Widening I-5 at the Rose Quarter will increase greenhouse gases

Adding more freeway capacity at the Rose Quarter will thousands of tons to the region’s greenhouse gas emissions

If you say you believe in science, and you take climate change seriously, you can’t support spending $800 million or more to widen a freeway.


  • Wider freeways—including additional ramps and “auxiliary lanes”—induce additional car travel which increases greenhouse gas emissions.
  • The I-5 Rose Quarter project will add approximately 33,000 vehicles per day to I-5 traffic, according to ODOT’s own estimates
  • These 33,000 vehicles will directly add 56,000 daily vehicle miles of travel and indirectly add 178,000 daily vehicle miles of travel.
  • Additional vehicle travel will directly produce between 8,000 tons of greenhouse gas emission per year; and with induced travel outside the project a total increase of 35,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year
  • The engineered right-of-way for the Rose Quarter project allows for eight standard freeway lanes, which would double freeway capacity in this area and further increase vehicle travel and greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Claims that widening freeways will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by reducing crashes and idling have been disproven.
This is what $800 million of fossil fuel infrastructure looks like.

Additional Vehicle Miles of Travel and Greenhouse Gases, ODOT estimates

Currently, I-5 at the Rose Quarter carries about 122,000 vehicles per day.  With the Rose Quarter freeway widening project proposed by the Oregon Department of Transportation, we estimate that traffic will increase to 155,000 vehicles per day.  This represents an increase of 33,000 vehicles per day over current levels.

I-5 North Volumes Existing conditions 2016 v. with Freeway Widening
Northbound Southbound Total Implied ADT
Time Period RQ Existing Conditions (2016)
AM Peak 8AM-9AM 2,146 5,133 7,279 122,000
PM Peak 5PM-6PM 3,360 3,639 6,999 122,000
Widened I-5 RQ Conditions (2045)
AM Peak 8AM-9AM 4,680 5,176 9,856 148,945
PM Peak 5PM-6PM 4,707 5,070 9,777 161,385
Average 155,165
RQ Existing, “2016 Existing Conditions” “Mainline North of Going”
Existing Volumes from pages 333-340 of ODOT “Volume Tables”, dated 5-21-18

We’ve had to compute that estimate ourselves, because, as we have noted, ODOT has suppressed inclusion of average daily traffic figures (the most commonly used traffic volume statistic) from the project’s Environmental Assessment.  To compute average daily traffic from the hourly data in the EA, we have factored up hourly traffic to daily levels, at given the current relationship between peak and total daily travel. Peak hour travel accounts for about 14 percent of daily travel; we’ve used the reciprocal of this amount as our multiplier to calculate future ADT implied by ODOT projections.

Today, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average vehicle emits about 411 grams of greenhouse gases per vehicle mile traveled.

Incremental Greenhouse Gas Emissions, I-5 Rose Quarter Project
Line Item Direct Indirect
1 grams per mile 411 411
2 vehicles per day 33,000 33,000
3 miles per vehicle 1.7 5.4
4 miles per day 56,100 178,200
5 grams per day 23,057,100 73,240,200
6 tons per day 23 73
7 tons per year 8,416 26,733
1 EPA estimate of greenhouse gases per vehicle mile traveled
2 ODOT estimate of increased traffic on I-5
3 Length of project (1.7 miles), average commute (7.1 miles)
4 Line 2 * Line 3
5 Line 1 * Line 2
6 Line 5 * 1,000,000
7 Line 6 * 365

Conservatively, we estimate that the additional 33,000 vehicles per day traveling on just the widened 1.7 mile segment of the I-5 Rose Quarter freeway will generate and additional 56,000 vehicle miles traveled per day, and in turn, that will produce about an additional 8,400 tons of greenhouse gases annually.

Moreover, we anticipate that widening the freeway in this location will induce additional automobile travel on roads connected to this section of freeway.  The 1.7 miles traveled on this segment of roadway is just a portion of typical trips. Given that the average commute trip in the Portland metropolitan area is 7.1 miles each way, we anticipate that the freeway widening will produce an additional 5.4 miles of travel elsewhere in the region, for a total of 178,00 additional vehicle miles traveled per day region wide, which in turn will produce an additional 27,800 tons of greenhouse gases per year.

Combining the direct and indirect effects of additional freeway capacity on travel, the Rose Quarter Freeway widening project is likely to increase Portland area greenhouse gas emissions by more than 35,000 tons per year.

