My Vision for the New Earth: Life in a Low Carbon Economy


By Roberta Ward Smiley

Editor’s note: Roberta Ward Smiley is a colleague and the founder of La Reserva Forest Foundation in Costa Rica. You can read about the work of the Foundation on Roberta’s Forest Blog

Climate Change Course Second Peer Assessment Essay

Low Carbon Economy

My gratitude to Coursera for this climate change course because it has enabled me to develop this low to zero carbon economy that I’ve envisioned for over 9 years now…but first let’s start with the way this “new Earth” will operate.

As humans our destiny is to live on our Earth in harmony with all of nature, to recognize the interconnectivity of all eco-systems and the fact that we are part of it all and that our true purpose for being here is to care for Earth and ALL life upon her.

Divine law or universal/natural law is recognizing our responsibility to the Earth and ALL life dependent upon it. It makes us to “see” what we’ve done these past few hundred years, how we’ve exploited our Earth’s finite resources, e.g. carbon = ancient sunlight, spewed it back out to her atmosphere (aura) without a thought of giving back or restoring and in the process are destroying the natural environment. Oh, the suffering we’ve caused the other life forms that share this planet with us and who aren’t responsible. As we recognize our place we see how we can restore the balance via connectivity, we have separated ourselves from the nature. One of the best ways is via biological corridors, restoring forests between isolated forests so animals and plants can migrate to increase their habitat. I call it “designing the landscape” because one can see the areas that have been deforested over the past few centuries and the isolated forest plots that were left, usually around water sources. By partnering with private landowners (providing incentives) these corridors can be created within cow pastures and gives the flora and fauna a way out who’d otherwise be trapped in these forests patches because they are so vulnerable in the open. Some birds, butterflies and plants are unable to cross open areas. (“Tropical Forest Restoration”, 2012)

Biological Corridors within farmland
Biological Corridors within farmland

An immediate, substantial, global carbon tax will drive decision options quickly to low or zero emission technologies and consumption habits. We can’t give people a choice to change anymore, it’s not happening, it must be imposed upon them. Every person, business or manufacturer who emits more that 5 metric tonnes of CO2 annually will be required to pay the tax to offset all GHG emissions above the 5 tonne limit.

A global governing body, “benevolent monarchy”, will govern by the principles of divine law. Rather than countries there will be territories, regions and local communities. All revenue received by the global governing entity from the carbon tax will be distributed to smaller governing bodies for research and development, dissemination of information, restoration of the natural environment, and used at local levels to implement adaptation strategies and mitigation.

Here is how the hierarchy will work:

Global GHG Tax (Benevolent Monarchy) Governing Earth)

R & D and Inform the people
Territories / R&D / Info
Regions / Local and Regional R&D / Info
Local Communities
Actions and percentages of revenue for restoration, mitigation and adaptation


The current economic system = growth. The future economic system must be sustainable = non-growth or zero growth, recognizing symbiosis, ethics and giving back to Earth. How can an economic system based on “growth” be sustainable? Nothing can grow forever without blowing up and dying.

Organic, permaculture agriculture
Organic, permaculture agriculture

I propose a new world without fossil fuels, local economies with organic (permaculture) food production (within 100 mile radius) and only the consumption of whole foods in season. Whole foods contain the full range of natural nutrients and by eliminating milling and processing there’ll be a decrease of emissions caused by these practices. Local communities with harsh winters, no fresh foods available, will preserve their foods for community sale and winter consumption.

We are responsible for the future generations, another aspect of divine (natural) law. We must consider the future climate change situation. What then is a just social discount…3.5% or 0.85%? (Roberts, 2012) I propose 0 percent because at present the world operates on what I call the, “big pig mentality”, first come, first serve (mostly developed countries). They must have that latest item with no thought about what it takes to produce the item or what it’s doing to the Earth.

Taxing now is an upfront investment for future generations and the revenue can be used for restoring natural resources, namely forests. It’s not giving monetary wealth to add to the future generations projected high incomes (Stern, 2006) but a healthy, naturally balanced environment and an appreciation for it because of our example.

