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Sierra Daily

Oct 13, 2010

We Never Liked Cap-and-Trade Anyway

So now that Joe Manchin has put a hole in pricing carbon, it's back to the drawing board for halting catastrophic climate chaos. The previous notion was the market-based mechanism of "cap and trade," which would have gradually ratcheted up the price of burning fossil fuels, thereby allowing alternative technologies an opening to compete. It passed the House of Representatives but stalled in the Senate, as Ryan Lizza recounts so vividly in the New Yorker.

So if we aren't going to make carbon more expensive, how about finding ways to make those alternatives cheaper? This, it turns out, is a far more popular approach, and suddenly there is a slew of proposals to fund clean energy innovation, as detailed by David Leonhardt in the New York Times:

To put it another way, the death of cap and trade doesn’t have to mean the death of climate policy. The alternative revolves around much more, and much better organized, financing for clean energy research. It’s an idea with a growing list of supporters, a list that even includes conservatives — most of whom opposed cap and trade.

Funding innovation, of course, requires funds, and it's unclear where the government is supposed to find the $25 billion a year that's being widely suggested to pay for this clean-tech R&D. Still, comments Ezra Klein, the politics are much better than cap and trade:

It focuses the conversation on cool new technologies and making sure America dominates a new industry rather than on making it more expensive for people to drive cars or get electricity from a coal-powered plant. It doesn't blame people, or make certain regions of the country terrifically uncomfortable.

Speaking of certain regions of the country being uncomfortable, here's a look at what might be in store if we do nothing:



Graphic part of a presentation by climate scientist Katherine Hayhoe, derived from this NOAA-led report, via Joe Romm at Climate Progress.

--Paul Rauber

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