US should commit to carbon cap-and-trade legislation

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There is widespread agreement within the U.S. scientific and industrial communities that immediate adoption of a carbon cap-and-trade system is critical. By implementing concrete carbon emission reduction goals, we take a responsible step toward minimizing the negative impacts of climate change on our future environment and economy.

Since the oil and chemical industries, through the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, have endorsed the United States’ need for predictable, well-designed carbon cap-and-trade legislation, it would make sense for politicians who had previously opposed such legislation to reverse their positions and focus on getting the legislation right, rather than continuing to block it. Unbelievably, not only has climate change denial continued, but so-called “centrist” Democrats are now crossing the aisle and assisting Republicans in their drive to kill off the legislation.

It is as if the media and politicians are so reflexively opposed to anything that compromises corporate interests that they are unwilling to heed the advice of even corporate United States itself. When chemical and petroleum companies accept the importance of immediately beginning our transition to a less carbon intensive economy, how can Republicans and Democrats continue to refuse to act responsibly?

It is useful to compare the fossil fuel situation to our country’s running up the national debt while knowing that future generations will have to pay for it. In this same way, we have been charging up our carbon credit card, and it is critical for the sake of our economic future that we start paying it off immediately. There is no question that eventually petroleum resources will dwindle and become prohibitively expensive. The only questions are when it will happen, what condition the environment will be in and whether or not our economy will be prepared.

In strictly economic terms, cap-and-trade uses short-term economic costs and disadvantages to secure long-term economic profitability and advantages. In the short term, fuel-intensive industries become less profitable and citizens pay more money for what they consume; there is no way around it. To regulate people’s behavior in a market based system, you have to use incentives. If you want people to reduce their use of electricity generated from highly polluting but cheap coal-fired power plants, you have to tax that consumption.

One of the reasons nonrenewable energy production is cheaper than green sources of energy is that the nonrenewable technology sector has a century head start. By artificially raising the costs of fossil fuels, it is possible to level the playing field for renewable energy, creating companies and jobs that would otherwise not be economically feasible. As these green sources of energy flourish, our economy’s dependence on foreign oil decreases along with our carbon footprint. We have to look at the big picture instead of making decisions based strictly on what maximizes profits this year. This is the essence of sustainability and independent of politics.

Cap-and-trade will cause energy-intensive industries such as chemical and petroleum manufacturers to pay higher taxes and continue reorienting their processes toward sustainability. However, these industrial giants are willing to accept this burden because they know that the alternative – business as usual – will impose even heavier financial burdens in the future. The United States’ failure to commit to carbon cap-and-trade destroys any chance of an international agreement with other major emitters such as China. It is well understood and widely accepted in the scientific and industrial communities that if rising fuel consumption and climate change go unmitigated, American and world economies will be damaged beyond repair, and corporate profits will evaporate. U.S. corporations desire cap-and-trade legislation for their own self-preservation, and their request should be granted immediately.

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