First Steps in Fighting Climate Change

California has taken some critical first steps in fighting climate change: The state has instituted a cap-and-trade system of carbon credits for industries across the economy to lower CO2 emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. This is a big, great step in the right direction to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

A couple of pros and cons, as I semi-understand them:

Pro: If successful, carbon dioxide emissions in the state of California will be lowered 30% by 2020.

Pro: This has smatterings of how Republicans might view carbon dioxide regulation (based on their arguments about health care): allow the states to tailor legislation to their own needs. One size might not fit all. So this might be a template bi-partisan CO2 legislation.

Pro: It allows ‘offsets’, in that companies can offset carbon dioxide production 1-for-1 by taking activities that would soak of carbon dioxide, such as planting forests (trees are like carbon dioxide storage containers). Thus, companies can still emit CO2 as long as they can demonstrate that they are absorbing an equal amount from the atmosphere. (This too has issues: Point: “are we just setting the problem aside for later?” Counter-point: “Not really, we’re offsetting the rampant deforestation ongoing in the tropics, so we’re really putting things back into balance”. and so on).

Pro: There is oversight from independent parties that double check companies reported CO2 sequestration figures (i.e. does the forest they planted soak up as much CO2 as they say it does).

Pro: If successful, this could provide a template for a bigger, national program.

Con: It’s fairly well-known among economists and people who study this sort of thing that cap-and-trade systems are not an ideal solution. Carbon taxes are much more effective and would not only reduce the incentive to release CO2 but spur innovation into new technologies. For more info, go here. This is only one point, but it’s worth at least three of the above ‘Pros’, because it’s a big point.

Con: It is only a state-based system, so such legislation might just make companies uproot and move elsewhere where there are not CO2 regulations. This is damaging because 1) it neutralizes the legislation and 2) it hurts the California economy. This is argument for federal legislation.

Con: If it fails, it’s another brick in the wall against CO2 legislation.

Con: Companies are savvy, there exists the very real possibility of exploiting loopholes or creating fraudulent carbon credits.

I’m not an expert, I’m no economist, and I know almost nothing about public policy. However, I am (in training to be) an ecologist. So I cannot debate the finer points of whether this is or isn’t the right program, but I do know that it’s necessary. Therefore, whether is be ideal or no, I support California’s steps in the right direction. Even if it doesn’t work, we’ll have learned how to make it better.

The question is: Who’s next? Will anyone follow? Can/will/should the federal government step up?

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