm .

[2]. Paul Gipe, “ Ontario study identifies social costs of coal-fired power plants”, EV World, : http://www.evworld.com/news.cfm?newsid=8836 .

[3]. DSS Management Consultants Inc. and  RWDI Air Inc., for the Ontario Ministry of Energy, "Cost Benefit Analysis: Replacing Ontario's Coal-Fired Electricity Generation" by April, 2005, 93 pages:
http://www.energy.gov.on.ca/english/pdf/electricity/coal_cost_benefit_analysis_april2005.pdf .

[4]. “300.org – return atmosphere CO2 to 300 ppm”, 300.org: http://sites.google.com/site/300orgsite/300-org---return-atmosphere-co2-to-300-ppm .

[5]. “Forest biomass-derived Biochar can profitably reduce global warming and bushfire risk”, Yarra Valley Climate Action Group: https://sites.google.com/site/yarravalleyclimateactiongroup/forest-biomass-derived-biochar-can-profitably-reduce-global-warming-and-bushfire-risk .

[6]. Simon Shackley, Jim Hammond, John Gaunt and Rodrigo Ibarrollo, “The feasibility and costs of biochar deployment in the UK ”, Carbon Management, 2(3), 335-356 (2011):  http://www.geos.ed.ac.uk/homes/sshackle/CostsBiochar.pdf .

[7]. “More coal cuts loom as process retreat”, Sydney Morning Herald, 24 May 2013: http://www.smh.com.au/business/carbon-economy/more-coal-cuts-loom-as-prices-retreat-20130524-2k4r3.html .

[8]. Dr Chris Hope interviewed by  Emma Alberici, “Climate economist warns of impact climate change" , ABC Lateline, 29 July 2103: http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/content/2013/s3813766.htm  .

[9]. Gail Whiteman, Chris Hope and Peter Wadhams, “Vast costs of Arctic change”, Nature, 499, 25 July 2013: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v499/n7459/pdf/499401a.pdf  and http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v499/n7459/full/499401a.html .

[10].  Drew T. Shindell , Greg Faluvegi, Dorothy M. Koch ,   Gavin A. Schmidt ,   Nadine Unger and Susanne E. Bauer , “Improved Attribution of Climate Forcing to Emissions”, Science, 30 October 2009:
Vol. 326 no. 5953 pp. 716-718: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/326/5953/716 .

[11]. Shindell et al (2009), Fig.2: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/326/5953/716.figures-only .

[12].  "Are we doomed? Too late to save earth?", 300.org: https://sites.google.com/site/300orgsite/are-we-doomed

[13]. ”2011 climate change course” https://sites.google.com/site/300orgsite/2011-climate-change-course .

[14].   “ Climate Genocide”: https://sites.google.com/site/climategenocide/ .

[15]. Gideon Polya, “ Australia 's Huge Coal, Gas & Iron Ore Exports Threaten Planet”, Countercurrents, 15 May 2012: http://www.countercurrents.org/polya150512.htm .

[16].   Gideon Polya,  " Doha climate change inaction. Only 5 years left to act", MWC News, 9 December 2012: http://mwcnews.net/focus/analysis/23373-gideonpolya-climate-change.html .

[17]. p7, Australian Climate Commission, “The critical decade 2013: a summary of climate change science, risks and responses”, 2013: http://climatecommission.gov.au/wp-content/uploads/The-Critical-Decade-2013-Summary_lowres.pdf .

[18]. Dr Chris Hope, “How high should climate change taxes be?”, Working Paper Series, Judge Business School, University of Cambridge, 9.2011: http://www.jbs.cam.ac.uk/research/working_papers/2011/wp1109.pdf .

[19]. “Australian carbon burning-related deaths and carbon burning subsidies => minimum Carbon Price of A$554 per tonne carbon (C) or A$151 per tonne CO2-e ”, Yarra Valley Climate Action Group: http://sites.google.com/site/yarravalleyclimateactiongroup/2011-carbon-burning .

[20]. “ABC Fact-checking Unit & incorrect reportage by the ABC”: https://sites.google.com/site/mainstreammediacensorship/abc-fact-checking-unit .

[21]. “ABC censorship & malreportage” https://sites.google.com/site/abccensorship/abc-censorship .

Dr Gideon Polya has been teaching science students at a major Australian university for 4 decades. He published some 130 works in a 5 decade scientific career, most recently a huge pharmacological reference text "Biochemical Targets of Plant Bioactive Compounds" (CRC Press/Taylor & Francis, New York & London , 2003). He has published “Body Count. Global avoidable mortality since 1950” (G.M. Polya, Melbourne, 2007: http://globalbodycount.blogspot.com/ ); see also his contributions “Australian complicity in Iraq mass mortality” in “Lies, Deep Fries & Statistics” (edited by Robyn Williams, ABC Books, Sydney, 2007: http://www.abc.net.au/rn/science/ockham/stories/s1445960.htm ) and “Ongoing Palestinian Genocide” in “The Plight of the Palestinians (edited by William Cook, Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2010: http://mwcnews.net/focus/analysis/4047-the-plight-of-the-palestinians.html ). He has published a revised and updated 2008 version of his 1998 book “Jane Austen and the Black Hole of British History” (see: http://janeaustenand.blogspot.com/ ) as biofuel-, globalization- and climate-driven global food price increases threaten a greater famine catastrophe than the man-made famine in British-ruled India that killed 6-7 million Indians in the “forgotten” World War 2 Bengal Famine (see recent BBC broadcast involving Dr Polya, Economics Nobel Laureate Professor Amartya Sen and others: http://www.open.edu/openlearn/history-the-arts/history/social-economic-history/listen-the-bengal-famine ). When words fail one can say it in pictures - for images of Gideon Polya's huge paintings for the Planet, Peace, Mother and Child see: http://sites.google.com/site/artforpeaceplanetmotherchild/ and http://www.flickr.com/photos/gideonpolya/ .





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