ODOT did not analyze or model the effects of induced demand

While ODOT maintains that the I-5 Rose Quarter Freeway widening project will reduce congestion, that is because it has crafted a model which, by its construction, rules out the possibility of induced demand.  ODOT’s “static assignment model” has been shown to over-estimate traffic levels in base case situations, and understate traffic volumes in “build” scenarios, with the effect that they are systematically unable to accurately predict increased traffic due to induced demand.

The modeling has two related sources of bias:  First, it assumes that in the base case, travel patterns are not influenced by roadway congestion (i.e. that travelers don’t alter trip making behavior to avoid congestion).  These models also allow predicted traffic volumes to exceed the physical capacity of roadways, something that is simply impossible, but which again, leads to over-stating base case volumes.  Second, the models fail to predict that trip-making will respond to increases in capacity.

The EA makes no mention of induced demand, the phenomenon by which increases in highway capacity in urban areas generate additional travel that leads to a recurrence of congestion at even higher levels of traffic. (A text search of both the EA and its Traffic Technical Report show no mention of the word “induced”).

In all of its analyses, the EA uses a single set of assumptions about future land use and travel demand, including the distribution of jobs and population within the metropolitan area general, and within the Project Impact Area in particular. This analysis assumes that building (or not building) this additional freeway capacity will have no impact whatsoever on the pattern and intensity of traffic over the next two or more decades.

This approach has two effects, both of which subvert the analysis of environment impacts and which violate NEPA. In the “No-Build” scenario, levels of traffic are improperly inflated, producing much higher level estimates of congestion than will actually occur. In each of the “Build” alternatives, levels of traffic are systematically understated. This bias causes the EA to mischaracterize the relative merits of the build and no-build alternatives, and therefore violates NEPA.

The phenomenon of induced demand is so well-established in the academic literature that it is referred to as the “Fundamental Law of Road Congestion.”  Add as many un-priced lanes as you like in a dense, urban environment and that capacity will elicit additional trip-making that quickly fills new lanes to their previously congested levels. In the extreme, one ends up with Houston’s 23-lane Katy Freeway, successively widened at the cost of billions of dollars, but which now has even longer travel times than before its most recent widening.

These findings hold for the Rose Quarter Project as well. Key project staff have publicly conceded that the project will not produce significant improvements in regular, daily traffic congestion, which engineers refer to as “recurring congestion.”

Induced demand is firmly established science

It is well established in the scientific literature that increased roadway capacity generates additional vehicle travel. The definitive work by Duranton and Turner estimates that there is, in the long run, a unit elasticity of miles traveled with respect to road capacity, i.e. each 1 percent increase in road capacity generates a 1 percent increase in vehicle miles traveled:

This paper analyzes new data describing city-level traffic in the continental US between 1983 and 2003. Our estimates of the elasticity of MSA interstate highway VKT with respect to lane kilometers are 0.86 in OLS, 1.00 in first difference, and 1.03 with IV. Because our instruments provide a plausible source of exogenous variation, we regard 1.03 as the most defensible estimate. We take this as a confirmation of the “fundamental law of highway congestion” suggested by Downs (1962), where the extension of interstate highways is met with a proportional increase in traffic for US MSAs.

More recently, Hymel (2019) has independently reached a nearly identical conclusion.  His analysis concludes:

These findings offer persuasive evidence supporting the fundamental law of traffic congestion, and indicate that capacity expansion is not a viable long-term solution to urban traffic congestion. Across specifications of the dynamic model that controlled for endogenous lane-mileage and state fixed effects, the within-group estimator generated long-run induced demand elasticities ranging from 0.892 and 1.063, all with very small standard errors. . . . Furthermore, results from the dynamic model suggest that after five years, induced vehicle travel is expected to grow to 90% of its equilibrium level, quickly decreasing traffic speeds on the new roadway capacity.”

More comprehensive and independent reviews of the literature on induced demand have reached essentially the opposite conclusion from that asserted in the EA. These reviews include: Avin, U., R. Cervero, et al. (2007), Litman, (2007) and Williams-Derry, C. (2007), and Handy & Boarnet (2014). I

Whether development is consistent with local land use plans or not bears no necessary relationship to whether there is induced demand. Many different levels of development (from vacant to fully allowed density with variances) are possible under any local land use plan. Asserting that the level of development is “consistent” with land use plans is a straightforward evasion of the requirement to consider the impacts of induced demand. This is simply irrelevant to determining whether there may be impacts. Local land use plans only specify the maximum amount of development that may occur in the area influenced by the project. There is a wide range of possible levels and intensities of development that are possible under these land use plans, from no development to the full maximum allowed by law.

