Thursday, December 24, 2009

Report from Copenhagen: Forget carbon targets, just set a price

Copenhagen, 19 December 2009

While the mainstream press lamented the COP15 stalemate, and delegates struggled through the night to spin their impasse over “targets” and “verification” into some semblance of progress, the scene was harmonious, even jubilant at Klimaforum, the “people’s climate summit” near Copenhagen’s main train station Friday night.

Klimaforum negotiations coordinator Mathilde Kaalund-Jørgensen proclaimed to a standing room-only audience in the main auditorium that she had been admitted to the Bella Center (off limits to most non-governmental organizations since Wednesday), only to sit through hours of “very boring” speeches by heads of state, droning on about “urgency” and “binding targets.” The UN granted Mathilde just two minutes at its plenary session to introduce the Klimaforum Declaration. The consensus Declaration calls on industrialized nations to recognize and begin to pay their “climate debt” for the Earth’s accumulated greenhouse gas pollution that is already raining destruction and death disproportionately on developing nations. The Declaration rejects carbon trading, carbon markets and offsets as false solutions and perhaps most importantly, includes a clear call for a transparent carbon tax with revenue returned to the people.

The People's Climate Forum (Klimaforum)

After Mathilde’s remarks, Klimaforum closed with a rollicking, diverse celebration, including latin, kletzmer, waltz and folk music, dance and some good laughs. One musician played an impressive solo on an oboe he’d “up-cycled” from a plastic drinking straw. A speaker warned against cynicism and its evil twin, complacency; both block action and engagement. We are all products of an unbroken chain of millions of successful ancestors, he reminded us, who, at least for a moment, felt warmly about their mates. He pointed out that we each carry within us their accumulated success in adapting, cooperating and surviving. The Danish activists who had organized and obtained funding and space for the Klimaforum handed off the effort to a new team already planning an alternative summit at COP16 in Mexico City next year. “The people must lead” they said, “We will not wait for the so-called leaders.”

An apt ending to a week’s searing contrasts between pallid UN events and the lively and productive Klimaforum. Here’s how it went for me.

For the first week and a half of COP15, I divided my time between UN events at the Bella Center and the Klimaforum. While the plenary sessions were grinding along, the UN side events offered a wealth of information and occasional inspiration: British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell was congratulated for enacting North America’s first revenue-neutral carbon tax which led in May to his comfortable re-election. The German government detailed ambitious plans for 95% reductions in GHG emissions by 2050, pointedly including a scenario in which carbon capture and sequestration turns out not viable. And at a session on monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) of GHG emissions, I annoyed representatives of big accounting firms by pointing out that their Herculean (and lucrative) business plans to establish baselines and monitor GHG emissions would be unnecessary under a simple upstream carbon tax.

The dynamic shifted on Wednesday. I had planned to go to Bella Center for two side events in the morning and then head to Klimaforum for an afternoon presentation on carbon taxation. I had obtained the secondary credentials the UN was using to limit the number of attendees. On the Metro to Bella Center, delegates were ordered off at the Sundby station half a mile before the center. We marched through half-a-dozen police checkpoints between dozens of idling vehicles containing barking and snarling police dogs and lines of heavily armed police. From some points, we could see and hear throngs of protestors. They had planned a symbolic meet-up uniting supportive delegates inside Bella Center with those approaching from the outside. I saw a troupe of Latina women dressed as ears of corn nearly run down in mid-dance by a police van charging at full speed. Their corn husks crunched against the van as the women dodged, barely avoiding injury.

At the final checkpoint, in line to enter Bella Center, we were serenaded by Bob Marley tunes from a PA system powered by pedalling activists. I waited with two delegates from India. Their take: “Flopenhagen.” Inside Bella Center, guards scanned my credentials. The computer rejected me, and I was brusquely escorted by police armed with Glock 45’s out to the perimeter where the Marley tunes were still playing. Meanwhile, protestors were massing outside the gates; we could hear police yelling at them.

