The Story of Cap & Trade

Bill Walsh | December 01, 2009

Global warming potential - like many health, environmental, and social issues - is hard to tag with a single number. That is why the Pharos Project is developing multi-attribute profiles for the products that go into our buildings everyday. To date, our research suggests that many factors must be addressed in combating the climate crisis, leaving the cap and trade framework's effectiveness questionable at either the company or national policy level.

Today, the folks that brought us the virally-popular The Story of Stuff have done it again with The Story of Cap & Trade, a 9-minute animated romp through the vagaries of proposals to allow companies to buy, sell, trade or bank the right to put C02 into the atmosphere. Such programs are the centerpiece of virtually every plan under discussion for addressing climate change. The conventional wisdom is that it's a no brainer. After all, it worked before to stop acid rain.

Not so fast.

For example, a June 2009 investigative news report examined numerous cap-and-trade approaches and found "no precedent showing that a cap-and-trade system would deliver in time the significant cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions that scientists say are critical to prevent catastrophic climate change." An EPA official and architect of the acid rain program says: "The PH [acidity] levels of lakes and steams improved, but they did not improve as much as we thought they would... It just did not go as far as the science had indicated it would back in the 1990s." Many streams and lakes remain unacceptably acidic. Now what?

Al Gore's new book "Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis" also damns cap-and-trade with faint praise as an alternative chosen because "the US political system is incapable of making a bold and controversial decision" such as other countries who have instituted meaningful emissions regulations or a carbon tax. Why a second-rate solution to a first-rate problem? Because of the political clout exercised by oil, coal, auto and utility companies in efforts he labels "insidious," "unethical," "malignant," "disinformation" and "fraudulent."

The Story of Cap & Trade is an unconventional challenge to the conventional wisdom.