The fundamental law of road congestion is so well know that it has long been reflected in administrative guidance for the preparation of environmental reviews of road construction projects.  The Federal Highway Administration guidelines for preparing environmental impact statements clearly instruct the analysis of induced impacts: It specifically anticipates a different analysis for each alternative “substantial, foreseeable, induced development should be presented for each alternative”

  1. Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) — FORMAT AND CONTENT

  2. Environmental Consequences

 Land Use Impacts

This discussion should identify the current development trends and the State and/or local government plans and policies on land use and growth in the area which will be impacted by the proposed project.

These plans and policies are normally reflected in the area’s comprehensive development plan, and include land use, transportation, public facilities, housing, community services, and other areas.

The land use discussion should assess the consistency of the alternatives with the comprehensive development plans adopted for the area and (if applicable) other plans used in the development of the transportation plan required by Section 134. The secondary social, economic, and environmental impacts of any substantial, foreseeable, induced development should be presented for each alternative, including adverse effects on existing communities. Where possible, the distinction between planned and unplanned growth should be identified.

October 30, 1987 (http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/legsregs/directives/techadvs/T664008a.htm)

The FHWA has developed substantial technical resources to illustrate how induced demand can be estimated for projects such as the CRC. For example, DeCourla-Souza and Cohen document long-term demand elasticities of traffic with regard to travel time averaging -0.57 and ranging from -0.2 to -1.0. This means that in the long run, all other things being equal, a 10% reduction in travel time in a corridor would be associated with a 5.7% higher level of traffic. (Patrick DeCorla-Souza and Harry Cohen, Accounting For Induced Travel In Evaluation Of Urban Highway Expansion, 1998.) More recent estimates by Duranton and Turner (2011), and Hymel (2019)  put the long-term elasticity of traffic with respect to capacity at 1.0: an increase in capacity is exactly offset by an increase in travel.

A  review of transportation models used in estimating future demand and project benefits, including the type used in this process, concludes:

“Failure to account for indirect demand effects likely exaggerates the travel-time savings benefits of capacity expansion and ignores the potentially substantial land use shifts that might occur because of the marginal increase in accessibility provided.”
Avin, U., R. Cervero, et al. (2007). Forecasting Indirect Land Use Effects of Transportation Projects. Washington, DC, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) Standing Committee on the Environment. (Page 5).

ODOT’s claims about GHG are false

ODOT has advanced two claims about the project’s potential for reducing greenhouse gases.  It has argued that the project will reduce the number of crashes in the corridor, and thereby lower the amount of greenhouse gases emitted when cars drive slowly. Similarly, but more generally, it has argued that by reducing congestion, the project will raise travel speeds, reduce idling and lower overall greenhouse gases.  Both of these claims have been disproven by independent research.

Non-recurring delay will not be reduced

In addition the Rose Quarter project has no demonstrable real-world evidence that the freeway widening will reduce delays associated with automobile crashes, so called “non-recurring congestion.” Just a few years ago, ODOT widened a nearby stretch of I-5 which carries mostly the same traffic, adding a travel lane and widening shoulders (just as it proposes to do at the Rose Quarter). ODOT’s own crash statistics show that the rate of crashes on this stretch of road not only did not decrease, but actually increased in the years following the freeway widening.

ODOT’s claims that additional lanes and wider shoulders will reduce crashes are based on it’s claim that it used a computer spreadsheet called ISAT to calculate probable crashes (Traffic Technical Report). However, the user manual for the ISATe model says that the model is not applicable to freeway segments that are controlled by ramp meters. (Ramp meters control the flow of traffic onto the roadway and reduce the likelihood of crashes associated with merging). This model is not a valid basis for predicting crashes or changes in the number of crashes because this segment of roadway includes ramp meters. See Bonneson, et al., 2012.