After taking a last look at the spectacle from Sundby station, I headed back to Klimaforum, where I met Friends of the Earth delegates who had also been locked out of Bella Center. FoE had elected not to participate in the demonstrations and try to work within the UN process instead, but it and many other NGOs were excluded anyway. They felt cheated, but also appeared glad to be on the “right side” of the new line between UN insiders and outsiders.

I arrived early to the Klimaforum presentation, Carbon Taxation – A forgotten climate policy tool, by Global Utmaning (Global Challenge), an independent Swedish think-tank. I was glad to meet presenter Carl von Essen who had contacted the Carbon Tax Center about our common pursuit of transparent, predictable carbon pricing. We chatted for a few minutes; he seemed very pleased to meet a rep from CTC. Their presentation was thorough, clear and well documented, covering the advantages of direct carbon pricing in reducing emissions and encouraging alternatives. Von Essen and his colleagues pointed out in countries where carbon revenue has been used to reduce other taxes, such tax shifting has produced economic benefits.

During the Q&A, I congratulated Global Utmaning on a terrific presentation and noted the excellent attendance (150 people packed the room). I mentioned our concerns with cap-and-trade: markets, traders, offsets, lack of clear price signals… and invited listeners to a discussion that I had arranged in the nearby “meshwork” area. Eight enthusiastic participants engaged for over an hour in a very substantive discussion about carbon pricing, including nitty-gritty details like border tax adjustments and ways to make the net effects of carbon taxes income-progressive. (Carl and his colleagues had headed for the Bella Center to try to make a similar presentation there.)

Last week I also attended two Klimaforum sessions featuring prolific and influential Guardian columnist George Monbiot. He decried governments’ focus on increasing supplies of alternative energy rather than directly reducing demand for fossil fuel energy. He’s especially critical of Canada’s plans to unleash the dirtiest fossil fuel: tar sands. I treated him to tea and we had a few minutes to chat. I told him we agreed on the need to reduce energy demand and mentioned our recommended tool: carbon taxes with revenue recycling. “You’re pushing on an open door,” he said encouragingly. At his session later in the week entitled: “Are you getting the climate agreement you came for?,” Monbiot mentioned climatologist Jim Hansen’s trenchant critique of cap-and-trade and called on me during a comment period. I explained some of the flaws of carbon trading and suggested a direct carbon pricing system. Later, Monbiot picked up the point, explaining that a carbon tax is a way to reduce demand for fossil fuels and put alternatives on a stronger footing. Perhaps he’ll adopt revenue-neutral carbon taxing as a future talking point. (Click here for Monbiot’s bristling valedictory from COP15.)

What does it all mean? Like so many, I came to Copenhagen with a vague hope for a “fair and binding” agreement. I now question whether that was even a good framework to begin with. “Fair” now seems to point toward an endless struggle over allocating rights to emit carbon; and “binding” to incessant legal wrangling over monitoring and enforcement. In contrast, Klimaforum showed that leadership doesn’t have to come from the top, whether the UN or our so-called leaders. And sadly, the UN showed that it won’t.

What’s a better framework? How about one major trading bloc (e.g., the European Union or the U.S.) setting a steadily-increasing carbon tax? That would create pressure for others to follow, as the carbon-taxing countries collected (and kept) the laggards’ carbon taxes for them at the border. In effect, penalize the laggards while offering a bounty of tax revenue for those that join. The only international agreement needed — if at all — would be that every country will enact a carbon fee, along with clarification of World Trade Organization rules on border tax adjustments. Nations don’t even need to agree on the same carbon tax rate, since individual countries’ rates can be harmonized at the border.

Forget targets, verification, offsets, trading… And don’t wait for the UN. Just lead: set a carbon price. The world will follow.

Photo: Flickr / Iklimicingenclik.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Meditation with an Apple Tree (at Earthstory)

I attended Earthstory near Petersham, Massachusetts last August where I participated in a "deep ecology" workshop inspired by Joanna Macey.

Trishki facilitated a way for each of us to listen to and connect with a tree. She suggested that we go with a question. Mine was something like this: "Why do I feel anxious about the passage of time?" Trishki said, before you choose a tree to sit with, make sure it's willing.

