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I'm Having a Pessimistic Day

There's a lot of fear-mongering right now about the effect cap-and-trade will have on the economy. Conor Clarke, however, threw together a nice graph offering some perspective:

waxman markey and GDP.png

The flip side to that bit of optimism is that the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill -- am I the only one who wants to see climate change explained to kids by way of the friendly pirate Cap'n Trade? -- probably won't do that much to avert global warming, either.

That said, it's my sense that supporters of Waxman-Markey have spent a lot of time in the last week or two defending the bill in terms of how insignificant its long-term effect on prices will be. I've been one of those people. But I'm not sure it's a good idea. Climate change is a big problem. It will eventually require a big solution. My understanding is that the polling suggests that people don't like it when you tell them this is a big problem and they don't want to be convinced that they need to spend their time worrying about something new. In fact, like kids who want to believe that they're going to the doctor for a lollipop, they want to hear that this is an awesome new jobs program. But it isn't an awesome new jobs program. It's an effort to avert a catastrophe on the only planet we know how to inhabit. And I can't see a successful respond to climate change that doesn't presuppose a majority sharing that belief.

By Ezra Klein  |  June 26, 2009; 5:20 PM ET
Categories:  Climate Change  
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Comments

I'm willing to outsource my judgment on this one to my betters and support Cap'n Trade. But I sort of agree with Michael Lind:

"Then there's energy. The problem with alternative energy sources like solar power and wind power is that they are still too expensive, compared to coal, natural gas and nuclear energy. The answer, according to a minority of enviromentalists like Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, should be massive, Manhattan-style public sector R&D to discover ways to bring alternative energy prices down -- in absolute, not just relative, terms, to maintain cheap electricity for American industry and American households. That would be the Roosevelt approach. But the Obama approach is to use a cap-and-trade system to artificially raise the prices of conventional energy, in the hope that private capital (with modest help from public capital) will pay for efforts to invent a cheaper solar cell or wind turbine. The fact that most of the left embraces cap-and-trade should not blind us to the fact that cap-and-trade is a classic example of an indirect, overly complicated, "market-friendly" neoliberal approach, touted originally by conservatives and neoliberals as an alternative to the allegedly discredited "top-down, command-and-control" approach that gave us, among other things, the TVA, the Manhattan Project and the Internet."

http://www.salon.com/opinion/feature/2009/03/06/neoliberalism/print.html

Posted by: roublen | June 26, 2009 5:34 PM | Report abuse

Great point.

Another aspect to this is that carbon output is a negative externality causing market failure (i.e. third parties are paying the cost of carbon output, not the polluters and those who purchase their products). People need to understand that cap-and-trade is a free market solution and that Republicans are actually anti-free market plutocrats passing the cost of their pollution onto others.

In addition, I'd like to see a report indicating, in dollars and cents, what the cost of doing nothing would be. Undoubtedly, the cost of doing nothing will exceed the cost of preventing/solving the problem--an ounce of prevention and all that.

Posted by: cjo30080 | June 26, 2009 5:39 PM | Report abuse

***"That said, it's my sense that supporters of Waxman-Markey have spent a lot of time in the last week or two defending the bill in terms of how insignificant its long-term effect on prices will be. I've been one of those people. But I'm not sure it's a good idea***"

Ezra, you read my mind. I saw somebody (I think he was from CAP, IIRC) the other night on the Newshour debating a conservative anti-Waxman advocate from the USCC. Anyway, he was taking great pains to assure viewers that Waxman wouldn't increase their energy bills by very much. I wanted to scream at the TV: "BUT THAT'S JUST THE POINT."

If there was thing I could change about progressive policy advocates, it would be their frequent tendency to tip-toe around the often utterly compelling logic of progressive policy prescriptions in favor of sugar-coated pablum that patronizes the very people they're trying to win over.

Posted by: Jasper99 | June 26, 2009 6:02 PM | Report abuse

Great, now I'M pessimistic.

Posted by: HerooftheBeach | June 26, 2009 6:45 PM | Report abuse

Ezra,
You are right about this one. W-M is a turkey of a bill and it's most destructive effect will be delaying really effective policy.

Posted by: michaelterra | June 26, 2009 8:00 PM | Report abuse

You wrote: "And I can't see a successful respond [sic] to climate change that doesn't presuppose a majority sharing that belief."

I don't think we have time for a majority to rise to the level of awareness that global warming is an emergency. Instead we need courageous LEADERS who care about the planet and all its people, not special interests of any stripe.

Posted by: rtipe | June 27, 2009 1:31 AM | Report abuse

Well, for starters, anyone who's read a headline in the last six months can tell you the blue line is currently heading down, not up, meaning that the chart starts with some fairly "optimistic" assumptions, to put it kindly.

I view this as a lot like Social Security. Let's implement an unsustainable plan by by backloading the unsustainable part onto future generations.

While we're at it, why don't we just set up a "carbon offset lockbox," which we can stuff with treasury bonds as Congress uses the carbon tax revenue to supplement the general budget, or -- like Bill Clinton's "surplus" -- to temporarily offset the deficit?

Maybe by the time our kids have to pay for this bill they'll be smart enough to do it. But fortunately, when push comes to shove they'll only have to be smart enough to repeal this nonsense.

Climate changes. It has always changed. If a critical mass of voters don't think it's absurd to seek laws intent on regulating the temperature of a planet, then we have much bigger problems than a few parts per million too much CO2.

Posted by: whoisjohngaltcom | June 27, 2009 9:48 AM | Report abuse

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