The following is a guest essay by Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, authors of Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility and “The Death of Environmentalism.” Nordhaus and Shellenberger are …
Bill Clinton just gave a short speech and took a few questions from reporters. Some highlights: When they were in office, Bill Clinton and Al Gore wanted to create a global carbon market. At the time, Europe thought the idea undesirable and unfeasible and didn't offer any support. The effort failed. Now, years down the line, the world is a different place and the idea has much more purchase. Clinton, when asked for his thoughts on this, managed to turn all of his administration's supposed failures -- from health care to peace in the Middle East -- into examples of his foresight: "It's a great thing to fail at a good cause because it keeps free people stumbling in the right direction." Clever. But also true. So what does he support now? In response to a question about just that (it was the question I wanted to ask, but I guess I didn't raise my hand high enough), Clinton said he still supports a carbon market. A carbon tax creates incentives to individuals, he said -- but in theory, because it's largely untested. He sounded open-minded, but believes that as a catalyst for innovation and with greater enforcement and consumer information, a carbon auction is still the preferable regulatory scheme. Addendum the first: In answering a question about the empowerment of women in the world, he managed to offer a frighteningly complete history of the world in two minutes. Addendum the second: Apparently last year's CGI meeting was followed via webcast by about 50,000 people. This year, Clinton announced, that number is 500,000 -- a ten-fold increase. It's not surprising that the CGI audience would grow as the event's profile increased and technology spread and improved, but a 1000 percent increase over the course of one year is really remarkable.
Notable quotes from the plenary on "Economic Growth in the Face of Resource Scarcity and Climate Change": Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Prime Minister of Norway and United Nations Special Envoy on Climate Change: "Industry needs political signals and long-term ones. And it's not sufficient that individual countries set their own [goals] without connecting it to a global system." Meles Zenawi, Prime Minister of Ethiopia: "This is about property right ... it's about a scarce resource, which is how much pollution the atmosphere can take," and about allowing countries that don't need the resource to sell shares to countries that do. Tony Blair, former Prime Minister of the U.K.: "You're not going to get a global deal that is the same strategy operating in every country ... you will end up with a series of different strategies, probably based on cap and trade, and then a linking system." Hank Paulson, U.S. Treasury Secretary: I'm not going to quote anything Hank Paulson said here, because it's all been obfuscatory Bush administration claptrap and, next to the three people on stage with him, everything coming out of his mouth sounds ignorant and mendacious.
Meles Zenawi, prime minister of Ethiopia, laid out the, ahem, inconvenient truth: That countries like his suffer because of what countries like ours have done, and that a world-wide cap-and-trade treaty would have to allow countries like Ethiopia to sell carbon allocations to countries like the United States. He says the funds would be used to invest in green energy. Of course, they could also end up spent on Ethiopia's continuing quest to take over Somalia, so, it seems, there would have to be some oversight here. Broadly speaking, though, this is a justice problem, and one that will be politically difficult to solve. Blair made the point earlier that if you say that solving global warming requires less consumption, you'll lose the argument. But if you suggest more accurately that saving the Earth from climate change will create new consumption choices, and that making the right ones will help the environment, then people will be convinced. Creating the will to subsidize a real green revolution in the developing world will certainly require a similar analysis and framing.
Tony Blair: "The problem with global warming is that you feel guilty about enjoying it." Yes indeed. Less charming is this from Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson: Asked by Tom Brokaw whether Bush's determination on climate change is shared by Republicans on Capitol Hill, he replied, "I think there's a wide variety of knowledge on Capitol Hill." Writes Ezra, "Yep, many different knowledges, some of them true, some of them false, spread broadly. And they call the Left post-modern."
Tony Blair, oddly, just downplayed the importance of political will in the United States, and then, in an aside, said he thinks "the political will is there." I think he's been talking to George Bush too much. Building American political will is the key challenge facing us if we want to see a global mitigation regime emerge. Still, the topic of the plenary is "Economic Growth in the Face of Resource Scarcity and Climate Change," and on that point, Blair pointed out that the U.K.'s economy has grown en route to meeting its Kyoto goals. Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, the former prime minister of Norway, explained how such growth has also happened in her own country. Both encouraged government action in the United States and worldwide. So there is good news to report.
Bill Clinton introduced the morning plenary today by, once again, honoring the companies and people who've committed to the Clinton Global Initiative to take steps to increase energy efficiency and decrease greenhouse-gas emissions. But he touted one dubious statistic: If China, India, and the United States were to become as efficient as Japan, that would decrease global greenhouse-gas output by 20 percent. That statistic is based on this study by the McKinsey Institute and I think it's true only if, in an era of enhanced efficiency, the 2.5 billion people in China, India, and the United States didn't respond to resulting lowered energy costs by actually consuming more energy. Still, it would be a huge step forward, and I suppose it's better that Bill Clinton's up there making this all seem possible, rather than pointing out the obvious challenges.
With a mighty creak of long-rusted hinges, a door is finally opening in Washington. The present Congress will apparently be asked to consider a carbon tax. The measure -- actually, a hybrid carbon and petroleum tax -- will be introduced by the powerful chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.). Today Dingell posted on his website a summary of the bill, which he began drafting in June. The current version would phase in, each year for five years, a charge of $10 per ton of carbon content of coal, oil, and natural gas -- plus an additional 10 cents/gallon for gasoline and jet fuel (kerosene). By the end of the five-year period the charges would reach $50/ton of carbon plus 50 cents/gallon of gasoline and jet fuel. These equate to 63 cents a gallon of gas and 90 cents for one hundred kilowatt-hours, assuming the nationwide average fuel mix. Dingell is asking the public for comments. Here's ours: we think the bill is terrific. It's in line with what we said when we founded the Carbon Tax Center, and as Dingell himself wrote last month in the Washington Post, "[S]ome form of carbon emissions fee or tax ... would be the most effective way to curb carbon emissions and make alternatives economically viable." Moreover, as we elaborate below, his supplemental tax on gasoline and jet fuel has the look of genius.
The Clinton Global Initiative is ongoing. Rich folk and businesses are committing large sums of money to solving global problems like education, public health, and climate change. Matt injects a welcome note of realism: In …
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