10 Jun 2008: Opinion

Climate Solutions:
Charting a Bold Course

A cap-and-trade system is not the answer, according to a leading alternative-energy advocate. To really tackle climate change, the United States must revolutionize its entire energy strategy.

by denis hayes

More than 30 years ago, President Jimmy Carter called for a daring transition to a new energy future, an effort he likened to “the moral equivalent of war.” But the hard truth is that the United States is in far worse shape in the energy realm today than it was when Carter left office.

Since 1981, annual greenhouse gas emissions have grown from 4.7 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide to 5.9 billion metric tons. America imported 1.6 billion barrels of oil in 1981; by 2007 imports had ballooned to 3.7 billion barrels. Today, oil prices have surged past $130 per barrel, and the best evidence suggests that total global oil production is at or nearing its peak. Under President Carter, America dominated the world in renewable energy research, development, and commercialization, but in the ensuing decades our federal government has thrown away that lead.

With the economy now staggering from its addiction to oil, and with evidence of global warming having persuaded all but the knuckle-draggers, is America at last getting serious about freeing itself from carbon fuels?

Actually, no. Most environmentally sensitive politicians and even many national green groups are remarkably blithe that the Lieberman-Warner bill — a 500-page cap-and-trade law filled with more holes than a Madonna dance outfit — will take us there.

The tragedy is that we still have a chance to solve the global warming crisis, but we are blowing it by chasing false hopes in the form of an inadequate cap-and-trade bill.

Acting fast enough and on a large enough scale to avoid unthinkable climate consequences will require a more ambitious effort than the New Deal, the Interstate Highway System, and the Manhattan Project, all rolled into one. Serious efforts to stabilize the world’s climate will have dramatic consequences for industry, transportation, architecture, agriculture, leisure, and consumerism, and so, many of these changes will be fought tooth and nail — as was evident last week when Republican Senators attacked and derailed the Lieberman-Warner bill, forcing Democratic leaders to place the initiative on hold until a new president takes office.

The truth is that all our largest current energy sources will need to be replaced by new sources — over the ferocious opposition of the powerful companies that market them.

The story of how we got into this crunch is a tale of political opportunism and shortsightedness. For had America continued on the course we’d embarked upon in the mid-1970s, the task ahead would now be much less expensive, much less painful, and much more certain of success.

In 1979, after the Arab oil embargo, Carter announced that by the year 2000 America was to get at least one-fifth of all its energy from renewable sources — mainly solar energy, wind, and biofuels. The Solar Energy Research Institute, which I then served as director, was at the heart of this effort. Leading a team of scientists and analysts drawn from national labs and major universities, SERI prepared the detailed technical and policy blueprint to meet or surpass the 20 percent goal.

In 1981, halfway through his first year in office, President Ronald Reagan abandoned the 20 percent goal, reduced SERI’s $125 million budget by $100 million, and installed a dentist named Jim Edwards as Secretary of Energy. To demonstrate his contempt for the notion of alternative energy, Reagan ordered the solar water heaters ripped off the White House roof. We’ve never recovered.

The successive administrations of George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, bobbing along on a sea of cheap oil, did little to shift America’s economy to renewable energy sources. And for the past seven years, the United States has been led by a president who projects such a breathtaking marriage of arrogance and incompetence that his refusal to even acknowledge the reality of climate change has not generally been considered one of his more glaring flaws.

As climate science has grown increasingly clear, many corporate CEOs have become convinced that global warming has a human signature. The brightest CEOs of Fortune 100 companies realized that once the Democrats took back control of Congress, it would be only a matter of time before climate legislation was enacted. The next president, whoever it is, will demand action. These CEOs all wanted to be at the table — in Washington, if you aren’t at the table, you’re likely to wind up on the menu.

Environmental groups soon found themselves being courted by business leaders who recognized that the climate threat would require a serious national response. They formed the U.S. Climate Action Partnership and other alliances that offered benefits for environmentalists but also entailed subtle costs. The most obvious benefit was that environmental leaders are taken more seriously on Capitol Hill when they arrive linking arms with the CEOs of General Electric, Caterpillar, DuPont, and General Motors.

The cost was the natural downside of consensus building: Policies cannot significantly harm the core interests of any of the participants. When the participants include the world’s largest automobile company, the largest manufacturer of jet engines, the largest maker of mining equipment for coal and bituminous sands, etc., this is not an insignificant cost.

