It is time to think outside of the box. Whether or not you believe climate change is caused by human activity is not terribly important because climate change or rather global warming is already underway and the climate will continuously heat up. Hitherto we have lived with the fiction that we could halt or even reverse it.
In the early 1960s I worked two summers at Commercial Solvents Corporation’s Terre Haute, Indiana plant. The plant produced some pretty toxic waste which it piped across the Wabash River to a series of sewage lagoons. Once in the sewage lagoons the sewage was aerated and it’s stench was camouflaged with perfume sprayed on the surface of the lagoons.
As the sewage worked its way through the lagoons pipes near the bottom releases air to aerate it. Once the sewage reached the last lagoon it had sufficient oxygen that it could, regardless of its other contents, be legally discharged into the waters of the Wabash River.
Commercial Solvents Corporation found it more cost effective for its bottom line to mix its chemical byproducts (waste) with river water and aerated the sewage than to remove hazardous materials and dispose of them in a manner that did not transfer disposal costs to people both down river and who came decades later. The transfer of costs to non-consenting others economists call a negative externally.
Dumping waste in rivers, lakes, the air, landfills and in some cases the oceans of the world always generates a negative externally, or to put it another way a cost in money, health, death, or clean up that people (and other living things) must bear even though the people bearing the cost did not consent, and in most cases were not even aware when the waste (negative externality) was dumped in the river/lake/air or the like.
The box in the case of Commercial Solvents Corporation was that it was acceptable to transfer some costs of production to unsuspecting neighbors, future generations, and even employees.
Commercial Solvents Corporation was not unionized. At the time I worked there, federal minimum wage was $1.15/hour. Commercial Solvents Corporation paid me, a summer son of an employee while a student laborer, $1.65/hour. The corporation paid regular employees benefits. I know their retirement was an annuity based on retirement at the age of 65 that the actuarial estimate was a payout for an a garage of 13 months. The health insurance was family based. It was a plan that paid all but $17 for a three day hospital stay and the birth of my first child, Kirk. However, older employees I knew experienced respiratory, heart, and neurological problems having worked in a chemical soup enviromnent for decades.
This is all caused by accounting and lack of regulation. Accounting do not have to enter the externalities they generate on any set of financial or social books. The costs, externalities, never exist in an accounting sense. Mandating firms to manage their by-products (waste) would require regulations. However, firms through a variety of means coop bodies that could regulate them from legislatures through campaign donations, to regulatory bodies through what is called the revolving door (former industry managers become regulators and vice versa), and firms that pollute (that is what dumping waste is called in the real world we live in) run massive advertising campaigns to cultivate a positive public image.
I worked for Commercial Solvents Corporation in the summers from 1962 through 1965. By 1975 the firm ceased to exist when it merged with another corporation and the Terre Haute plant was shutdown in 2000. https://www.vigo.lib.in.us/archives/inventories/business/CommSolv.php
One has to wonder where all the millions of dollars the corporation earned ended up for it is apparent that subsequent to 1975 there was a change in wealth distribution in American. https://stuartbramhall.wordpress.com/2020/09/19/the-2-5-trillion-annual-theft-blog-for-iowa/
Regardless of where the money landed, it is effectively laundered so Commercial Solvents Corporation profits, built partly on the externality costs it imposed on workers, neighbors, down stream residents and the world today can not be used to pay restitution for the damage done by those externatilities it imposed on all of us.
The saddest part of the Commercial Solvents Corporation story is that Commercial Solvents Corporation is a very small player in the damage done to the world by not accounting for the costs imposed by industry on the world and by not regulating industry properly and making it a good neighbor. These failings were not mistakes or simply not understanding what industry was doing, the imposition of externalities on the world was driven by the greed for more profits regardless of how those profits were obtained.
The irony of all of this from my prescriptive is I thought I had it good in those days. Relative to today, I did. While I worked on the Commercial Solvents Corporation sewage lagoon, literally on a tank on pontoons driven by an outboard motor, spraying perfume, I only had the barest inkling of how bad my $1.65/hour was making things for other people then and me and the rest of the world today.