When I hear about legislation to prevent climate change my eyes start to glaze over. It’s so boring! I’ve tried to put down my thoughts here as a way of keeping focused and understanding what is going on. See if it makes sense to you.
Energy Thoughts —
When I became concerned about global warming I didn’t understand why other people weren’t feeling the same way. How can we stand by and let this happen to our world?! I want everyone to live their lives in such a way that global warming will stop. It seemed to me the first step was for me to reduce my carbon footprint. How could I expect anyone else to do this unless I could do this myself.
Now I’m reading Hot, Flat and Crowded by Thomas Friedman. The first half of the book is about the problem. It’s enough to make you sit down and cry. Now I’m into the second half of the book which is about the solution. He starts out saying that all the easy things to do to reduce your carbon footprint are not enough. And he isn’t saying that if a few of us succeed in reducing our footprints it’s going to convince anyone else to do the same. He’s looking a much bigger picture. He says that we need to change our whole lifestyle. His solution begins with legislation. The government needs to subsidize clean energy and tax polluting energy sources. We need to do much more with efficiency. If energy was really, really expensive it would motivate people to change their lifestyle.
So originally I was thinking I had to lower my footprint as a first step in getting the world to lower theirs. Now I’m thinking that while it’s important to do this, we need to do things that will bring the rest of the world with us. We can’t do this by ourselves.
In the last few days, I’ve been looking at the FCNL (Friends Committee on National Legislation) website trying to figure out what is happening in the legislature. The following ideas are from their website and also from Friedman’s book.
To begin with a bit of history, the Senate had proposed legislation in 2007 that fell woefully short of curbing CO2 emissions. Their concern was that industry was objecting and they tried to propose legislation that industry would not lobby to death. This strategy failed and the legislation failed to get enough support to move forward. Right now, as I write this, the house is preparing new legislation. It is in the House Energy and Commerce Committee and once out of this committee will move to other committees so there is time to influence the content of this legislation.
FCNL says the energy crisis is an opportunity. They have given the following as advantages of getting good legislation passed:
1. It will reduce the dependence on foreign oil. (Now we are funding al-Qa’ida.)
2. It will create jobs, from high tech to manufacturing.
3. It will develop new industries while becoming an international leader in clean-tech exports
4. We will live in a cleaner environment with many additional health benefits such as reduced smog, sulfur, and heavy metals emissions.
FCNL is supporting a Cap and Trade program instead of a carbon tax. I was surprised at this at first because I thought everyone should do everything they could to reduce CO2 emissions but in reality people don’t do difficult things out of the goodness of their hearts. If there’s a tax on carbon emissions some industries will just pay the tax and keep on polluting. A Cap a Trade program will set a standard you can’t go above and lower that standard each year. Here is what FCNL considers as key elements that must be included in a good Cap and Trade program.
1. Auction 100% of the pollution permits. The senate bill (The Low Carbon Economic Act of 2007) gave 2/3 of the emissions to industries for free. A better plan is for the government to charge for pollution permits so that it can offset the increased cost of energy to the consumer. It can also use the money to invest in low-carbon technology, conservation and efficiency efforts, climate change adaptation and worker transition.
2. Rebate the majority of revenue back to the people. This legislation that increases the cost of emitting carbon will increase the cost of goods and services. Rebates to consumers must be part of the program.
3. Limit and verify offsets. Providing “offsets” is the idea that when you pollute, you send some money to someone to plant more trees or to a school adding energy conservation equipment. These are certainly worthy goals but the effects are hard to measure. How do you equate the benefit of the offset to the pollution that you caused. Because this is so difficult to measure the “Cap” should mean real domestic emission reductions.
4. Cap at the first point of sale. This means to cap the emission at the mine, refinery, processing plant or import point. It makes it easier to regulate because there are fewer sources to regulate.
5. Create a price floor. Investors are taking a risk and they need to know what the price of energy will be in the future. A new industry can be devastated by changes in the price of oil. When the price of gasoline drops, the demand for hybrid cars decreases leaving the hybrid car manufacturer in the lurch. To get new alternative industries started they need to know there will be a demand for their product.
6. Create a permit reserve pool. This further stabilizes the price of energy by creating a ceiling. A reserve pool would be set up to sell additional pollution permits when the permit price reaches an unacceptable high threshold. At this time the house bill is falling short of these key elements. We need to urge our representatives to include these elements in the new legislation so that it truly accomplishes a significant reduction in carbon emission.