Climate & Energy

Carbon policy details: Part 3

Carbon taxes vs. carbon trading

This is the third post in a series about details we are still getting wrong in the climate policy discussion. See also part one and part two. There is no shortage of economic analysis and policy discourse that shows that carbon tax and cap-and-trade methodologies can deliver economically equivalent outcomes. The general consensus -- at least today -- seems to be that since they're equivalent, it really comes down to politics, and it's politically difficult to do anything with the word "tax" in it, so we'll do cap-and-trade. I like the conclusion, but the rationale is pure bunkum. To understand why, we need only go back to my simple test of any climate policy proposal: the degree to which it encourages investment in capital that lowers atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations. Cap-and-trade and carbon taxes do not pass the test equally.

U.S. West warming faster than the rest of the planet, says analysis

The U.S. West is warming faster than the rest of the country, and faster than the planet as a whole, according to an analysis of 50 scientific studies done by the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization. From 2003 to 2007, the globe was 1 degree Fahrenheit warmer than its average 20th century temperature; during the same period, 11 Western states averaged 1.7 degrees warmer. Westerners are unlikely to dispute the findings, considering the ongoing drought. (Note: Yes, it is snowing in Seattle today; no, that does not mean global warming isn’t happening.) Scientists predict that the West will continue warming at …

Think globally by thinking locally

A new study bolsters the importance-of-place arguments made by people like Wendell Berry: the strongest way to get people to engage with the problems and to act responsibly for the global environment is to focus on the threats to their own place). This doesn't really surprise me -- but it does prompt me to change my signature line to "Save your community -- cut greenhouse gas emissions 5% per year."

Casten gospel reaches NYT

Congrats to our own Sean Casten for getting the following letter to the editor in The New York Times: Re "States’ Battles Over Energy Grow Fiercer With U.S. in a Policy Gridlock" ("The Energy Challenge" series, March 20): Proponents of coal-fired power argue falsely that coal is cheap. Coal is a cheap fuel. But who cares? Coal can’t run an iPod. And electricity from coal — which also includes fuel, maintenance and capital recovery costs — is expensive. Indeed, no one is building coal plants without first securing regulatory guarantees of equity recovery. But when we guarantee that equity, we …

A Southern Baptist conversion to concern about climate change

Young theologian discusses denomination’s recent declaration

Jonathan Merritt is a young theologian in Atlanta who broke into the national conversation this month by championing, within the conservative Southern Baptist faith, the declaration of a new set of principles regarding creation care and climate change. While noting continuing debate on some global warming questions, the declaration made a point of stating that we as a species can damage the planet and that such actions are wrong. The declaration stressed that "we do not believe unanimity is necessary for prudent action," and that "humans must be proactive and take responsibility for our contributions to climate change -- however great or small." The declaration was signed by three of the four most recent presidents of the Southern Baptist Convention, including the current office holder, Frank Page. In a phone interview, Merritt conceded that the resolution, like all resolutions issued by the SBC, is non-binding, but he and his fellow counselors are pleased that, since the declaration made the national news, hundreds of prominent Southern Baptists have signed on, including divinity school presidents, pastors, seminary professors, and missionaries. Merritt said that it represented an "evolution" of the Southern Baptist position on the issue, but the mildness of that description is debatable. In the Resolution on Global Warming issued in June 2007, the Southern Baptist Convention used the dismissive rhetoric of climate change denial, claiming the science was "divided" on the question of global warming and that measures to reduce emissions were "very dangerous" and costly. Because the Southern Baptist denomination is the second largest in the country, with over sixteen million adherents, the church's position on social issues makes news. Not only do these believers stake out a new position on the issue, but they use the language of repentance to describe the change, which makes their change of heart sound almost like a conversion experience. The declaration mentions the "study, reflection, and prayer" the signatories underwent before reaching consensus on the declaration, and added in a widely-quoted statement: We believe our current denominational engagement with these issues have often been too timid, failing to produce a unified moral voice. Our cautious response to these issues in the face of mounting evidence may be seen by the world as uncaring, reckless and ill-informed. I asked Merritt about this language, saying that if I were a reporter in a courtroom, I would describe this as a statement as "remorseful."

Fewer zero-emission vehicles will be required on California roads by 2014

California’s Air Resources Board has voted to reduce the number of zero-emissions vehicles required to be sold in the state by 2014 from 25,000 to 7,500. It’s a hefty reduction, though less dramatic than the recommendation by CARB staff that the requirement be cut to 2,500 vehicles. Not-quite-zero-but-still-relatively-less-emissions vehicles, like plug-in hybrids, will make up the rest of the quotient, the board decided.

Windfalls

Why consumer protection means selling carbon permits

One of the thorniest problems in cap-and-trade programs is deciding how to distribute the carbon permits. Should the public sell pollution privileges or give them away for free? Some folks worry that if we make polluters pay for carbon permits, they'll just raise prices for consumers. That's a perfectly legitimate concern. Unfortunately it turns out to be true, whether we sell the permits or give them away for free. Prices rise by the same amount in either scenario. (The only difference is whether polluters reap windfall profits or whether the public earns revenue from selling the permits.) It may be counterintuitive, but it's true. It's also very hard to explain why this is the case without resorting to a lecture on economics. So in an attempt to clear things up, Sightline has put together this easy-on-the-eyes summary. It comes in four parts: A simple explanation. A slightly more detailed explanation. A look at Europe's carbon trading market. A review of the (basically unanimous) economic literature. Take a look and let us know what you think.

Another urban legend is spawned

Prius ‘proven’ to get worse gas mileage than BMW 520d

This story in the U.K.'s Times Online is racing around the interwebs. Google "BMW 520d" and note how many pages deep it goes. Two goofballs journalists took a road trip, one in a Prius and the other in a BMW 520d. The BMW purportedly got about 4 percent better gas mileage than the "gas guzzling" Prius, which amazingly only managed a dismal 40 mpg. Coincidentally, that is exactly what our Prius got on a road trip last summer, which was not only jammed with people and camping gear but also had a giant cargo carrier strapped to the roof! Odd how the Prius always manages to lose these contests ... unless they're performed by independent third parties like Consumer Reports (Prius: 44 mpg, TDI Jetta: 34). The Prius has set the bar and competitors are finally going after it. This is how homo sapiens are. This is what motivates them to build skyscrapers and airliners. For the first time in human history, they are finally competing over green issues, which is all good. The following story carefully orchestrated farce is, in reality, a tribute to the Prius engineering that kicked this whole show off. Somebody has a serious case of mileage envy.

EPA will request public comment on GHG regulation this spring

SCOTUS decreed that the U.S. EPA must decide whether the climate-change effects of carbon dioxide endanger public health, and, at long last, the agency is moving on that decision — kinda. In a letter to U.S. lawmakers Thursday, chief Stephen Johnson wrote that the EPA is writing proposed rules for regulation of CO2 emissions “from stationary and mobile sources” and will sometime this spring “present and request comment on the best available science including specific and quantifiable effects of greenhouse gases relevant to making an endangerment finding.” We can hardly wait.

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