The first tree whose power caught my imagination was a very big, old oak tree. But as I stepped closer, I saw that the tree's base was surrounded by poison ivy. I took that to be a "no." The next tree that caught my imagination was an old, (long unpruned and wild-looking) apple tree whose trunk curved upward in an appealing, reclining way that invited me to sit with my spine, my trunk, aligned with it.

That's what I did. I snuggled until my bottom, back, neck and head were held comfortably by the tree trunk and when I'd done that, I found myself looking at one of its limbs, borne down by many green apples. The tree was holding onto the soil and rocks that my legs and feet felt below, lifting water and nutrients through its trunk behind me, up, out into its fruit, before me. A caress, of sorts.

I listened. My anxiety, it seemed, was about ego. About accomplishing. About proving something. The tree suggested, "Try this: Just be for a while. I will support you. I am strong and healthy, life is abundant here."

So this is my idea of a prayer answered. I have many "gods," alive and around me. They all will speak to me if only I listen.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Moving Toward a Greener Economy

On July 1, the Washington Post published the following letter to the editor by Greg Ebel, President and CEO of Spectra Energy Corp., which operates natural gas pipelines and gas processing, storage and distribution facilities.
The June 26 editorial "Waxman-Markey" was right to push policymakers toward a better alternative to cap-and-trade emissions policy for addressing climate change. A straightforward, predictable carbon tax would present less room for manipulation while encouraging carbon emissions reductions.

The best carbon tax would be revenue-neutral, attaching a penalty to what we want less of (carbon emissions) while encouraging what we want more of (jobs, technological innovation and efficiency). Such a fee would directly and visibly assess the true costs associated with emissions and drive behavioral change quickly.

A tax doesn't create artificial scarcity, monopolies or rents. Without the profit potential of amassing tradeable carbon permits, industries would less incentive to try to get credits for their favored but non-competitive energy sources. That would be the likely result of the cap-and-trade bill moving through Congress.

What's more, a cap-and-trade system can be gamed. The financial derivatives associated with emissions credits would be traded in a new, hugely complex, multitrillion-dollar carbon market. Instead of turning our environment over to the traders who brought the financial system to its knees, we'd be wise to develop a far simpler system for addressing carbon emissions."


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Carbon Tax "Vastly Superior" to Cap and Trade

Economist Gary Hufbauer testified to the Senate Finance Committee this morning:
"Climate change is a serious problem that must be addressed by the United States and other countries. To reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, a carbon tax system would be vastly superior to a cap-and-trade permit system. Carbon taxes would be more transparent, more uniform across all GHG sources, raise more revenue, easier to administer, and more readily adjusted at the border. The Waxman-Markey draft legislation illustrates the enormous complexity, opacity, and rent-seeking inherent in a permit system."
If, like me, you think global scorching could become a plague of biblical proportions, it's pretty important to get the policy right. And even if you're not that concerned about the climate crisis, you might like the idea of tax reform: reducing taxes on our pay, encouraging employment while replacing the revenue with taxes on global warming pollution, discouraging energy waste and encouraging renewable energy. Unlike the 946-page Waxman-Markey bill, most people can understand that.

Why isn't Congress going for a revenue-neutral carbon tax? They seem to think we're too brow-beaten to understand that cap/trade is a hidden, volatile and regressive tax, and they're afraid we won't accept an explicit, predictable, progressive tax shift, just because it's called a "tax."

I won't be shedding any tears when the Waxman-Markey bill goes down in flames, either on the House floor or in the Senate. Then, maybe we can have a mature discussion about what Dr. Hufbauer was describing-- a system that actually works and that would lead other countries to follow.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Magical "Caps" Make Global Warming Go Away?

All you need is a "cap" and climate change will be "all better." That's the heart-warming story that EDF, Pew and the rest of the USCAP crowd have sold to their members, the public and the House Energy & Commerce Committee. Coming Attractions: the "magical cap" fairy tale will soon be playing to the full House.

The Washington Post reported today on very heavy lobbying of the Waxman Markey climate bill. But, the Post says cap/trade advocates are not concerned about handouts of free allowances:
Supporters of the bill say its key component is an iron-clad cap on the nation's emissions that drops over time. They said it doesn't matter how allowances are distributed.

