Friday, December 15, 2006

Capping or Taxing

Capping and taxing our way to carbon dioxide reductions, the main greenhouse gas, are words now heard more often, even on the silliest cable news station. But that's probably a good thing because we're actually talking about global warming and that, it seems to me, is a very--very--good thing.

This subject has to go way beyond corporate board rooms, academic institutions and most politicians. A "moderately concerned" public here in the U.S. and presumably in the rest of the world need to understand what they can do individually and on a community level, which in the short to intermediate term may be far more important for greenhouse gas reduction than the "big" concepts.

Ever so briefly, capping refers to a cap-and-trade structure, whereby limits are place on emissions. Companies that are able to go below their emission goals can sell "permits" to those companies that could not. Taxing is a straightforward levy that would set a price (a tax) on each ton of carbon dioxide that is discharged into the air. Each side has its advocates and each method has its shortcomings, political as well as technological.

But returning to the individual and the community, it's worth looking at what an increasing number of cities are doing in the United States. Because of the astounding negligence at the national level these past several years, cities have taken the lead in addressing climate change.

Some 350 cities throughout the U.S., encompassing more than 40 million people, have adopted a "climate protection planning process." The goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by studying and developing comprehensive plans for such things as energy use, transportation, waste management and overall environmental direction. Specific targets are established.

A central component of these plans is setting up community outreach programs. What can individuals and neighborhoods do? It could be a recycling program or merely replacing incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent lights. It could be a neighborhood association newsletter or quartely community meetings. But above all it educates people and shows them ways to participate and make a difference.

This is related to efficient energy use. McKinsey Global Institute, a research organization, believes that within some 14 years the annual growth rate of energy demand worldwide could go from approximately 2.2% to about 0.6%. This is not by discovering some new breakthroughs but by using existing technology, whether it's an energy-efficient appliance, insulating one's home or improved commercial building design.

A good place to begin is at the local level. In Kansas City, where I live, our curbside recycling program--in its first year--saved an estimated 156 thousand barrels of oil and possibly enough electricity to run almost 8 thousand homes for a year.

Of course we need global standards. Clearly countries like China and India cannot get some infantile "free" pass. And most definitely the voters in the United States are going to have to take some real responsibility for their actions, beginning by electing competent political representatives.

When General Motors thinks it still makes sense to advertise the Hummer to rich halfwits on Sunday football games, we still have a considerable ways to go. But it does however start with one light bulb at a time. Get busy in your community. Locate the people that can conceive of something different.


Dan said...

Good point about the need for local action. A carbon tax would nicely reinforce local action by providing an economic incentive for individuals and businesses to take action to reduce their energy use and to invest in renewable energy resources.

Dan Rosenblum
Carbon Tax Center

wawwrite said...

Thanks for the comment.