Wednesday, April 14, 2010

What then?

Saturday the Grand Forks Herald had a local news story (this version may be more widely viewable longer) about some discussion of potential cap-and-trade legislation to address carbon emissions. As a news story it covered the bases of who, what, where, and when well enough. My point is to add more perspective.

On one side is Tony Clark, PSC running buddy of Brian Kalk and Kevin Cramer, saying cap-and-trade would drive energy costs way up, and on the other side Carmen Miller of the Pew Environment Group and Jason Schaefer saying it would not. Okay.

Let's consider a similar sort of discussion that seems more immediately relevant to more people in the Red River Valley - instead of cap-and-trade suppose there was a discussion of a diversion for the Red River. So what if there was somebody saying paying for the diversion would raise taxes quite a bit and somebody else disagreeing by saying the tax cost would be quite low? You need to maintain a view of the big picture. There may be pros and cons to the particular diversion plan, but it cannot be forgotten that the overriding issue is flooding. Viewing the diversion as a poor choice does not allow one to ignore flooding. I have no problem with arguing against plan A for dealing with a serious problem, but there needs to be a plan B and not just opposition to plan A or even denial of the problem.

We at least were told Clark "didn’t argue against climate change." That really strikes me as suggesting Clark making a point to slide in at some point something like, 'now I am not arguing against climate change' while basically advocating inaction. But I was not there and am not so familiar with Clark's views. Maybe Clark actually does accept the overwhelming evidence that humans are driving climate change, and perhaps he supports a different method to cut carbon emissions. There is however no sign of either.

Miller has been at exactly this, trying to explain cap-and-trade legislation, around these parts for a while now. Here is an article similar to the above-linked from over two years ago. From that older story,
'Obviously, it's very important to talk about economic costs,' Miller said. 'But on the flip side, what are the costs of doing nothing? Doing nothing may be the most expensive climate change policy this country could have.'

Indeed. There are a lot of things that look pricy until the cost of inaction is considered. Keeping cities from flooding may seem expensive, but compared to dealing with flooding like in Grand Forks in 1997 protection is a bargain. Someone who opposes a diversion - we can pretty safely assume that person does favor doing something. Unfortunately when someone like Clark expresses opposition to cap-and-trade, it is not a safe assumption he favors doing something about carbon emissions and thus sparing the immense costs of doing nothing. If you dismiss plan A (or B or C or ...), you need to have another real plan to accomplish what we need to do.

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