Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Climate Change: More on Cap-and-Trade versus a Carbon Tax


I previously posted on the growing concern by most economists that the politically favored "cap and trade" approach is inferior to the carbon tax as the solution to climate change. The LA Times weighs in with a rather detailed editorial:

There is a growing consensus among economists around the world that a carbon tax is the best way to combat global warming, and there are prominent backers across the political spectrum, from N. Gregory Mankiw, former chairman of the Bush administration's Council on Economic Advisors, and former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan to former Vice President Al Gore and Sierra Club head Carl Pope. Yet the political consensus is going in a very different direction. European leaders are pushing hard for the United States and other countries to join their failed carbon-trading scheme, and there are no fewer than five bills before Congress that would impose a federal cap-and-trade system. On the other side, there is just one lonely bill in the House, from Rep. Pete Stark (D-Fremont), to impose a carbon tax, and it's not expected to go far.

The obvious reason is that, for voters, taxes are radioactive, while carbon trading sounds like something that just affects utilities and big corporations. The many green politicians stumping for cap-and-trade seldom point out that such a system would result in higher and less predictable power bills. Ironically, even though a carbon tax could cost voters less, cap-and-trade is being sold as the more consumer-friendly approach.

A well-designed, well-monitored carbon-trading scheme could deeply reduce greenhouse gases with less economic damage than pure regulation. But it's not the best way, and it is so complex that it would probably take many years to iron out all the wrinkles. Voters might well embrace carbon taxes if political leaders were more honest about the comparative costs.

The world is under a deadline. Some scientists believe that once atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have doubled from the pre-industrial level, which may happen by mid-century if no action is taken, the damage may be irreversible.

Read it all.

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