Years ago, I served on the board of directors of a conservation group whose mission and purpose was to preserve an endangered species. We spent considerable time debating, discussing, and revising our bylaws and even more time reporting, debating, and balancing our balance sheets, plus the obligatory inventory of office supplies and cute plush toy souvenirs. “Merchandising with a message,” they called it. There were monthly board meetings and monthly membership meetings followed by refreshments, but how much time was actually spent preserving and protecting our charges? Ahem, not that much.
Years pass, and my transformation from human being to cephalopod is now complete. I no longer converse with human protectors but with the protected, and here is what the protected think of their benefactors: “We are doomed, DOOMED!” From the viewpoint of an endangered species, human beings are all talk and cute plush toys but no action. In the human Universe, the shortest distance between two points is through every conceivable viewpoint.
My experience in the endangered species preservation biz reminds me of the latest argument between economist Paul Krugman and climate change scientist James Hansen, who fired the first volley in this New York Times Op-Ed:
Because cap and trade is enforced through the selling and trading of permits, it actually perpetuates the pollution it is supposed to eliminate.(…)
Coal emissions are still significant contributing factors in four of the five leading causes of mortality in the United States — and mercury, arsenic and various coal pollutants also cause birth defects, asthma and other ailments.(…)
The House and Senate energy bills would only assure continued coal use, making it implausible that carbon dioxide emissions would decline sharply.(…)
If that isn’t bad enough, Wall Street is poised to make billions of dollars in the “trade” part of cap-and-trade.
Not to be outdone on matters of energy economics by a lowly climate change scientist, Paul Krugman, our infamous defender of faith and turf, returned fire with this:
Things like this often happen when economists deal with physical scientists; the hard-science guys tend to assume that we’re witch doctors with nothing to tell them, so they can’t be bothered to listen at all to what the economists have to say, and the result is that they end up reinventing old errors in the belief that they’re deep insights.
What a condescending and prickly reply, I thought. Clearly, Paul Krugman represents the Cute Plush Toy School of environmental protection that amuses protectors but accomplishes little on behalf of the protected. Worse still, here is what Krugman says of Hansen’s carbon tax proposal:
If you use a tax, you know what the price of emissions will be, but you don’t know the quantity of emissions; if you use a cap, you know the quantity but not the price. Yes, this means that if some people do more than expected to reduce emissions, they’ll just free up permits for others — which worries Hansen.
What worries Hansen should also worry us. A system of cap and trade will invite chicanery from players on both sides of the equation. Polluting industries will abuse the “cap” on emissions by continually lobbying Congress for exemptions, offsets, and opt-outs. Speculators will abuse the “trade” by gaming the system in much the same way Enron manipulated energy markets and defrauded consumers. Thus, cap and trade will become the ultimate plush toy for powerful interests but accomplish little or nothing in actual emissions reduction. Furthermore, Krugman ignores Hansen’s proposal of a fee-and-dividend system which clearly states:
The fee would be uniform, a certain number of dollars per ton of carbon dioxide in the fuel. The public would not directly pay any fee, but the price of goods would rise in proportion to how much carbon-emitting fuel is used in their production. All of the collected fees would then be distributed to the public. Prudent people would use their dividend wisely, adjusting their lifestyle, choice of vehicle and so on. Those who do better than average in choosing less-polluting goods would receive more in the dividend than they pay in added costs.(…)
Given the amount of oil, gas and coal used in the United States in 2007, that carbon fee would yield about $600 billion per year. The resulting dividend for each adult American would be as much as $3,000 per year. As the fee rose, tipping points would be reached at which various carbon-free energies and carbon-saving technologies would become cheaper than fossil fuels plus their fees. As time goes on, fossil fuel use would collapse.
While I favor Hansen’s fee-and-dividend system, we should also consider a proposal put forth by arch-conservationist extraordinaire, Sarah Palin. In her recently released bestseller, the Sarahdon said: "If God had not intended for us to eat animals, how come He made them out of meat?" We should take her at her word. If God made meat to be eaten, and if human beings are also made of meat, then it stands to reason that human beings should join her list of fair game. Her modest proposal would require only a slight modification of God’s Word. If you change “Love thy neighbor” to “Eat thy neighbor,” famine would disappear and all human impacts on the environment would diminish over time. As everyone knows, once you remove human impacts from the environment, Nature has an uncanny way of recovering and bouncing back ... quicker than a wink!
Cross-posted from The Swash Zone.