The article on carbon offsets trading only touches on one of many stupidities that these plans all have. To me, the worst problem with all of them is the gross misallocation of economic resources that these plans will all cause with their artificial price boosts of forest land values. All of a sudden, if you own forests, your assets will become several times more valuable than previously, because your forests’ carbon offsets (a completely intangible commodity) suddenly become hugely valuable. Capital will flow to the forest industry where it will serve no economic purpose, and the forest industry–an industry with a long history of backwardness and greed and short-sightedness–will no doubt squander it, as they simply have no productive use for this windfall. They’ve always squandered their forests and they’ll squander this undeserved cash windfall as well.
If we here in the United States are serious about CO2 reductions, there are several low-hanging fruits that can be, and should be, from a scientific/engineering/econometric standpoint, picked first. Upgrading the horrendously low efficiency of most of the US’ coal electricity plants from their current 35% level to a current technology level of 55-60% is one. Another is changing the US auto fleet to smaller cars via punitive taxation of vehicle weight. Vehicle weight reduction is the best way to reduce Americans’ vehicle fuel use because we can’t realistically reduce our driving all that much by price–look at how little reduction in fuel consumption occurred with $5.00/gallon gas–and it is certainly the engineeringly easiest way to. Mandatory tree plantings throughout urban areas of the South and West, to reduce the urban heat island effect, and to shade residential building roofs, is another easy one. And instead of throwing money at Wall Street, money spent at home on energy efficiency upgrades in our nation’s residential housing stock and light commercial properties will have an excellent payoff, one whose costs can be recovered in large part with intelligent loan/tax provisos. Properly designed, all of these programs will create lots of US jobs and help US industries, and will positively affect the US’ CO2 emissions.
None of these sensible and realistic and readily at hand proposals have ever had a smidgen of the media attention that carbon offsets trading has. None are on the political radar, none have any Congressional champions. The reasons why are obvious. First is that all of them require substantial government intrusions in the utility industry, the auto industry, and private property rights, to implement them. Second is that none of them benefit large financial interests any.
Carbon offsets trading is another so-called free-market ideologically driven in the face of contrary facts and past history neoliberal economic policy. If there is a significant neoliberal economic policy success story in the past three decades I’d like to see it. All the big neoliberal economic policies to date have failed, and CO2 offsets trading will fail too. It won’t reduce atmospheric CO2 levels and it will inevitably cause severe hurt and derangement to the productive sectors of the US economy. Worst of all, it will waste valuable, irreplaceable, time, which is here likely a scarcer resource than capital. Wall Street will get richer, however, and that seems to be what the US government is about these days anyway.
Daniel N. White