"The environmental goals depend on having a strong cap and a time horizon to encourage innovation," said Nathanial Keohane, an economist at the Environmental Defense Fund. "That's what we see in the bill."

The biggest chunk of free allowances, worth $500 billion, would go to local electricity and natural gas distribution companies, with strings to make sure the firms use them to shield consumers from higher costs. [Emphasis added.]

So the magical "iron clad" cap does it. No need to bother anyone with higher fossil fuel prices...

Fred Krupp of EDF: "You’ve heard a thousand times that the whole point is to send a price signal. The whole point is really a declining cap [for greenhouse-gas emissions]. The cap drives innovation which lowers the costs. As an environmentalist, I’d like to see the costs at the lowest level possible, because that creates the political will to keep going, or even ratchet down the cap." (Wall St. Journal, March 19)

Contrast this with what economists say: Prof. Nordhaus: "Economic participants—thousands of governments, millions of firms, billions of people, all making trillions of decisions each year—need to face realistic prices for the use of carbon if their decisions about consumption, investment, and innovation are to be appropriate... without a strong price signal, there is simply no hope for making the vast number of decisions in a remotely efficient manner... Raising the price of carbon is [thus] a necessary condition for implementing carbon policies in a way that will reach the multitude of decisions and decision makers over space, time, nations, and sectors." [Emphasis added.]

And maybe the best part of the magical cap fairy tale: no need to regulate anything and hardly any need to even to enforce anything.... and we can feed the hungry sharks on Wall Street a new market in carbon trading while we're at it.

So why don't I believe in caps? There are two ways to reduce pollution:

1) Regulation: Prohibit or limit pollution by specifying equipment or performance, for example of power plants, appliances or buildings. And then police and enforce those rules every single day. Intrusive, bureaucratic, inefficient and requires heavy enforcement.

2) Prices: Raise the cost of pollution. That can be done directly with a tax, or indirectly with a cap which (if enforced) would raise prices. A cap says: Here's the amount of pollution we're going to allow, now bid for the limited right to pollute. But if there's a way out of the cap called an "offset" then there's really no cap at all -- the price of polluting becomes the price of the cheapest offset you can find.

Here's what the cap/trade advocates say in defense of offsets:
Offsets reduce costs to the U.S. economy by allowing firms to purchase emission reductions that occur outside the cap when they are more cost-effective, just like a cap-and-trade program allows firms to purchase allowances from other capped firms that can reduce emissions more cheaply.
And here's an example from Friends of the Earth's the "Subprime Carbon" critique of offsets:
[O]ffset projects may be simply disingenuous. Perhaps the most well-known controversies relate to offset projects designed to destroy HFC-23, a chemical byproduct of refrigerant production that is more than 11,000 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Widespread reports of companies purposely creating these very powerful greenhouse gas chemicals — just to destroy them and make money off of the credits — prompted the Kyoto Conference of the Parties to take up this issue at their December 2008 meeting in Poland.
Still believe in magical caps?

How about a revenue-neutral carbon tax instead?

Friday, May 29, 2009

Prof. Nordhaus on Carbon Pricing

Economic Issues in a Designing a Global Agreement on Global Warming
William D. Nordhaus

Keynote Address Prepared for
Climate Change: Global Risks, Challenges, and Decisions
Copenhagen, Denmark
March 10-12, 2009

"...Virtually every human activity directly or indirectly involves the combustion of fossil fuels, producing emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Emissions of carbon dioxide are externalities, i.e., social consequences that are not accounted for in the market place. They are market failures because people do not pay for the current and future costs of their emissions.

"If economics provides a single bottom line for policy, it is that we need to correct this market failure by ensuring that all people, everywhere, and for the indefinite future face a market price for the use of carbon that reflects the social costs of their activities. Economic participants—thousands of governments, millions of firms, billions of people, all making trillions of decisions each year—need to face realistic prices for the use of carbon if their decisions about consumption, investment, and innovation are to be appropriate.

