How to decarbonize? Look to Sweden

By Raymond T. Pierrehumbert, March 3, 2016

Bringing global warming to a halt requires that worldwide net emissions of carbon dioxide be brought to essentially zero; the sooner this occurs, the less warming our descendants for the next 1000 years and more will need to adapt to. The widespread fear that the actions needed to bring this about conflict with economic growth is a major impediment to efforts to protect the climate. But much of this fear is pointless, and the magnitude of the task – while great – is no greater than the challenges that human ingenuity has surmounted in the past. To light the way forward, we need to examine success stories where nations have greatly reduced their carbon dioxide emissions while simultaneously maintaining vigorous growth in their standard of living; a prime example is Sweden. Through a combination of sensible government infrastructure policies and free-market incentives, Sweden has managed to successfully decarbonize, cutting its per capita emissions by a factor of 3 since the 1970s, while doubling its per capita income and providing a wide range of social benefits. This has all been accomplished within a vigorous capitalistic framework that in many ways better embodies free-market principles than the US economy. Consequently, the Swedish experience shows that solving global warming does not require us to “tear down capitalism.” The world just needs to be a bit more like Sweden.


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