Raising the Standard.

ON CAMPUS: Inglis v. Dorfman on Climate Change and Economics

The stage for debate. (Photo by Bill Davison)

On Tuesday night, the Demosthenian Literary Society hosted a debate proposing economic solutions to climate change. Speakers Dr. Jeff Dorfman of the University of Georgia and former Congressman Bob Inglis each gave opening statements, followed by a shorter cross examination period.

Inglis, who served as U.S. Congressional Representative for South Carolina’s fourth district from 19931999 and 20052011, gave the first statement. He argued that the best way to entice United States citizens into using energy wisely, especially electricity and gas, is to price the energy at its true worth. Inglis stated that if we were to “attach all costs to all fuel,” we would have a much “clearer and more transparent marketplace.” He believes that one reason energy is being used so recklessly is that many people do not understand what costs are covered by the price they pay.

Inglis later quoted Tom Friedman, an author who has focused on climate change and its possible effects in such works as Hot, Flat and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution and How it Can Renew America. Friedman, in one of his many books, states that it is not until people pay $4 per gallon of gas that they will begin to buy different cars in search of more fuel-efficient options. This figure dates from several years ago, however. Now, Inglis speculates, the price of fuel that would provoke consumers to find better cars is over $5.

Put this into context. Around Athens, it is ordinary to pay around $2.50 for a gallon of gas. Inglis would assert that consumers currently take this cheap fuel for granted, wasting more. According to his “all costs” argument, the price of fuel should increase. A price change would not appeal to people who, unconcerned with the environment, do not understand its purpose. In reality, however, an increase in gas prices would cause people to “spend” this energy more wisely.

On the other hand, Dorfman seemed to advocate inaction from the status quo, saying that the “world [would be] made poorer if we institute higher prices now.”  He repeatedly referred to his solution as “kicking the can down the road,” explaining that everyone discounts the future sometimes in their various daily activities.

Covering his blatant dodge of the issue, Dorfman argued that the poor would be made poorer if the true prices of energy were brought into play. In fact however, the price increase would cause people to spend energy wisely — even if it does mean staying home instead of wasting gas driving around town. Ironically, if energy prices should increase, many of the poor that Dorfman talked about would begin to receive more money in the form of higher minimum wages.

Later on in the night, the two began to speak about how climate change is not a local problem but a global problem.  Inglis believes that it is essential “to design a system here that appeals to both China and India,” two world powers that cannot be ignored in this fight for a stable environment. Dorfman believes that we should incorporate China and India’s ideas of energy preservation into our own.

Both of the speakers agreed that the economic response to climate change must be a global one. Inglis proposed that the United States, in its role as the world’s superpower, should set the precedent.

Both speakers implied that the earth is facing climate change that will affect many of us in the future. The means by which each speaker proposed to deal with this problem differed, however. We can all agree that this tragedy of the commons must be addressed. It is only by public debate and deliberation that we can begin to curb reckless energy waste and set the climate back on the right path. Using the words of Mr. Inglis, we must “change the argument from limits to abundance.”

— Bill Davison is a freshman studying international affairs

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