"...Raising the market price of carbon provides strong incentives to reduce carbon emissions through four mechanisms. First, it provides signals to consumers about what goods and services produce high carbon emissions and should therefore be used more sparingly. Second, it provides signals to producers about which inputs (such as electricity from coal) use more carbon, and which inputs (such as electricity from wind) use less or none. It thereby induces producers to move to low-carbon technologies. Third, high carbon prices provide market signals and financial incentives to inventors and innovators to develop and introduce low-carbon products and processes which can eventually replace the current generation of carbon-intensive technologies. Finally, and most subtle of all, the use of carbon pricing economizes on the information requirements that market participants need to undertake each of these three tasks. Of course, placing a market price will not work magic. There remain many further externalities and market imperfections in energy and other markets. But without a strong price signal, there is simply no hope for making the vast number of decisions in a remotely efficient manner."

"Raising the price of carbon is a necessary condition for implementing carbon policies in a way that will reach the multitude of decisions and decision makers over space, time, nations, and sectors." (Emphasis added.)

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Six Flaws of Cap/Trade and How to Fix Them

Can and Trade proposals, like the Waxman-Markey discussion draft released last week, generally contain six major flaws. Aw we remedy each of those flaws, we move closer to the "gold standard" -- a revenue-neutral carbon tax.

1) Upstream: Impose the cap (or tax) at the first point of sale. Easiest enforcement, fewest regulated entities, broadest effect. Only advantages to downstream cap or tax is lack of transparency (hide the price). Price signal will be passed down the chain of distribution anyway.

2) 100% Auction. Some cap/trade proposals (Waxman-Markey leaves this unspecified) would give allowances (pollution permits) to utilities and other large polluters in the hope that this would prevent them from passing on costs to consumers. But because those free allowances have value, utilities can be expected to charge market rates for them. This is what happened in the EU when they gave free allowances to utilities. (Like your grandmother leaving you her house. Just because you got it free doesn't mean you rent it for nothing.)

Obama has supported both of the first two fixes -- big improvements over the Lieberman-Warner bill of last year. Recent reports suggest that the Administration is considering concessions on its "100% auction" position.

3) Revenue-Neutral: "Recycle" the proceeds from auctioning carbon permits (or taxes). Rep. Chris VanHollen has a cap and "dividend" bill that would distribute auction revenue equally to households. This eliminates the overall regressive effect of a carbon tax. People who use less than average amounts of fossil fuel would get "dividends" larger than their increased fuel costs. But everyone would feel the price pull to conserve and switch to cleaner energy. NASA climate scientist, Dr. Jim Hansen favors this "dividend" approach because it's very explicit and builds political support for the program. "Tax carbon, pay people" he says.

Another option is to use auction or tax proceeds to reduce payroll taxes. Because payroll taxes are even more regresssive than a carbon tax, the net effect of a carbon tax offset by a reduction in payroll taxes is a progressive tax shift. That is, middle and low income households come out ahead. That's the approach Rep. John Larson's bill uses. Cutting payroll taxes has the added advantage of stimulating employment.

Note that in both instances, the payment isn't linked to carbon use, so the tax encourages everyone to reduce carbon use, but below average carbon users would get more back in either dividend or payroll tax reduction than their increase in fossil fuel costs.

4) No offsets. Offsets are a way for polluters to pay someone else to make reductions. If those reductions come cheaper than making their own reductions, that means we get the same net reductions at lower cost. Offsets can be a way to fund important forestry and agricultural activities that sequester carbon. But Friends of the Earth now opposes all offsets because they are extremely difficult to verify. It's difficult to establish that a project would not have been done without the offset funding. FoE is concerned about the potential for "subprime carbon" offsets infecting the whole market in the same way subprime mortgages infected the world's financial system. Greenpeace criticized Waxman's inclusion of about 1/3 of total allowances as offsets. With access to so many cheap offsets, U.S. firms would have little need or incentive to reduce emissions for decades as cheap offsets siphon off funds needed for investment in carbon reduction infrastructure here.