Developing countries, like Costa Rica where I live, are already suffering the effects of climate change daily due to torrential rains, lightening on steroids and drought caused by a warmer planet, a consequence of human activity. At the same time developed countries unjustly emit freely. Since 1850 North America and Europe have produced about 70% of all CO2 emissions due to energy production, while developing countries have accounted for less than a quarter. (Stern, 2006) But, it’s also expected that as emissions decrease in developed countries they will increase in the developing countries because of their “catch up” mode, wanting to emulate their developed brothers and sisters. In Costa Rica emissions have increased threefold in the last 20 years. (“CO2 Emissions in Costa Rica, 2008) A carbon tax on a limited tonnage of CO2 would prevent this.

Let’s get down to brass tax, carbon tax that is. For our purposes here let’s use a price of $50 per metric tonne to illustrate how it can work. Restoration and preservation of the world’s tropical forests are my life and passion, let’s use them as our carbon capture strategy and a percentage of the global revenue allotted to them.

Tropical belt around EarthBecause of combustion of fossil fuels the ppm of CO2 in our atmosphere is increasing 1.5% annually but at the same time our oxygen supply is decreasing 3.5% each year. Forests “capture” carbon and at the same time produce oxygen plus they increase habitat, biodiversity and ecological capital. Tropical forests in the belt around the Earth (23.5° north of the Equator to 23.5° south) are responsible for capturing the majority of CO2 due to short or non-existent dormant periods and the extensive leaf surface area compared to temperate zone forests. (“The Forest Biome”, Univ. of Calif. At Berkeley)

About 15 percent of the global population or 1 billion people live in so-called developed nations. (“What percent of the world’s population live in the developed world”, 2010) We will use a global carbon tax on all emissions over 5 metric tonnes/year/person at $50/tonne. Let’s say 2 billion people pay the tax because a certain percentage in developing countries will emit over the 5 m.t. limit. If we use an average per capita emission of 10 m.t. annually for these global citizens, they would pay $250/year each. A total global revenue of 500 billion dollars or ½ trillion dollars would be realized and could be used for worldwide R & D, dissemination of information, local mitigation and adaptation strategies and forest restoration.

We’ve destroyed about half of the Earth’s mature tropical forests since the mid 20th century, between 7 and 8 million square kilometers or 750 billion hectares. (Deforestation, Wikipedia) If one tenth of the total tax revenue (50 billion dollars) is allotted annually for tropical forests we could restore 10 million hectares (at $3000/hectare) for $30 billion plus pay environmental service payments ($100/hectare/year) to existing forest owners to conserve a total of 200 million hectares of forests worldwide annually for 20 billion. (Offset Carbon, Be Carbon Neutral For Life, 2012) It can be done every year! After 20 years we’d have recuperated 200 million hectares of our original forests and preserved another 200 million.

my-vision-forestA conservative estimate of tropical forest CO2 sequestration is 20 tonnes/year/hectare. By 2030, the new forests (after only five years from planting date), will be sequestering and storing approximately 4 billion metric tonnes of CO2 annually. By 2050, with 400 million hectares of new forests and the 200 million hectares of existing forests we’ve been preserving, we’d be capturing 12 billion metric tonnes of GHG emissions annually and with the tax we can expect a sharp decrease in emissions as well.

Imagine – this could be accomplished with only 50 billion dollars a year leaving the other 450 billion to be used for other climate change issues each year!How do we solve the problem of extra cost not being passed on to consumers by business? Price increases cannot include the cost of carbon taxes because said taxes are for the global public good. This is an almost philanthropic gesture by business, to “give back”, but at the same time create a forest that offsets all their future emissions plus only pay the cost of preservation after the first five years ($100/ha/yr). The carbon tax must be separate from all other expenses.Households and businesses will be required to report their yearly emissions “footprint” using a carbon calculator. There will also be rewards for decreased consumption and emissions.I’ve always felt blessed to be alive during this time and now I know why. Look at the great challenge we face! All challenges/crises are our opportunity to transcend/overcome and here we have the opportunity to create a zero carbon world in harmony with our natural environment. So come on everybody…

Let’s Get Planting!      




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