From the authors of Breakthrough.
There are five reasons why setting a price on carbon dioxide, either through a cap and trade approach or an outright tax, cannot reduce greenhouse gas emissions anywhere close to what is needed.
1. The regulation-centered approach won’t result in the deep reductions in global carbon emissions that climate scientists believe are necessary to avoid catastrophic climate impacts.
2. Governments will continue to set a low price for carbon, which will prevent clean energy sources from becoming cost-competitive.
3. Developing nations like China will not sacrifice their economic growth to reduce its emissions.
This crucial point is too often overlooked in the States. Developing countries look at environmentalists and carbon caps as elitist, preachy, and deliberating attempting to slow their economy. Why does the West, the biggest polluter of all, they ask, have the right to tell us not to develop the power and transport systems that they already have?
4. Dramatic and rapid technological breakthroughs will not be primarily driven by the private sector.
5. Public investment will be far more important than pollution limits in driving technological innovation and reducing the real price of clean energy. This point seems to be controversial only among environmentalists.
This is their key point. Only massive investing by governments can (hopefully) create new ways sources of clean, non-polluting energy. As an example, they use the Internet. It was the huge amounts of government-led R&D into chips, fiber, and Arpanet that led to the net of today. Private companies certainly have contributed to the R&D in recent years, but it was the US government (specifically the military) that created what became the Internet. So, they say, let’s do the same with clean energy.
Other major problems with carbon caps is that for them to work, they must be universal and verifiable, something they are nowhere close to being. If one country institutes strict caps, a business can simply move to a less restrictive (or more easily bribed) country. Plus, just because, say, WalMart buys credits for 10,000 trees in Borneo doesn’t mean they were actually planted and maintained. There needs to be transparent audit trails on trading emissions, and no such systems exist at present. And again, they need to be universal.
Carbon emission offsets are kludgy, unworkable, and unenforceable. We need massive public research into clean energy along with cutbacks in consumption by all.
You can change the world by changing technology. So, you can try and ban coal fired power plants all day and night for the next thirty years and you won’t have much luck. But if you go get a degree in physics, and create a solar panel that produces cheaper electricity than coal power plants, then no legislation in the world is going to keep coal alive.