Even with those four "fixes," there's still a very big problem of price volatility which can discourage needed investment in alternative energy and efficiency upgrades. When investors can't predict their return on investment, they tend to choose other, more predictable investments.

5) Price Floor. Establish a minimum allowance price. If prices go too low, there's no incentive to conserve or invest in alternative energy. That's what's now happening in the EU-- low allowance prices are discouraging green investment. A floor would mean the government would have to buy allowances at that pre-determined minimum price in the event of over-supply. Similar to the way currency is managed. The Fed buys dollars when the exchange rate gets too low. A floor would assure a minimal return on green investment.

6) Price Ceiling. Establish a maximum price to avoid crashing the economy with a price spike, for example if weather or high levels of economic activity drive up carbon permit prices. Government would have to sell additional allowances at that ceiling price. This would eliminate the much touted "emissions certainty" of a cap but would prevent political upheaval in the event of a price spike.

Other ways to manage volatility include banking and borrowing of allowances.

To the extent that the floor and ceiling converge on a single price (high floor, low ceiling) and with the other 4 fixes in place, you have a revenue-neutral carbon tax. In my view, each of those six flaws could prove fatal to a cap/trade system. From what I can tell, the Waxman-Markey proposal carries all six flaws.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Rep. Inglis Engages Climate Skeptics: Tax CO2, Not Work.

Who'd have expected a Republican from South Carolina to emerge as one of the clearest voices for effective climate policy? After a trip to Antarctica where scientists showed him ice cores that record the jump in CO2 levels now warming the Earth, Congressman Bob Inglis (R-SC) is convinced: "The evidence is compelling: Global Warming is a real, human-caused problem."

Inglis addresses skeptics with a science experiment:

“This is an egg... from the grocery store that’s been sitting there in some vinegar. Vinegar, as you remember from high school science, is an acid, and when it encounters the calcium on this egg, the calcium gets dissolved by the acid of the vinegar. This is essentially the problem with carbon dioxide levels rising in the atmosphere and the ocean being a sink for that carbon dioxide.

“...CO2 levels in the atmosphere are causing the ocean to become more acidic, and potentially dissolve the shells of the calcium based plankton. We would open a hole in the bottom of the food chain, and the result would be a very serious impact in human life on this planet.

“Unlike the models which really are very complicated, this is really a very simple chemical equation, and it will happen any time you have calcium coming in contact with an acid. So it’s more certain and something that therefore should cause us to act.

Inglis points out that we can take action without hurting ourselves. Now, we dump CO2 into the air as a free good. If we price it, and use the money to reduce other taxes we can gain in three ways. Less pollution, more jobs and better national security.

He explains, "Start with a tax reduction, that’s something conservatives can warm to, and make it a payroll tax reduction, something liberals are excited about... Reduce the taxes on payroll, and then in equal amount, apply a tax on carbon dioxide, so there’s no additional take to the government. There’s no tax increase there, it’s reducing one tax, and imposing a tax on something different. It’s reducing taxes on something we want more of which is Labor, Industry and income, and imposing a tax on something we want less of, which is carbon dioxide.

“If we do that, and then apply that mixture to imported goods as well as domestically produced goods, so we’re not simply exporting jobs and exporting the problem, what we can do is change the economics, so that incumbent technologies no longer have a free good in the air, and a free pass on the national security implications of that product. If you internalize those externals, attach those external costs to the products - to the fossil fuels - then the competing technology has a chance to win.

“[W]e can do for energy what Microsoft and Apple did for the PC and the internet. We can break through to a future that’s not dependent on fossil fuels, and that uses newer, cleaner, job-creating fuels that also improve the national security of the United States. It really is the triple play of this American century... improve the national security of the United States, create jobs and clean up the air."

See the full report at Congressman Bob Inglis: How to Engage Republicans, even Skeptics, on Carbon Legislation and Inglis' NY Times op-ed with economist Arthur Laffer, An Emissions Plan Conservatives Could Warm To.

