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Monday, October 08, 2007


carbon tax skepticism

posted by Aziz P. at Monday, October 08, 2007 permalink View blog reactions
It's funny how my views on global warming have shifted over the years. If there's one common thread, it's that I've been leery of the conventional wisdom, but trusting of the establishment. That's due to my biases: highly pro-peer review, highly pro-evidence-based policy, and highly anti-incrementalism. Count me as a skeptic of the power of markets to effect social change, as well. This is why I currently believe strongly that (1) global warming is real, (2) is anthropogenic, and (3) is unlikely to be ameliorated in any significant way by carbon taxes.

Here's an example of the argument against carbon taxes:

LONDON, Sept 24 (Reuters) - The battle to beat climate change has come down to one weapon -- the price of carbon. And analysts say it is not working.

Much lip service has been paid to cutting climate warming carbon emissions through measures such as improved energy efficiency, technological innovation, reduced demand, higher standards and carbon output restrictions.

But in most cases the vital incentive is supposed to be provided by achieving a high price for carbon, from which all else would follow. Neither has happened and time is running out.

"The policy instrument of choice pretty well everywhere is a price for carbon, and it is not going to work," said Tom Burke of environment lobby group E3G.

"To stop climate change moving from a bad problem getting worse to a worse problem becoming catastrophic, you have to make the global energy system carbon neutral by 2050 -- and that will not happen just using carbon pricing."

Burke said what was urgently needed were strict technical standards and investment incentives to achieve the transition.

"You have got to drive the carbon out of the energy system and then keep it out forever," he said. "In the first part of that you are making serious step changes. They are not going to be accomplished by marginal changes in price."

emphasis mine. The only meaningful way to effect change with respect to carbon is to take drastic action. That includes things like,

- mandating a (heavily subsidized) switchover to 100% hybrid vehicles for all taxis and buses in operation in the 50 largest metropolitan areas of the US by 2015.

- immediate removal of the fuel economy exemptions for SUVs, increased CAFE standards without any reduction in star ratings for front and side impacts (the latter two MUST be paired lest car makers achieve fuel economy at the expense of safety by shaving off protective sheet metal). Add a research subsidy to domestic automakers for R&D into hybrid engines.

- a gasoline "floor" cost of $3.00/per gallon, with the proceeds going towards the costs above.

- mandating use of CFL bulbs almost everywhere aside form medical facilities and private homes.

- vastly increase use of nuclear power for domestic energy consumption (note, Al Gore is correct on his skepticism as o whether this will have a meaningful short term impact globally, but for the long term domestically, it's a no-brainer. Time to get pebble bed reactors started in all 50 states).

- investing in high speed rail infrastructure between major population centers, with subsidized fares (no more than $1/mile, preferably less, ticket cost to consumer). Examples of initial corridors would be the Texas Triangle of Austin-Houston-Dallas, the MidWest corridor between Chicago, Cleveland, and Indianapolis, and Seattle-San Fran-Los Angeles)

- and lots of other things that have been proposed by real experts in the field rather than armchair analysts like myself.

all of this takes money. And taxes. Any politician who invokes global warming on the stump needs to be willing to take the political risk and actually argue for these kinds of measures. It seems however that as far as global wraming is concerned, Obama, Clinton, and even Edwards are all content to use the free pass they are given to pay lip service to carbon credits on the stump and avoid the kinds of drastic actions that you'd expect a progressive politician who genuinely believes that AGW is the dire threat they claim to believe it to be.

(aside: see Eric Berger for more skepticism about various other quick fixes for AGW proposed on the stump, such as biofuels).

UPDATE: Obama proposes a mandatory cap on carbon emissions:

He proposed instituting a mandatory “cap and trade” program across the economy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to the level recommended by top scientists, a figure that he did not specify Monday. Under his plan, businesses would be required to buy allowances to pollute, which would create financial incentives to limit energy use or reduce emissions.

Mr. Obama said if he was elected, the government would set a national cap on carbon emissions, which by 2050 would be reduced to 80 percent below the levels in 1990. Though he did not mention his campaign rivals by name, Mr. Obama criticized those who opposed gradual increases in gasoline mileage standards for cars, which included Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.

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About Nation-Building

Nation-Building was founded by Aziz Poonawalla in August 2002 under the name Dean Nation. Dean Nation was the very first weblog devoted to a presidential candidate, Howard Dean, and became the vanguard of the Dean netroot phenomenon, raising over $40,000 for the Dean campaign, pioneering the use of Meetup, and enjoying the attention of the campaign itself, with Joe Trippi a regular reader (and sometime commentor). Howard Dean himself even left a comment once. Dean Nation was a group weblog effort and counts among its alumni many of the progressive blogsphere's leading talent including Jerome Armstrong, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein. After the election in 2004, the blog refocused onto the theme of "purple politics", formally changing its name to Nation-Building in June 2006. The primary focus of the blog is on articulating purple-state policy at home and pragmatic liberal interventionism abroad.