What emerged from this unexpected alliance was a consensus that the centerpiece of climate policy should be a cap on CO2, generally applied as close to the point of emission as realistically possible. Additionally, there was widespread agreement that (a) between 25 percent and 80 percent of all emissions permits should be given away to major emitters for a transitional period; (b) the law should provide ample “offsets” available for purchase by companies failing to meet reduction targets; and (c) “safety valves” should permit relaxed enforcement in case greenhouse gas reductions cause temporary economic hardship.

Unfortunately, these are genuinely terrible ideas. They are not bad because they lack ambition; rather, they are bad because they move boldly in the wrong direction. They don’t merely ignore the way that the global economy responds to real-world policies; they ignore everything we have learned about human nature since Rousseau’s belief in humanity’s innate goodness crashed on the shoals of 18th-century reality.

So what should a serious energy and climate policy look like?

Carbon Must be Capped Where It Enters the Economy, Not Where It Leaves It

The backbone of any comprehensive policy to limit greenhouse gas emissions must cap carbon at the places — coal mines, oil fields, pipelines, ports — where it enters the economy. Instead, at the behest of corporate behemoths and their green enablers, our political leaders are focusing most of their attention on smokestacks, and when that is obviously impossible (e.g. with gasoline or propane) on refiners or distributors. They want to cap CO2 where it enters the atmosphere — an approach that is guaranteed to fail because there are far too many point sources.

Europe has already attempted a cap-and-trade program, and it belly-flopped. Senators Warner and Lieberman, who should be applauded for at least acknowledging that global warming is a problem, failed to absorb some important lessons from Europe, including:

Use Auction Revenues Intelligently

The most vital use for most of the revenues would be to serve such climate-related public purposes as building the infrastructure needed for a national “smart grid” for electricity and for high-speed electrified railroads, assuring large federal markets for the sunrise industries of the post-carbon economy, and finding ways to accelerate the solution of the climate problem through huge boosts in federal support for basic research. However, a portion of the revenues should compensate for the regressive nature of what is effectively a carbon tax, perhaps by using them to meet the shortfalls facing Medicare and Social Security and helping to underwrite training for green-collar jobs.

Promote Renewable Energy

Government has a long tradition of helping sunrise industries supplant their well-entrenched predecessors. Canals were encouraged as more efficient than horses. Railroads were viewed as a way to open the west. The interstate highway system replaced many of the functions performed by railroads.

Some renewable energy sources would benefit greatly from a focused, long-term federal commitment to R&D. Others are already poised to ride learning curves to lower prices through economies of mass production — but require guaranteed markets to elicit the necessary investment. (Computer chips went from being high-priced luxuries to cheap-as-dirt commodities only because the Air Force and NASA bought them in bulk until their prices fell to a level where the private market took over.)

The federal government should be buying photovoltaic devices in bulk and installing them on all federal buildings, military bases, and the backs of billboards, and pouring the power into the grid. The goal should be to grow the market in a rapid yet predictable way linked to constantly lower prices. The start-and-stop unpredictability of renewable energy tax credits over the last 30 years has severely undermined the wind and solar industries, and placed American companies at a huge disadvantage with foreign competitors. As recently as 1998, America was the world’s largest manufacturer of solar photovoltaics — a technology that was invented here. But Japan, with a long-term strategy, sped past the U.S. the following year. A few years later, led by Germany, much of Europe implemented tariffs that vaulted the solar field into hyperdrive. If current trends continue, annual global photovoltaic production by 2011 will be a stunning 30 gigawatts, of which the U.S. will contribute perhaps 4 percent.

Construct a Resilient Nationwide Smart Grid to Take Power from Anywhere to Anywhere

The arguments for a national smart grid are legion; the arguments against it don’t hold water. Many carbon-neutral renewable energy sources are intermittent or diurnal, and the best locations both for sources (sunlight, wind, geothermal) and for storage are widely dispersed. We need to be able to knit the nation together. Only the government can assemble the corridor rights to make such a development possible.

Get Serious about Automobile Mileage

In World War II — without Representative John Dingell Jr. to protect it from reality — Detroit was ordered to stop making cars and start making tanks. Today, Detroit needs to be ordered to stop making civilian tanks and start making cars. Manufacturers should be free to use any technology that can get 50 mpg by 2020 and 100 mpg by 2030. The world cannot afford yet another abysmal failure by the once-proud American automobile industry.

