Laboring with National Legislators

What is it that we want our national legislators to do?

• Carbon cap and trade
• Double fuel economy for cars and light trucks and raise fuel prices so that we don’t increase driving as driving costs drop.
• Tax our own energy use to pay the developing world’s cost of reducing GHG emissions.

Carbon cap and trade, or greenhouse gas cap and trade, is the setting of caps on the amount of carbon dioxide/GHG that can be emitted in a country or economic sector such as electric power production, and then allowing the trading of permits so that industry finds the cheapest ways to reduce carbon/GHG emissions.

US per capita GDP is 30 times that in China, our share of the cumulative emissions to date is much greater than China’s, even though their population is greater. Who should pay?

Some Republicans are uncertain of the science, which if you avoid reading the science, is pretty easy. Some Democrats are more interested in making sure that solutions don’t include nuclear power, but there is no solution without nuclear power. Whatever their justifications, they have no excuses — we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 2005 levels, or lower, by 2015, even as population and third world emissions increase. And then cut much more rapidly and radically by 2050. And then zero out carbon emissions.

Some legislators argue that we cannot afford these policies. John Holdren says that these extra economic burdens mean that we will not reach 2050 levels of prosperity until 2051 or 2052. What he does not say, but implies, is that without taking on these economic burdens to reduce the impact of climate change, we may never reach 2050 levels of prosperity.

What else can national legislators do? Require state policy — building codes and where people are allowed to live and water policy and… — to include adaptation to climate change. Adaptation will be required in the lifetime of buildings built today. Does it really make sense to resettle the coasts in Florida and Louisiana?

In some countries, fuel taxes are a significant source of revenue. Our legislators should at least request studies on the economic effects of phasing in high fuel taxes (on airplane fuel as well). Besides reducing other new taxes planned for January 2009, high fuel taxes lower the price per barrel paid to oil producers (European countries pay less for their oil than we do). High fuel prices provide stability, so that price increases due to political insecurity don’t have the same shock value, because prices start out high. High fuel taxes will be part of any carbon cap and trade program, but they can also be part of a more rational economic policy.

I hope to post on laboring with California legislators soon, but it may be August before I get it posted. Rule of thumb: support all of the new legislation being proposed to implement recommendations of the Climate Action Team.

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