ODOT’s experience with I-5 suggests that widening one bottleneck at one point in the system only speeds and intensifies the process of traffic congestion at other bottlenecks in the system. For example, ODOT has made improvements to I-5 in the area north of Lombard Street, including the freeway widening project described in the previous paragraph). While this has removed some “bottlenecks” in some locations, it has funneled more vehicles, more rapidly into others, with the result that these locations become congested sooner, and actually lose capacity. The I-5 bridges now carry about 10 percent fewer vehicles in the afternoon peak hour than they did 10 and 20 years ago. (“Backfire: How widening freeways can make traffic congestion worse,” February 26, 2019, City Observatory Commentary). Similarly, an ODOT project to increase the capacity of the freeway interchange on I-5 at Woodburn also apparently has resulted in no reduction in crashes, and may actually be associated with an increase in more severe crashes (and attendant delays). See,  “Safety Last: What we’ve learned from ‘improving’ the I-5 freeway,” March 21, 2019, City Observatory Commentary).

Claims that less congestion will reduce idling and lower greenhouse gas emissions have been disproven

Claims that the project will result in less carbon emissions are based on the the discredited theory that smoothing traffic flow and reducing idling results in lower carbon emissions. That claim has been discredited by Bigazzi and Figgliozzi (2010), Williams-Derry (2007), Noland & Quddus (2006).

Also, experience has shown that carbon estimates prepared by the Oregon Department of Transportation are untrustworthy. In 2015, The Director of the Oregon Department of Transportation conceded publicly to the Legislature that ODOT had exaggerated by a factor of more than four the possible carbon emission reductions associated with certain transportation projects.

It doesn’t matter what you call the added lanes

And we don’t buy for a minute that it matters in any way that ODOT wants to call the additional lanes its building “auxiliary lanes”.  If the point is that the right hand lane on I-5 at the Rose Quarter is handling merging traffic, that is true whether the facility is 2 lanes in each direction or three.  If we apply ODOT’s logic and nomenclature to the current setup, the freeway now consists of one through lane and one auxiliary lane–and the proposed project would increase that to two through-lanes and one auxiliary lane. Using sophistry and shifting definitions doesn’t change the fact that this project adds lane miles of freeway. And more lane miles of freeway, as these calculators show, produces millions more miles of driving and thousands of tons more greenhouse gas emissions every year.


Avin, U., R. Cervero, et al. (2007). Forecasting Indirect Land Use Effects of Transportation Projects. Washington, DC, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) Standing Committee on the Environment.

Bonneson, J., Pratt, M., and Geedipally, S., (et al), Enhanced Interchange Safety Analysis Tool: User Manual, National Cooperative Highway Research Program, Project 17-45, Enhanced Safety Prediction Methodology and Analysis Tool for Freeways and Interchanges, May 2012.

Bigazzi, A. and Figliozzi, M., 2010, An Analysis of the Relative Efficiency of Freeway Congestion as an Emissions Reduction Strategy.

DeCorla-Souza, P. and H. Cohen (1998). Accounting For Induced Travel In Evaluation Of Urban Highway Expansion. Washington, Federal Highway Administration.

Duranton, G., & Turner, M. A. (2011). The fundamental law of road congestion: Evidence from US cities. American Economic Review, 101(6), 2616-52.

October 30, 1987 (http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/legsregs/directives/techadvs/T664008a.htm)

Handy, S., & Boarnet, M. G. (2014). Impact of Highway Capacity and Induced Travel on Passenger Vehicle Use and Greenhouse Gas Emissions. California Environmental Protection Agency, Air Resources Board.             https://www.arb.ca.gov/cc/sb375/policies/hwycapacity/highway_capacity_bkgd.pdf

Hymel, K. (2019). If you build it, they will drive: Measuring induced demand for vehicle travel in urban areas. Transport policy76, 57-66.

Kneebone, E., & Holmes, N. (2015). The growing distance between people and jobs in metropolitan America. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, Metropolitan Policy Program.  https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Srvy_JobsProximity.pdf

Litman, T. (2019). Generated Traffic and Induced Travel Implications for Transport Planning. Victoria, BC, Victoria Transport Policy Institute.

Marshall, N. L. (2018). Forecasting the impossible: The status quo of estimating traffic flows with static traffic assignment and the future of dynamic traffic assignment. Research in Transportation Business & Management. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2210539517301232?via%3Dihub

Noland, R. B., & Quddus, M. A. (2006). Flow improvements and vehicle emissions: effects of trip generation and emission control technology. Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment, 11(1), 1-14.

