Cover Image for Pig Pens ๐Ÿท, Carrots ๐Ÿฅ•, and Sticks ๐Ÿ’

Pig Pens ๐Ÿท, Carrots ๐Ÿฅ•, and Sticks ๐Ÿ’

How does a pig pen relate to climate change?

It's Christmas time, I'm fond of A Charlie Brown Christmas and his dusty friend, Pig Pen. Speaking of him, pig pens came up in my conversations with a friend/founder this past week.

We (me & my friend, not Pig Pen) were discussing the concept of carrots & sticks when it comes to climate change โ€” carrots being available technological solutions that people run towards, and sticks being policies that cause people to run from. You may have a previously held belief on which you prefer, but keep an open mind and make the call for yourself at the end. He was under the impression that climate change could largely be solved through an assortment of carrots. He wasn't against sticks necessarily, but he thought that sticks aren't necessary until the carrots are in place. We discussed this using the metaphor of a pigpen.

Suppose pigs are in a pen. Things are going well for them until one day they learn that the food in this pen is poisonous and will kill them once it reaches a large enough dose. Some pigs are more susceptible than others, but no one knows when it will kill them. They become aware of a neighboring pen where the food isn't poisonous, but also not quite as tasty as the current food. In addition, to get to the other pen, they need to build a door โ€” a carrot.

Now a few pigs are concerned and decide to start to work on the door immediately, but most aren't concerned. Even if this carrot existed, they like their current food, why should they leave. Even if 10 doors were built, they'd be fine with their current situation because they're comfortable. If this goes on too long, most of the pigs end up dying from the poisoned food and the door is only partway complete, or even if it is complete, most pigs haven't switched pens.

However, a few pigs in the pen start to discuss making the food taste worse based on the amount of poison that's in the food so that you'll want to spit out the food that will kill you โ€” the stick. However, they have to get a majority to go for this plan. They succeed, and the food starts tasting bad. Because this food tastes bad and the pigs know the food in the pen over tastes good, they'll start working on the door faster and move to the new pen when they get the chance.

In this story:

  • the pigs are humans
  • the first pen is our current fossil fuel society
  • the poison is climate change
  • the door is green technology โ€” carrots
  • the second pen is a sustainable society
  • the bad taste is a carbon price โ€” sticks

Humans don't readily do things that make them uncomfortable. Carrots may be a pleasant alternative, but if people are comfortable, why change? On the other hand, sticks (i.e. changing the rules) cause an uncomfortable situation that people adapt to. One example of a stick is carbon pricing. If carbon emissions are priced and gas prices remain high, then people will drive less and buy more efficient cars. Utilities will switch to renewable faster because they'll be saving more money. People will shift to whichever technology is best at moving away from the stick, rather than focusing only on carrots. Carrots, often being individual technologies such as Electric Vehicles, aren't always the correct solution and don't fight climate change fast enough.

The issues with a carbon price are the shock to the economy, people who can't afford it, and where to account for the carbon. The good news is these issues are largely solved, they just need wider public support and support in the government. The shock is taken care of by ramping up the cost year over year so it's not much different the first year but eventually has the full effect. Businesses and people can plan for these changes. As for people who can't afford the extra cost to commute, most carbon price proposals include a way to pay people back from the generated revenue. Rich people tend to use more carbon than poorer people, therefore, rich people will pay more in carbon fees, and the revenue is distributed evenly nationwide. I won't go into how the carbon is accounted, but to keep businesses local, an import fee on carbon can be used when importing goods from nations without a carbon price.

While Possible Place isn't as focused on national policy like carbon pricing, it will focus on policies that provide carrots and sticks. Carrots to encourage new technology adoption, but also sticks that allow cities to move quickly to a more sustainable and livable future.

If you want more policy related to sustainability & climate change in your city sign up for Possible Place to get updates, and notified when your city is live on the platform!