Earth Week Excerpts: From “Cap and Trade,” by Peter Hansen

April 23, 2012

. . . Despite public confusion about the veracity of global warming, there is broad scientific consensus that it is real. Though there is debate about exactly how anthropogenic the change is, basic chemistry and physics inform us that humans are influencing our climate to some extent. Probably the most significant way in which we wield our influence is through carbon emissions—the amount of carbon dioxide we put in the atmosphere. Though we all can and should make personal efforts at reducing carbon usage through turning off lights and appliances, using public transportation, and avoiding air travel, if we want to create changes that will have the sort of significant effect on atmospheric carbon we need, some sort of economy-wide control will be necessary. The most plausible way for the United States to impose the necessary sort of program will be to implement a cap-and-trade program on carbon emissions.

This cap-and-trade program will have to be carefully designed to be sure to accomplish its carbon-reduction goals without overly burdening American families or the federal budget. It will have to catch cheaters, support the poorer families who spend more on energy, and ensure that it doesn’t place American manufacturers at a disadvantage. The proponents of the bill will have to control the discussion of the law to make sure that there is no misinformation about the bill’s costs and that the bill is viewed in light of its good intentions. No one is trying to hide the fact that cutting carbon emissions and fighting global climate change will be a challenge. No one is trying to hide the fact that writing an intelligent, effective, and politically viable cap-and-trade bill is a challenge. Making serious changes with significant consequences to millions of people today and billions of people in the future will always be a challenge. But when it comes to climate change, the need is so clear and the consequences so serious that we absolutely must rise up to the challenge.

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