A Glimpse of How Climate Orthodoxy Is Undermining Environmental Benefit

July 31, 2014

If you want evidence that climate policy puts environmental orthodoxy ahead of environmental benefit, the Governor's preliminary climate proposal provides a clear example.

The 14-page PowerPoint released this week puts strict limits on investments in carbon-reducing projects known as “offsets.” Why? The environmental community appears to feel that forcing lifestyle change is more important than actually helping the environment. The symbolism of sacrifice trumps sound science and policy.

At issue are carbon offsets, investments in projects that cut carbon emissions. Businesses that find few options to cut their own emissions could invest in projects reducing emissions elsewhere.

It is the Kickstarter approach to carbon reductions – support good projects that help the environment. This includes investing in projects that landfill methane or provide electricity at truck stops so truckers don't have to run their engines to keep the cab warm while they rest. This is not a new concept and Green-e offers certified opportunities to invest in such projects.

The Governor's proposal, however, limits such investments to only 10 percent of carbon reductions. This is a dramatic reduction from 49 percent limit proposed by Governor Gregoire. The numbers alone indicate something is wrong. The 49 percent was chosen because it forces a majority of reductions to come from individual sacrifice. A ten percent target – set based on nothing other than the number of fingers we have – is even less defensible.

The environment doesn't care how carbon reductions are achieved, but environmentalists do and they want you to sacrifice.

When pressed to justify these restrictions, environmentalists offer meaningless slogans and contradictory arguments.

The most common justification is that "we can't offset our way" to reduction targets. Don't tell Seattle City Light, which environmentalists call the "Greenest Utility in the Nation." City Light buys offsets to achieve carbon neutrality. Don't tell the Inslee Administration, which funds projects for methane capture to cut carbon emissions – the very projects used by carbon offsets. The only logic seems to be it is good when we do it but bad when others do it.

In fact, every day we pay others to cheaply and effectively do what we cannot. Few grow all the food they eat. We pay farmers to grow food, using fewer resources than we would. Environmentalists never explain why carbon investments are any different than any other product we pay others to produce. They aren't.

The only potentially substantive argument is that some offsets don't end up reducing carbon emissions. The Governor's presentation notes offsets must be "verifiable and additional," hinting at questions about potential gaming. This argument contradicts itself.

First, this concern is ironic since the Inslee Administration is advocating cap-and-trade, a system that is so complex and political it has been gamed everywhere it has been used. Their concern about abuse of carbon reduction programs is pretty selective.

Second, the argument that offsets can be misused is an argument for verification, not limits. If they don't trust offsets, why allow even one percent? If, on the other hand, these carbon investments can be certified to be "verifiable and additional," then why limit them to 10 percent and not 11 percent? Or twelve percent? Or, indeed, 100 percent? There is simply no logic to justify their position.

Limiting carbon investments does nothing for the environment but requires companies and families to pay more. Pay more, get less.

Honest and effective climate policy should provide the greatest opportunities to benefit the environment. We should prioritize environmental benefit over arbitrary limits.

The Governor argues cutting carbon is required by law and a “moral obligation.” If the Governor and environmental community actually believe carbon reductions are important, they will remove the roadblocks they seem intent on placing.

Comments

evidence of cap and trade fraud

Sorry if this got posted twice. I haven't seen any evidence of cap and trade systems being gamed. Evidence please?

Gaming

The evidence of gaming should come from those who oppose allowing carbon investments. Gaming exists but can be managed.

The City of Seattle invests in carbon projects as part of its claim that Seattle City Light is "carbon neutral," so they obviously have found a way to deal with it.

You hit it on the head. I

You hit it on the head. I made a whole comment on FB about this before I read your post.

There are legitimate concerns about verification and incrementalism when it comes to offsets. The correct response to those concerns are to craft policy that addresses those concerns specifically, and to eliminate any and all caps on offsets.

The idea that we can't offset our way out of this is simply irrational. All the atmosphere cares about it is tons going up and tons coming out, it does not matter one whit whether the you reduce emissions, increase sequestration, whether you do it here, whether you do it in Belize, whether you do it with sexy solar or do it with un-sexy efficient farming practices or by putting slightly more efficient machines in your bottling plant.

It. Doesn't. Matter.

need more data to verify your claims

Todd - You claim that cap and trade has been gamed everywhere? I haven't seen it happen in CA or the Northeast. They overallocated permits in Europe when the program began but that problem has since been corrected. Evidence please?