Monday, July 26, 2010

RIP Cap & Trade

by Kurt Nelson

Harry Reid has announced that, even in the wake of the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, the Democratic Party will abandon its efforts for a robust bill to cap carbon emissions, and instead seek a pared down bill to make for safer future drilling.

I'm filled with a somewhat familiar sort of legislative depression.  A good portion of which takes the form of the question, "what do I now do?"  I will, of course, continue to reduce my consumption of fossil fuels and pursue a more sustainable lifestyle.  But all such actions frequently seem largely symbolic (or merely an attempt assuage my personal environmental guilt).  And larger scale action, even on my one small home, is almost entirely outside of my income bracket.

Indeed, in the wake of a public disaster and a congress which (at least rhetorically) supported a capping of greenhouse gasses, creation of green jobs, and an end to our oil addiction, we must all, I think, ask ourselves what we ought do now.

Blame is easy to cast.  And it's been done by many, to many.  Those moved primarily the development of green technologies (for example) are already reminding the country that cap and trade was merely a means to an end - to raise prices on low-cost, high-waste resources like coal and oil, so that newer, cleaner technologies could take their rightful place.  Others might rightly respond that, in fact, the creation of green technologies itself is merely a means to a end - to curb pollution and climate change.  But we might rightly point out that the halting of climate change is still only an instrumental good.  But this is where it gets a bit unclear, in my opinion.

We struggle more when it comes to ultimate goods.  Are we seeking simply to continue life as we know it?  Are we seeking to maximize human flourishing? (Because there to be those who think a little warming will, perhaps, make us better off.)  Are we seeking to preserve the diversity of species?  Or glaciers?  Or polar bears?

It is this articulation which, I believe, is most importantly lacking.  In the face of vociferous, well funded opposition, we have to not only create a road-map for a sustainable future, but also a vision of what we hope that might look like.  Personally, I would think the good which we seek is a more just, equitable and healthy world.  And I cannot ignore the disproportionate effects that pollution and climate change have, and will have, on those segments of the human population that are already struggling to make ends meet and find enough to eat.

But as we look beyond cap and trade I would happily stand beside those seeking to maintain biological diversity.  And those seeking a sustainable capitalist economy.  And those looking to create jobs.  And those concerned with arctic peoples and habitats.  But without such visions, I fear we will face further disappointment and delay.

1 comment:

  1. I'm not giving up on climate legislation. Cap-and-trade will not pass this summer, but we can at least get Home Star and perhaps a national RES standard will pass in the lameduck session. Then next year, though Democrats will have fewer seats in Congress, the Senate will likely have some sort of filibuster reform and it may actually be easier to pass something big, be it cap-and-trade, industry caps, or carbon pricing. And now matter what happens in Congress, we can keep pushing the states to adopt state RESes and federal regulators like the FDA and EPA to take greenhouse gases into consideration when they draft new regulations. Never give up hope and never stop trying. Find a new path when necessary.