I find myself in a curious predicament: my job pretty much depends on global warming legislation, but I can’t bring myself to support the Waxman-Markey carbon cap and trade bill recently passed in the US House of Representatives.
If you haven’t read about it, the idea goes something like this:
- The government sets a cap on how much carbon large emitters like power plants can release in a year
- The feds either auction, or freely distribute, “emission permits” to each company
- The cap gets smaller every year, meaning companies must reduce their GHG emissions
- If a company can’t lower its carbon output, it can purchase permits from others who can
At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work. The goal is to achieve 80% lower CO2 emissions by 2050, with milestone targets along the way. So what could possibly go wrong?
A lot, unfortunately. The first question we should ask is: “How much will this program stem the threat of global warming?” The answers I’ve seen seem to range from “Not much” to “Who knows?”
See, while the US has historically emitted the lion’s share of the globe’s CO2, there are a couple of up-and-coming countries that are industrializing and moving to our Western way of life. Countries like China and India have lower emissions than American’s per capita, but there are a lot more of them, and their carbon intensity is growing as they buy cars, build coal-fired power plants, and move from agriculture to manufacturing. If we act together, the impact is significant, but there’s not much information on what happens if we act alone. The only prediction I can find of how much warming Waxman-Markey by itself will avoid comes from a decidedly biased blog, and they estimate it at a few hundredths of a degree by 2050. Great.
I beg each of you – find some better estimates. My greatest fear is that either no one has actually done the math, or they have and they’re hiding it. Passing sweeping, life-altering legislation based on fear, fad, or public opinion without actually establishing that the program works is absolutely anathema to what I stand for, and what I advocate in this blog. It’s BAD news.
The counter argument to my “look before you leap” approach is that we don’t have time to look. Climate change is too important, too pressing to wait for the right legislation to wander by. It’s a good point, but I think it’s flawed. We have a tendency in this country to pass some REALLY bad laws because congress or the media whips us into a frenzy until we abandon our critical eye and beg for any solution we can get. Take ethanol, for instance. We continue to subsidize a corn-into-ethanol program, despite the fact that scientists have demonstrated its innefficiency and counter-productivity. Oh, and it’s probably also raising food prices.
I think we need to do the right thing, something that actually makes a difference, and we need to get it right the first time. Bad legislation is often worse than no legislation at all, because it has a tendency to stick with us, continuing to poison public opinion on legitimately important subjects.
Tune into my next post where I REALLY start to get upset. I’ll give you my take on carbon offsets, and offer some suggestions for addressing climate change in a way that makes sense.