Climate & Energy

Peter Barnes' cap-and-dividend plan is fatally incomplete

An effective climate plans needs to incorporate intelligently regulated energy efficiency standards

Andy Revkin at the NY Times has given a lot of ink to the cap-and-dividend plan (see here and here) by Peter Barnes, a founder of Working Assets. Revkin says Barnes "has long studied various bills and proposals for cutting emissions of carbon dioxide to limit global warming. He sees fatal flaws in every one." I don't see any fatal flaws in either Obama's plan or Mrs. Clinton's -- they are both terrific and comprehensive, unlike Barnes'. His goal is the same as theirs -- to reduce emissions 80 percent by 2050. But his solution is fatally incomplete: He proposes a "cap and dividend" system that charges a rising fee on sources of greenhouse-gas emissions (to propel a long-term shift away from such pollution) and returns the revenue to citizens, rich or poor, through a direct payment not unlike the checks that Alaska residents get every year from fees paid to the state by oil companies. That's pretty much it. What caught my attention in Revkin's piece is Barnes' answer to the last question posed: What about laws such as better efficiency standards? (Nancy Anderson) N.Y. Times columnist Tom Friedman has made a crucial distinction between incremental policies and transformative ones. Cap-and-dividend is transformative. It will get us to 80% emission reductions and create a clean energy infrastructure in the process. Raising efficiency standards for autos, appliances and buildings is a good thing to do, but it won't transform our economy or cut emissions 80%. That is, ironically, almost exactly backwards. Barnes apparently thinks plans like Obama's and Clinton's are loaded up with things like much tougher fuel economy standards and utility decoupling and federal clean-tech programs because the senators just love regulations and government spending (I know many of you conservatives out there think that). In fact, trying to stabilize at 450 ppm only using a price for carbon, as Barnes proposes, is wildly impractical and a political non-starter. That's because, at its most basic level, a price for carbon most directly encourages fuel-switching (especially from coal), but does not particularly encourage efficiency. That's why most traditional economic models require a very high (read "unduly brutal" and "politically unacceptable") price for carbon to get deep reductions.

Predictions for 2008: III

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Bad combo

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For every 1 degree Celsius globe warms, some 21,000 people could die, says study

For every 1 degree Celsius of anthropogenic global warming, some 21,000 people worldwide could die, including more than 1,000 in the U.S., says a new …

Shorter winters weaken forest carbon sinks

New study says trees are absorbing less CO2 than predicted

Forests have gained a lot of attention in the climate change conversation because of their ability to suck carbon out of the atmosphere. Individuals can buy "reforestation" offsets on the internet. There's talk of including credits for carbon stored in trees and wood products as part of many proposed cap-and-trade systems. Cities and businesses are even planting trees as part of their efforts to slow climate change. But forest ecosystems are, by their nature, unpredictable. And new research shows carbon sinks are weaker than predicted. There's no doubt that forests, and their tremendous ability to store carbon, can play a role in protecting the climate. But we have to be cautious about that role. Forest ecosystems are, by their nature, unpredictable -- - there's simply no way to know how much carbon a forest will store over the long haul. Worse, climate change itself magnifies those uncertainties. If a warmer climate makes forest fires more frequent -- as some people believe is possible -- then a lot of "offsets" will simply go up in smoke. Or consider BC's devastating pine beetle infestation -- an example of how ecosystem disruption can fell more trees than any chainsaw. And there's troubling news today that makes us more cautious than ever: A new global study by researchers at the University of Helsinki shows that trees are absorbing less CO2 than predicted, as the world warms and vegetation patterns shift.

For reals?

Toshiba said to have developed mini nuclear reactor

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California stats say state emissions-reduction plan far more effective than federal law

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Why grandfathering sucks

More on cap-and-trade systems

Here's a clear demonstration of why, in a cap-and-trade system, grandfathering emissions rights to historic polluters is a terrible idea: The UK's biggest polluters will reap a windfall of at least £6bn from rising power prices and the soaring value of carbon under the new European carbon trading scheme ... Critics argue ... that the scheme, under which nearly all allowances are granted free of charge rather than having to be bought by big polluters, has created a distorted market in which the worst offenders will enjoy bumper profits while incurring no extra underlying cost for producing greenhouse gases. That's just about right: handing out pollution rights for free, as the European emissions trading system did, creates the potential for massive, unearned windfall profits. Permits will have a market value -- someone will want to buy them. So when we hand out emissions permits at no cost, we're essentially handing out free money. There may be a few exceptions to this rule: a few economic sectors where free allocation won't lead to windfall profits. But they're the exceptions. The rule (as demonstrated in Europe) is that grandfathering is great for polluters, and bad for consumers. So maybe that's why lots of big oil and coal companies are so supportive of grandfathering ...

<em>The Ecologist</em> dishes it up

Climate refugees and Wi-Fi pollution

The Ecologist is such a great magazine. But I'm sorry that they don't make any of their content freely available online for me to link to here, because the Dec/Jan issue has some really important reading. For one, the world's first (human) climate refugees are about to lose their islands (in the Sunderbans Delta, which straddles the border of India and Bangladesh and is the world's largest mangrove forest, due to increased flows of water from melting glaciers in the Ganges headwaters). There's also a meaty discussion about the possible negative health effects of Wi-Fi. Whether or not Wi-Fi microwaves actually cause headaches, sleep disturbance, depression, memory loss, and worse, as some studies claim, it is pretty remarkable -- according to a physicist interviewed for the piece -- that this technology could come to market and become ubiquitous without having to undergo safety trials or scrutiny.

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