April 13th, 2011 | Uncategorized

OPINION | Presenting real climate solutions

I want to respond to a recent YDN editorial by Trevor Wagener, entitled “Finding real climate solutions.” In his piece, no solutions are found. None are offered, either, unless you consider “engineer things better” a solution. By offering this as a solution, Wagener then moves on to dismiss the premise that policy reform could be helpful, but he does this with long chains of misrepresentation.

Conflating cap and trade with a carbon tax is the first of many errors in his opinion piece.

A carbon tax, like any tax, would impose a per-unit charge on some good. In the case of carbon (or greenhouse gases generally), the unit is tons emitted, the good carbon or carbon-equivalents. A tax like this could potentially, and briefly, slow economic growth. But carbon taxes have been implemented around the world and results indicate nothing even remotely similar to “economic suicide,” as Wagener describes it.

Cap and trade is not a tax, but a technology-forcing mechanism. A cap is placed on total emissions. Creditable permits are distributed (or auctioned) to industry players. No price is fixed on carbon. Rather, through basic market forces, these permits are then traded to a point of distributive economic efficiency. The basic point is that cap and trade provide incentive for industry to reduce emissions and thereby sell permits at profit to heavier polluters.

This is notably different from taxation. Whether interested in climate change or not, any economist would agree.

It is also important to highlight Wagener’s thesis: “A global pollution problem cannot ever be solved by unilateral action.” With this, he misconstrues the reasoning behind cap and trade. Nobody believes that US institution of a cap-and-trade policy will solve global warming; it would mitigate global warming. But additional considerations inform this policy debate, and Wagener fails to mention them: is global justice and equity of any importance (historical and per-capita emissions)? Given carbon regulation is inevitable, will it not hurt US competitiveness to stall on this issue? Could addressing this problem HELP — rather than harm — US manufacturing and add — not subtract — US jobs?

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act leveraged a $16 billion investment in cleantech to create over 200,000 jobs.

Wagener seems to reveal a hand with phrasing like “Assuming that there is man-made global warming…” This is no longer a debate. There is nothing to assume. For every 1 report produced by a skeptic, 100s can be produced in counter. Galileo no longer looks silly or seems radical for advocating heliocentrism. It’s only a matter of time.

As a final point, Wagener coolly describe the “much more relevant metric of weighing costs and benefits of actual proposed solutions to increased production of greenhouse gases.” In what way, and to whom, is cost-benefit analysis more relevant? Increasingly, policy makers, legal scholars, scientists, and even economists are grappling over the value of CBA, which fails to capture so much as to be almost laughable. Additionally, CBA has so far unsuccessfully addressed the exceptionally problematic debate over discount rates. How much, we must wonder, are future generations worth to


This piece certainly offers an opinion. I question the foundation of this opinion.