This post was originally published on Environmental Economics.


Joe Romm’s analysis is mostly spot on — and if a post starts like this, you already know what comes next. This time he responds to a $10,000 contest organized by EDF (yep, my employer) that asks for submissions to help explain: “What is a carbon cap and how will it cure our oil addiction?

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Romm calls it a “bizarre” contest “to explain something that isn’t true,” since “it is all but inconceivable that a carbon cap will solve our oil addiction.” Well, not so fast.

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A cap alone will not cure all ills, but it goes a long way toward solving the problem. Let’s look at the numbers.

MIT’s analysis of the Climate Security Act using their EPPA model says that net crude oil imports would be 22 percent lower by 2015 under CSA than without. These savings rise to 31 percent by 2020, 41 percent by 2025, and 66 percent by 2030. (Savings decrease in the next years due to some modeling assumptions around other countries taking on caps, but are up to 62 percent again by 2050.) Sure, that’s technically not “solving the problem” entirely. However, solving two thirds of it isn’t all that bad in my book.

But that’s not all. Rising prices alone aren’t going to solve the transport issue: 97 percent of our vehicles run on oil. Changing that requires more than increasing the price, as examples from Europe and many economic studies show. That’s where additional direct mandates like higher CAFE standards come in, much like as Romm suggests.

egg in frying panIt’s also where the cap can show its full potential. Depending on how many of the carbon allowances are auctioned (as opposed to given away for free), a cap will also generate large sums of money. Part of that could be used to jump-start our transition to a greener transportation sector that’s less dependent on fossil fuels. It’s tough to put a number on this. Yet it wouldn’t be too surprising if a combination of these measures could take care of the remaining third of the problem.

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These arguments also show why the ad competition is a good idea. It’s tough to translate economic modeling results into an accessible language without sounding overly wonkish, let alone describing the potentials for these additional measures.

So, any idea for a memorable image? It would indeed be neat to come up with something that mirrors the “This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs” campaign.