Parsons Brinckerhoff, Land Use-Transportation Literature Review for the I-5 Trade Corridor Regional Land Use Committee, September 17, 2001. Pages 4-5 http://nepa.fhwa.dot.gov/ReNEPA/ReNepa.nsf/All+Documents/CCECF4D789DB510E85256CE6006142A0/$FILE/land_use_literature_review.pdf

Williams-Derry, C. (2007). Increases in greenhouse-gas emissions from highway-widening projects. Seattle, Sightline Institute.

Fighting Climate Change is Inherently Equitable

Happy Earth Day, Everyone!

If we care about equity, we need to make rapid progress on climate change

Equity needs to be defined by substantive outcomes, not vacuous rhetoric and elaborate process.

Ultimately equity is about outcomes, not merely process. The demonstrable results a decade or two from now have to be measurably more equitable and just than what we have today.

The overriding priority for Earth Day is taking serious action to blunt climate change. But while there’s a growing, though still far from universal, agreement that climate change is real, there’s a problem.  Many advocates are making claims about equity an obstacle to taking decisive action to reduce greenhouse gases.  Change is always hard, especially for the powerless and disadvantaged.  But we have to find ways to save the planet, while buffering the impact on the hardest hit. Somewhat ironically, our experience with Coronavirus shows how we can tackle these twin objectives by tackling them separately and simultaneously, rather than insisting that they somehow be combined and that one be subordinated to another.

Case in point:  Last year, Portland voters considered (and rejected) a multi-billion dollar ballot measure that was a typical example example of a process that nominally simulates equity, but which does nothing to address climate change.  It has the trappings of inclusion–a process that has seats at the table for youth and people of color/frontline communities, and has the rhetoric of equity.  It has also  gone through a stilted and misleading exercise of classifying projects as equitable based on whether they happen to be near neighborhoods with high concentrations of low income people or people of color.  On this criteria, the original construction of I-5, which plowed through the middle of the region’s largest African American community would have been scored as “highly equitable.”  The cumulative result of a proposed $4 billion expenditure does nothing to reduce climate change–generating by the staff’s own estimates a five one-hundredths of one percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.  By failing in its primary task–to reduce GHGs–the result is inequitable, because the continued march of climate change will bear most heavily on low income populations.

Equity has to be about more than proximity, about glowing rhetoric, and about enervating involvement processes.

From a hyperlocal perspective, the most equitable solution might seem to be to spare frontline communities from having to do anything or bear any burden. If each local planning effort prioritizes insulating its frontline community from burden or cost, above taking effective action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, then collectively we’ll make no progress in solving our shared, global climate crisis.  As Alon Levy has persuasively argued, putting “rebuilding trust” ahead of taking action on the street is a self-defeating strategy

There’s an emerging mentality among left-wing urban planners in the US called “trust before streets.” It’s a terrible idea that should disappear, a culmination of about 50 or 60 years of learned helplessness in the American public sector. . . . The correct way forward is to think in terms of state capacity first, and in particular about using the state to enact tangible change, which includes providing better public transportation and remaking streets to be safer to people who are not driving. Trust follows – in fact, among low-trust people, seeing the state provide meaningful tangible change is what can create trust, and not endless public meetings in which an untrusted state professes its commitment to social justice.

And that will be the most inequitable outcome of all, because as everyone has stipulated, the frontline communities will bear the brunt of the costs associated with climate disruption.

Our community can’t do anything effective to reduce GHGs because it would have a disproportionate impact on our frontline communities.  Somebody else, somewhere else, ought to bear the burden of solving this problem.

But that risks being a recipe for universal inaction, or a prescription for performative but largely ineffectual policies.  When asked to come up with an example of Portland’s future climate policies, the city’s planning director highlighted a potential future mandate for electric car charging in new multi-family buildings, ignoring that a disappearingly small fraction of low income people live in new apartments, can afford electric cars, or even own cars, and that parking mandates have been shown to drive up housing costs, reduce affordability, and encourage sprawl and car-dependent development.

Equity advocates make a powerful, persuasive and true case that the effects of climate change are disproportionately felt by the poor and people of color.

In an important sense, if you’ve got enough income, you are likely to be able to escape, avoid or mitigate many of the personal negative effects of climate change. You can move to a state or neighborhood that is far from rising seas, or wildfires, or unbearable heat. Its always been the case that people with more income use it to buy nicer places to live, which is the main reason why you find nicer parks, more tree cover, lower crime and better air quality in high income neighborhoods.  Neighborhoods that don’t offer those amenities lose people who have the income to move elsewhere.  The result is that low income people end up in housing that is less pleasant, has fewer natural amenities, has higher crime, and is more likely to induce asthma–and is more vulnerable to climate change.