Build High-Speed Electrified Railways for Our Busiest Corridors

The answer to every intercity travel need is not an airplane or a car. America is the only industrial power on earth without high-speed electrified rail — a super-efficient mode of intercity travel that can be carbon-free. I don’t know a single American who has traveled on the bullet train from Tokyo to Osaka who hasn’t wondered, “Why can’t we do that from Boston to Washington? From San Francisco to LA?” It would require the same sort of government effort that built the interstate highway system — or, for that matter, the original railroads.

Set Strong Building Energy Performance Standards

We need to make all new buildings carbon-neutral by 2030, requiring vast increases in efficiency and walls and roofs that harvest energy directly from sunlight. The astonishing rate at which voluntary LEED standards have swept across the country suggests a deep hunger on the part of smart architects and builders for structures that will make sense throughout their 50-year lifetimes. We need to build on that momentum to create a new generation of energy efficient “living buildings.”

Train the Labor Force

Reversing climate change has an enormous potential to put America back to work. The greatest employment opportunities are for those who will transport and install solar modules, build and maintain wind farms, construct and operate the high-speed rail system and the “smart grid.” Programs, mostly at community colleges, to teach these new skills need to increase 100-fold, and a special emphasis should be placed on retraining the “losers” in the energy transitions — such as workers in coal mines and coal-fired power plants, etc. — and inner-city poor who have seen their job prospects disappear in the globalized economy.

The Time is Now

Following decades of political denial of climate science, America now lags far behind Europe and Japan in creating most of the basic building blocks for a carbon-neutral era. In several core renewable energy technologies, we have already been passed by China.

It’s not too late to get back in the game. But the global industry is rapidly expanding and maturing, and it has supportive government policies in Germany, Japan, the Nordic states, the Netherlands, South Korea, and China.

America has unparalleled scientific and engineering excellence, formidable financial muscle, bountiful natural resources, a democratic political system, and an entrepreneurial culture well-suited to helping to lead the world into a prosperous, carbon-neutral era. But we have been dragging our heels, as if this were a problem for our children to fix.

Global warming is our problem, and it’s time to get serious about solving it.

POSTED ON 10 Jun 2008 IN Business & Innovation Climate Climate Energy Policy & Politics Science & Technology Science & Technology Europe North America 


Way to go, Denis. We don't need to just limit our use of fossil fuels, we need to phase them out altogether! Anything else just keeps the status quo without addressing the source of the problem.
Posted by Sam on 10 Jun 2008

Great thoughts! IMHO Part of the problem with increasing car efficiency is people are afraid to drive in a very small cars, but only because they are on the same road and H2's and other very large tank like vehicles.

Car manufacturers can then tell congress--look--"We've made these fuel efficient cars, but only a few buy them!"

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand that if we gradually reduced the average weight of a car sold each year by law, we would eventually lower the fuel consumption as well.

Perhaps we should just build some highways that are motorcycle only? 100 mpg is easy in this space, and 80 is available to anyone willing to risk their life on a road with tanks.
Posted by Jason Bogovich on 10 Jun 2008

A real blueprint for what has to be done. When
are the leaders in America going to recognize this
and start telling the public the truth, rather than
just pursuing empty, short-term fixes? It's going to
take a vast effort that will force some big changes.
Americans are ready for the truth, if someone
would only start telling it.
Posted by Alan Freund on 10 Jun 2008

It's all very well looking to governments for solutions but I think we all know they tend to be ineffective; the answer lies with ourselves - we need to use less power and chose the power we use more carefully.
If the only thing governments do is to make alternative power tax free and give individuals and companies a tax break on all investment in green power it's probably better than waiting for them to give us a real solution.
The other worrying development that makes our little and late efforts seem pointless is the news that the ice caps are melting more rapidly and releasing huge quantities of methane in the process - as methane is much worse than CO2 it's a very daunting development.
Posted by 911 Addict - sorry! on 11 Jun 2008

Electric rail like Japans or any form of rail and buses is long overdue along with nuclear energy to fuel it.
Posted by Edward Hall on 11 Jun 2008

I hope you will come to share my passion in getting the word out on the wonderful solutions provided by Terra Preta soil technology (TP, aka Biochar).

If pre-Columbian Kayopo Indians could produce these soils up to 6 feet deep over 15% of the Amazon basin using "Slash & CHAR" verses "Slash & Burn", it seems that our energy and agricultural industries could also product them at scale.

