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Cap and Trade: A Fatal Distraction

Activists Engage in Direct Action in Numerous US Cities on Nov. 30

Gary Houser

Humanity is facing a global emergency on a scale never before encountered. Scientists warn that climate de-stabilization is accelerating beyond worst case scenarios and approaching tipping points of no return. They predict water and food shortages, collapsing governments, regional wars, and chaotic dislocation of large populations. In the face of such transcendent danger, it is an unspeakable tragedy that the legislative process - which could mandate the needed changes - has instead become politicized and hijacked by the very forces responsible for the problem.

The protection of creation is an awesome - and some would say sacred - obligation shared by all. It is thus morally irresponsible to tie the fate of our planet to the whims of Wall Street speculators seeking profits on a trillion dollar market. But this is what is occurring with the decision to employ a cap and trade approach - the buying and selling of "pollution permits" - to address the climate crisis.

The vast complexity of the legislation, and the need to secure 60 votes in the US Senate, has become an invitation for powerful vested interests to flex political muscle, ensure profits, and insert escape routes to avoid regulation. The emission reduction targets have been drastically weakened compared to what science is demanding, as if the immutable laws of physics can somehow be re-arranged for the sake of political convenience.

EPA's authority to regulate carbon has been diminished in the House and offered as bargaining chip in the Senate. Both allow polluters to invest in large quantities of "offsets" - such as forestry and agriculture projects that absorb carbon - as an alternative to actually reducing emissions. However, these projects are vulnerable to abuse and difficult to verify. This would obscure the true story of emission versus absorption, creating major ambiguity regarding an issue that has no room for error. Friends of the Earth has documented that if all "offsets" are employed, actual emission reduction could be delayed for a full 20 years. (

What would work? A massive reduction in energy consumption through conservation and efficiency is fundamental, with the remaining demand met by truly renewable sources such as wind, solar, and geothermal. A straight carbon fee, continually increased over time, would create a powerful incentive toward adjustments in the economy away from carbon. The revenue would be directly transferred to U.S. citizens in the form of payroll or income tax dividends.

A carbon fee system is being demonstrated in Denmark, Finland, and British Columbia. A 10 minute video entitled "The Huge Mistake" by two EPA environmental attorneys presents the simplicity, transparency, and superiority of carbon fees over cap/trade. This video has been censured by the EPA even though its producers clearly state their views do not represent that agency.

There must be an immediate moratorium on new coal plants without proven carbon separation ability, and the old dirty plants phased out as rapidly as possible. A shift to organic agriculture and a ban on deforestation are also essential. Fossil fuel subsidies should be ended and the bloated military budget redirected to an internationally-coordinated "Marshall Plan" for addressing the crisis.

The Mobilization for Climate Justice is sponsoring direct action in numerous cities today, Monday Nov. 30. The Climate SOS network - of which I am a part - is participating because we believe the situation to be a global emergency. I personally will be taking part in civil disobedience at the Chicago Climate Exchange - the largest carbon market currently operating in the U.S.

A cap and trade system would only create a dangerous illusion of progress, wasting the precious little time humanity has to right its course before tipping points are irrevocably crossed. As we see this as nothing less than a crime against the earth and all of life, we feel compelled by conscience to nonviolently resist such desecration.

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Gary Houser is a climate activist working with Climate SOS.

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