Stopping Pollution or Selling Indulgences?

Although blown off the front pages by the death of Michael Jackson, the most ominous government action of the decade came a step closer to reality Friday when the House passed an energy bill that would make “cap and trade” official policy.  It passed the House by 7 votes (with 8 Republicans crossing over to help).  Most Americans support almost any effort to stop pollution, and are sympathetic to attempts to limit greenhouse gases.  But understandably, many are confused about what this “cap and trade” idea really means.  Here are two simple things to remember during the coming Senate debate:

American Enterprize Institute

First, cap-and-trade is a financial scam.  The idea is anti-democratic, it would perpetuate economic serfdom for much of the world, and it would guarantee the permanent dominance of existing corporations to the exclusion of opportunity for everyone else.  It is the ultimate scheme for making the rich richer and the poor poorer.  Sound extreme?  Consider this – if we really are polluting the air so much it endangers the very planet, we should stop it.  Plain and simple.  But this scheme does not stop pollution, it creates a market for it.  If the right to pollute can be bought and sold, and the amount of pollution is capped, then that right has tremendous value.  And it will always be owned by the rich and held in the power centers of New York, LA, Chicago, London, and Paris.  So much for economic growth in the third world.

The Science and Public Policy Institute called it a scheme “by which jet-setting celebrities like Al Gore can publicly parade the pretense that their extravagant, carbon-emitting lifestyle is not really adding anything to man-made greenhouse gas emissions.  All they have to do is buy the modern equivalent of the Indulgences sold for profit by unscrupulous pastors in the medieval Church.  The Indulgences, coyly marketed under the name of “carbon offsets,” are sold by various private scamsters, who craftily suggest to penitents that they can salve their consciences for, say, the carbon emissions arising from a transatlantic flight by paying as little as $5 towards the planting of trees that may or may not take place, and might or might not have taken place anyway.”

Second, cap-and-trade is a bureaucrat’s dream.  Carbon is among the most abundant natural elements, and carbon dioxide is central to all life.  As MIT climate scientist Dr. Richard Lindzen wrote, “If you control carbon, you control life.”  So predictably, advocates of big central government not only want to regulate carbon and the ability to buy and sell it, they also want to tax that right.

Some leaders think transferring wealth is a legitimate government function.  But however you feel about the economic issue, it is silly to pretend the argument is about the environment.  In fact, in my view it is unethical to use the environment as the false platform for that debate.  It is an ethical breach because it is misleading and dishonest, and especially because it is bad for the environment.  Worst of all, it cynically protects actual polluters at the expense of keeping the world’s poorest people locked forever in poverty.  That is “Robin Hood in reverse,” literally robbing the poor to enrich the rich.

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3 responses to “Stopping Pollution or Selling Indulgences?

  1. Comparing cap-and-trade to paying medieval indulgences scores a bull’s-eye. “Medieval” is very apt. Recall the feudal levies of the Dark Ages? Peasants and freemen were expected to provide one man of suitable age per family for military duty when asked by the local lord or king. Men conscripted in this way were “levies.” Now fast forward to the Civil War when some wealthier men hired substitutes to go to the battle front in their place — and recall the terrible New York draft riots involving urban poor. As you said, cap-and-trade is profoundly unfair, undemocratic, elitist and hypocritical. It excuses one’s conduct (for a price), kicks the can down the road, and sets a terrible example — truly medieval. “Pay-to-pass” is alive and well in Washington!

  2. frances mathews

    Congress is supposed to be a separate part of Government. Instead it has become the nothing more than a rubber stamp for the administration – It ignores the costs to future generations and the present costs to its constituents. Be it cap an trade, national health care or the stimulus bill, the members have completely turned over their power to an imperial president that makes Nixon look like a piker.

  3. Great article. Can’t think of anything else to add. Good stuff.

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