Things we do to reduce global levels of pollution have disproportionate benefits for the poor.  Consider eliminating lead from gasoline.  There’s an increasingly impressive body of evidence that points to the serious cognitive and behavioral effects of lead air pollution. When the federal government phased out lead as a gasoline additive in the 1980s, it had measurable effects on the school achievement and crime levels in cities around the nation, and particularly benefited kids in low income neighborhoods.  It was an inherently equitable strategy.

Yet banning lead also produced a regressive increase in the price of gasoline.  Oil companies used lead as an “anti-knock” additive because it was cheaper than blending higher octane fuels that didn’t cause pre-ignition (knocking).  Estimates are that banning lead probably drove up fuel prices about two cents a gallon or so, and as we all know, a price increase is regressive, because it bears more heavily on the poor than the rich.  But would anyone argue that it would have been more equitable, especially to the poor, to keep lead in fuel so that gas would continue to be cheap?

Those who are most vulnerable are the poor, especially the globally poor, who lack the resources to adapt or escape the effects of climate change.  A world in which we fail to slow or reverse climate change is a world that is in every meaningful sense more inequitable than the one we live in today.

There’s an important logical implication from these facts:  Strategies to reduce climate change are inherently equitable.  Some rich people may be indifferent between a world that is 2 degrees centigrade warmer than today; hundreds of millions of poor people aren’t–they will be inescapably worse off.

Helping victims is a separate tasks from innovating solutions

We have to distinguish the fundamentally different tasks of finding solutions and easing the burden of victims.  While the globally poor and communities of color are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, that fact doesn’t imbue them with any special wisdom about the solution to the problem.

Here’s an analogous situation we’ve all lived through.  Consider the coronavirus (Covid-19).  It disproportionately affects people in infected locations, and like most viruses, is especially dangerous to the elderly and those with fragile lungs and immune systems. Yet the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines did not  emerge from the personal knowledge and experience of those victims. Nothing about being a victim necessarily qualifies one to design a solution.

In fact, many of the immediate steps we need to take to minimize the spread and severity of coronavirus impinge directly on the well-being of victims.  We quarantine them.  And for the most part people in quarantine understand and agree that the personal discomfort and risk that quarantine poses for them is more than outweighed by the social good of limiting the spread of the disease. But surely no one believes that the optimal decision about whether to quarantine the passengers and crew of a cruise ship for an additional two-weeks will most optimally be made by a vote of those on-board.

That’s not to say that we shouldn’t prioritize and generously aid victims. The pandemic provides another lesson about separate tasks of helping innocent victims while aggressively pursuing solutions. The US government has approved multiple trillion dollar aid packages, including a range of direct payments, forgivable business loans, extended unemployment insurance and other measures, recognizing that no one should be forced to bear the costs and dislocation caused by the need to fight the pandemic by throttling large parts of the economy.  But these efforts were independent of the effort to develop vaccines and promote social distancing.

Harking back to our example of lead in gasoline:  It’s unclear whether focus groups addressing chronically low achievement and high crime rates in urban neighborhoods in the United States in the 1970s would have identified reducing the lead content of gasoline as a high priority strategy.  For complex global problems, victimhood isn’t a substitute for science.

The key criterion for judging climate strategies has to be whether they are effective. An ineffectual strategy arrived at by a “just” process does not advance the cause of equity.

Climate change is not somehow the unique product of the continuing inequities in our society. While there’s little doubt that racism and poverty amplify and concentrate the negative effects of climate change, it is also true that vibrant, highly equal social democracies like those of Western Europe face exactly the same technical, organizational and economic challenges that the US does in fashioning and implementing climate change policies. Even in a world with a perfectly equitable distribution of income and and absence of racism, we would face the same challenge of figuring out how to reduce the level of carbon in the atmosphere.

None of this is to gainsay that we shouldn’t be sensitive to the negative effects of strategies implemented to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on the poor. That’s why economists overwhelmingly favor some version of the carbon tax-and-dividend or cap-and-dividend approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. A well constructed carbon tax would provide a direct method of compensating vulnerable populations who bear a disproportionate share of the impact of climate change. And unlike piecemeal and performative steps, would provide the scale of resources needed to meaningful mitigate the burdens of solving this shared global problem.