Harnessing the work of this vast number of microbes and fungi changes the whole equation of energy return over energy input (EROEI) for food and Bio fuels. I see this as the only sustainable agricultural strategy if we no longer have cheap fossil fuels for fertilizer.

We need this super community of wee beasties to work in concert with us by populating them into their proper Soil horizon Carbon Condos.

This technology represents the most comprehensive, low cost, and productive approach to long term stewardship and sustainability.Terra Preta Soils a process for Carbon Negative Bio fuels via Pyrolysis of Biomass........., Massive Carbon sequestration via Biochar to soils (1/3 ton C per 1 ton Biomass)..............., 10X Lower CH4 & N2O soil emissions.............., and 3X Fertility Too.


the current news and links on Terra Preta (TP) soils and closed-loop pyrolysis of Biomass, this integrated virtuous cycle could sequester 100s of Billions of tons of carbon to the soils.

UN Climate Change Conference: Biochar present at the Bali Conference

SCIAM Article May 15 07;

S.1884 – The Salazar Harvesting Energy Act of 2007

A Summary of Biochar Provisions in S.1884:

Carbon-Negative Biomass Energy and Soil Quality Initiative

for the 2007 Farm Bill

Bolstering Biomass and Biochar development: In the 2007 Farm Bill, Senator Salazar was able to include $500 million for biomass research and development and for competitive grants to develop the technologies and processes necessary for the commercial production of biofuels and bio-based products. Biomass is an organic material, usually referring to plant matter or animal waste. Using biomass for energy can reduce waste and air pollution. Biochar is a byproduct of producing energy from biomass. As a soil treatment, it enhances the ability of soil to capture and retain carbon dioxide.

( Update; In conference the $500 M was cut to $3M....:( :( :( )

There are 24 billion tons of carbon controlled by man in his agriculture and waste stream, all that farm & cellulose waste which is now dumped to rot or digested or combusted and ultimately returned to the atmosphere as GHG should be returned to the Soil.

If you have any other questions please feel free to call me or visit the TP web site I've been drafted to co-administer. http://terrapreta.bioenergylists.org/?q=node

It has been immensely gratifying to see all the major players join the mail list , Cornell folks, T. Beer of Kings Ford Charcoal (Clorox), Novozyne the M-Roots guys(fungus), chemical engineers, Dr. Danny Day of EPRIDA , Dr. Antal of U. of H., Virginia Tech folks and probably many others who's back round I don't know have joined.

The International Biochar Initiative (IBI) conference held at Terrigal, NSW, Australia in 2007. The papers from this conference are posted at their home page.
Posted by Eeich J. Knight on 12 Jun 2008

Good article except for the omission of nuclear power which not only has the promise but the reality of reducing carbon emissions. Replacing coal and oil burning power plants should be a no brainer. The technology has already been developed and many of the jobs at coal plants could moved to nuclear with little training. The waste could be stored on site and pose no threat to the public. Weaning off the internal combustion engine will take lots of electricity that could be supplied with nuclear
plants. We must get over our paranoia about nuclear power. It is the safest alternative to fossil fuels and should be fast tracked by our government. Robert C. Boyer
Posted by Robert C. Boyer on 13 Jun 2008

This site seems to attract a fair number of pro-
nuclear commentators. While it would be
pleasant to believe that many will be persuaded
by yet more discussion, my sense is that most
minds are pretty well made up on this issue.
Moreover, it is tangential to the basic points I
wanted to make in this article. If you favor
nuclear, lobby to add it to the list of investments
in the last 2/3 of the piece.

However, I believe this to be a wildly misguided
policy. Although there remain numerous serious
issues to be addressed, including that nuclear
costs continue to skyrocket as renewable costs
continue to plummet, the show-stopper for me is
this: In a globalized economy, the US cannot
rely for a large and growing fraction of its
energy on a technology we are not willing to
share freely with the rest of the world.

Experience to date shows that when a nation
gains access to fuel, enrichment, and reactors
(let alone reprocessing--an essential component
in any self-sufficient nuclear cycle because of
fuel limitations), that nation will sooner or later
develop nuclear weapons. Pakistan's
proliferation business has now been discovered
to have reached as high as personal transport to
North Korea by the late President Bhutto. There
is nothing Iran has been accused of that is not
essential to its building an independent nuclear
fuel cycle. With a change in government --
perhaps triggered by Korean or Chinese
aggression -- Peaceful Japan could transform
itself into the world's third-largest nuclear
weapons state in less than one year.