Inglis isn't the only one who's getting the idea. The House Ways & Means Committee is catching on, too: see Ways & Means Weighs Bypassing Trading, Going Straight for Carbon Price.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Dr. Hansen Warns Congress: Climate Chaos Ahead! Tax Carbon to Spur Clean Energy Revolution

Yesterday, I cycled over to the Longworth House Office building to meet my former EPA colleague, Julie Simpson, who's on a fellowship to Rep. Moran's office focusing on environmental issues. Together, we heard NASA's lead climate scientist Dr. James Hansen deliver fearsome news: our burning of fossil fuel is pushing Earth's climate into instablilty. As I reported at the Carbon Tax Center site, Dr. Hansen strongly advocated a gradually-increasing revenue-neutral carbon tax to spur a clean technology revolution. He recommends that all carbon tax revenue be directly distributed in equal "dividends" to individuals.

After the hearing, Julie and I headed downstairs for lunch, and were thrilled to find ourselves in line with Dr. Hansen and his sister. After asking, we joined them for lunch. Quite an honor to "break bread" with the world's leading climate scientist who's repeatedly stood up to those seeking to ignore or silence him. I asked Dr. Hansen's opinion of "clean coal," sharing my concerns about the vast additional coal energy needed to separate CO2 from hot flue gas and sequester it deep in the ground. Dr. Hansen is a quiet, calm professorial type, but his answer was forceful and unequivocal: "There is no such thing as clean coal, and there never will be."

Hansen will lead a peaceful protest this Monday at the U.S. Capitol power plant to call on Congress to phase out coal power, a leading cause of global warming. See Capitol Climate Action for his short video calling for action.

Staff on Capitol Hill are working long hours on a whole range of emergencies, including climate legislation. Many members of Congress are finally taking the climate threat seriously. But many still deny or minimize the crisis, and many others still seem to think "cap-and-trade" with its alluring name and hiding of the price, will magically do the trick.

Much more work ahead.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Climate for Change in Washington, DC (or "Elasticity of Thermal Underwear")

Grey, chilly February morning. Sparrows, crows at my feeder -- pushing, squawking, scolding for perches above the grain trough. Competition eclipses nutrition. Or is it just sport? I recognize the game.

Slept well: cool air, warm blankets. Heat's off in my DC row house-- buffeted by a foot of attic insulation, neighbors, thick walls. Thermal underwear tops my list of global warming reduction technologies. Pays for itself daily. Feeling bouyed, reflective after two days of meetings between carbon tax coalition and Capitol Hill staff.

Our coalition is growing, bonding: Carbon Tax Center, Climate Crisis Coalition, Friends of the Earth, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Get America Working, Climate Policy Center. Dedicated, passionate local activists from adjacent Maryland and Virginia districts.

"Revenue-Neutral Carbon Tax" seems less quixotic now. Smart, urbane Hill staff ask incisive questions about pricing carbon emisssions, adjusting rates to meet scientific standards. We, carbon tax advocates are no longer the "lepers" of the environmental movement. Questions are about "how", not "why" to price CO2 emissions. About rates, revenue-recycling, payroll tax reductions, price elasticity, expectations, energy efficiency and technology substitution. We're way behind, the hour is very late, but the "denier in chief" has left town. Not a second too soon.

Debated "tax vs. cap" on Progressive Democrats of America's climate activists' conference call last evening. About 50 participants. Thoughtful questions. The word is getting out: Cap-and-trade is a hidden, volatile, regressive tax to fund favorite projects including the thermodynamically questionable "carbon capture and sequestration" a.k.a., "clean coal."

A carbon tax can be simple, quickly-implemented and fair. Most importantly, transparent prices are effective. Can't say who "won" the debate. My rival, NRDC's Dan Lashof is no lightweight. Listeners' questions made me think we're toe to toe with what was presumptive winner. Complex stuff. Someone asked how cap-and-trade can be internationalized. My answer: It's a nightmare. And India and China won't do it. Carbon tax is straightforward -- we tax other countries' goods on import. If they enact their own carbon taxes, they keep the revenue. India and China might do that.

Long list of follow-up items. Call my sweetie. Take clothes off the line. Pay the electric bill. Global warming, Congress, prices, clothespins. Advocate exponentially, act arithmetically?