Earl O. Knutson letter: What are we leaving our great-grandchildren?

The letter writer wonders what the future will be for future generations.

A coke storage area is seen as steam rises from the quench towers at the US Steel Clairton Works on Jan. 21, 2020, in Clairton, Pennsylvania.
A coke storage area is seen as steam rises from the quench towers at the US Steel Clairton Works on Jan. 21, 2020, in Clairton, Pennsylvania.
(Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)
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The social cost of carbon is a mysterious economic term that pops up in discussions of climate change.

Reader Opinion: Letter to the Editor
Reader opinion letter
Kit Grode / Tribune graphic
The letter writer believe citizens should demand that our state and federal representatives and senators work on permitting the building of more coal, gas and nuclear power plants resulting in lower energy costs.
The letter writer urges caution about money solicitation requests.
The letter writer believes educators should change history lessons.

This is the definition, as seen in various places: “The social cost of carbon is an estimate of the economic costs, or damages, of emitting an additional ton of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere...”

SCC is a relatively new concept in the field of economics.

In 2018 a half-share of the Nobel Prize for economics was awarded to William Nordhaus “for integrating climate change into long-run macroeconomic analysis,” studies that he had done through some 30 years.

To estimate these costs it is necessary to look ahead 75 to 100 years, and calculations must also take into account that they are offsetting “social benefits of carbon.” It is not surprising that SCC estimates vary widely – from a few dollars to a few hundred dollars per metric ton. A working number in recent years is $51.


To me, the SCC means that every gallon of gasoline I burn will add the expense my great-grandchildren and their contemporaries will have to bear throughout their lifetimes.

How much per gallon would a person have to set aside to prepay the added cost?

An internet search reveals that burning 1 gallon of gasoline forms 20 pounds of carbon dioxide, so one metric ton (2200 pounds) would be released for each 110 gallons of gasoline burned.

To prepay for future damage, using the $51 figure, 46 cents should be set aside per gallon. (At present, there is no practical way to do this.)

In the last paragraph of his Nobel acceptance speech, Nordhaus wrote “Our futures are not in the stars but in ourselves. I will not be here in 2100 to witness the results of our efforts. However, my grandchildren are likely to be here, with their children and their grandchildren. May they be looking backward with appreciation. I hope they will say that this generation had the resolve to overcome the obstacles and take the steps necessary to preserve our unique and beautiful planet.”

Earl O. Knutson

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