The only answer usually offered to such
concerns is that the cow is already out of the
barn. But there are lots of cows in the barn,
and the risk goes up more than arithmetically as
each new one roams out the barn door.

A world in which 100 nations have nuclear fuel
cycles and nuclear weapons, and a few of these
nations are ruled by lunatics, worries me as
much as does climate change.

I would love to have the United States -- whose
Madison Avenue inspired "Atoms for Peace"
program led us into this cul-de-sac -- develop
the cost-effective renewable energy (and
storage and transmission) technologies to lead
us out before this menace spreads through
Africa, the Middle East, and South America.
Posted by Denis Hayes on 15 Jun 2008

So far, given the luxury of making decisions, we have failed to act in any way that is climate measurable.

The blessing we deserve is a calamitous event strong enough to compel significant action.

Because the carbon cartel works so well to deflect and confuse a public acceptance of science, this just means the pain required for learning and action will have to be that much greater and catastrophic.

Posted by Richad Pauli on 16 Jun 2008

I agree with Mr. Hayes concerning nuclear power. I cannot say it as eloquently he does but even without the proliferation problem they are not economically feasible. They take too long to build (8-16 years), the one site we have for nuclear waste storage (Yucca mountain) is full before it opens at current nuclear generation capacity, and each plant will cost $8-12 billion dollars just to build. And that doesn't count the cost of however many more Yucca mountains would be needed, or the cost to protect them from terrorsit attacks, or the cost to maintain them, or the cost of the water to cool them day in and day out.
Posted by Alden Bowles on 20 Jun 2008

There is much I would agree with in Denis’ article, but there are some points which I feel serve “boldness” rather than “effectiveness”. In addition, if, we are agreed that the Time is Now, then debaters points, which serve mainly to exalt our “right way of thinking” and disparage those who have disagreed with us, do little to build the cooperative social fabric needed Now.

I wholeheartedly agree with what I take is the main point of the article which is that carbon regulation should focus on the source when it enters the economy. It is clearly the most efficient and effective approach. But it will be opposed by those who wish to regulate and/or profit from the complexity of a new and vast market for point of use allowances.

I think it would be more effective to transition over a few years to the eventual auction of all carbon permits. It seems unlikely to me that any government will adequately forecast all the consequences of a GHG cap-and-trade system the first time. The windfall revenues alone will create vast new problems of monitoring and control. Prudence argues for a phased-approach.

Denis’s uses for the auction revenues are generally reasonable recommendations and guidelines, but I would emphasize assistance to those who are disadvantaged by these radical changes to our economy rather more than he seems to. We need the whole body politic to pull and follow in this direction and I believe that America must continue to strive to achieve its vision of “equal opportunity for all”, especially when the threats to the environment confront us all.

P.S. I feel that the debate over nuclear power is a “red herring” serving mainly to distract our attention from the main issues and divide us. Both the blessing and the curse of nuclear fuel is its enormous energy density; at the opposite end of the spectrum is the weak energy concentration of sun and wind. The challenge is to use all energy sources in clean and practical ways.

Posted by Phil Turner on 24 Jun 2008

I rarely disagree with Denis Hayes, a longtime
friend (back to the first Earth Day in 1970),
whom I greatly respect. But his piece on the
Boxer-Lieberman-Warner climate bill gets its
badly wrong.
The lede in Denis’ piece is "a cap and trade
system is not the answer" but the piece does not
call for abandoning a cap and trade approach.
Rather he argues for a cap program that is
designed to meet certain criteria and that is
complemented with sector-based policies and
infrastructure investments. (Perhaps an editor
wrote the lede but it does not say much that
he/she could not accurately describe the thrust
of the piece itself.)
The core of Denis’ argument is that the Boxer-
Lieberman-Warner (BLW) bill fails to do what he
calls for in the rest of the article. The piece
starts with a glib charge that the bill is full of
holes--a charge that Denis never supports. The
bill has its flaws (that NRDC is fighting to fix in
future legislation) but it is a serious effort that
deserves better than cheap shots. My biggest
issue with Denis’ piece is that he is simply wrong
in describing both the origins of the BLW bill and
its contents.
Let's start with the origins of the bill, since Denis’
premise seems to be that advocacy by the U.S.
Climate Action Partnership (USCAP) has resulted
in the incorporation of what he styles some
"genuinely terrible ideas" in the BLW bill. First,
Denis suggests that big business courted a
number of environmental groups, including
NRDC, to form what became USCAP. For what it
is worth, the "courtship" that lead to USCAP
worked the other way—NRDC and several other
environmental groups believed (and still
believe) that effective action by Congress would
be accelerated if some major businesses could
be brought past the greenwash generalities of
“support” for undefined "responsible action" on
global warming. So we approached several
business leaders to propose a discussion where
the objective was to develop a joint call for
prompt enactment of a mandatory economy-
wide GHG reduction bill and seek agreement on
as many specifics as possible.
What emerged from this process is different in
major respects from what Denis describes.
First, he ascribes to USCAP a consensus for a
cap "generally applied as close to the point of
emissions as realistically possible." That is not
accurate, either about the USCAP
recommendation or more importantly about the
BLW bill. The USCAP Call for Action document
did not propose a specific "point of regulation"
structure but instead said the cap "should cover
as much of the economy's GHG emissions as is
politically and administratively possible." It
highlighted two options--first, the full upstream
system that Denis advocates; and second, a
hybrid system with a downstream cap on large
stationary sources and an upstream cap or
other policy tool covering all other uses of fossil
The BLW bill in turn, is primarily an upstream
cap bill--oil and gas ARE regulated at the point
they enter the economy and not at the emission
point. Emissions from coal use are regulated at
the emission point. Why downstream for coal?
Precisely because it is easier to regulate at that
point. There are over 1400 coal mines in the
US, while most of the CO2 emissions from coal
use are released from about 900 electric
generating stations. And all of these electric
generators already monitor their CO2 emissions
and report the data quarterly to EPA, where it is
maintained in an electronic database, available
to regulators and citizens alike. On this point
Denis’ comment about "corporate behemoths
and their green enablers" is inaccurate as well
as a departure from his normal fairness in
Denis’ next topic is allocations: free versus
auctions. The USCAP document called for a
"significant portion" of allowances to be initially
distributed free, with a phase-out "over a
reasonable period of time." While this is not a
call for a 100% auction immediately, NRDC felt
(and still feels) that getting these large
companies on record with a position that only a
“portion” of allowances should be initially
allocated for free and that such free allocations
be phased out was moving the ball a long way in
the right direction. During the drafting and
hearings on the BLW bill NRDC has advocated
fewer allowances be provided for free and we
continue to call for that. But even the amount of
free allocations in the current BLW bill is not
fundamentally in conflict with the program Denis
advocates. Free allocations to polluters amount
to 32% of the allowance pool in 2012, drop to
16.5% by 2025, and to zero in 2031. Should
this be lower still as a matter of better policy?
Sure. But would anyone seriously argue that we
would be better off delaying action in order to
get this handout reduced further--for that is the
choice we are likely to face. For me the answer
is a no-brainer. The fact is on the free
allocation issue we have occupied nearly all of
the opposition's territory and there are much
more serious threats to an effective program
than the remaining free allowances.
Offsets: while the article does not discuss
offsets, it mentions them as one of the terrible
ideas. NRDC is a not a fan of offsets either and
we have worked and will continue working to
limit the use of offsets in climate legislation.
The BLW contains limits on offsets and while
they are more generous than we believe
appropriate, this is an example of one of several
topics where our community may have to
choose between waiting until we get a Congress
and President who will give us precisely what we
demand or negotiating an outcome that is worth
taking rather than further delaying enactment of
a climate protection program. The next
Congress and President are quite likely to be
better than today's but there is no assurance
they will be persuaded to enact a bill that meets
100% of our design criteria.
"Safety valves:" As a result of vigorous
negotiations, the USCAP Call for Action does not
endorse a "safety valve" as the only or best way
to address abatement cost concerns. The Call
for Action includes a list of options that started
by noting the best cost reduction method is the
trading program itself. This spring USCAP
circulated a white paper on cost-containment
that effectively rejects the safety valve,
advocating instead a borrowing system that
maintains the integrity of the cap. It is a big
deal that all of these businesses have taken this
Again, more importantly, the BLW bill rejects the
safety valve, employing instead an allowance
reserve that is funded completely from within
the cap, with the allowances borrowed from
future years. This is imperfect but is miles
better than a safety valve. However, the battle
on the safety valve is far from over and that
idea has a number of influential champions in
Congress. Our attention needs to be focused on
defeating the safety valve. But an effective
strategy requires developing credible provisions
that will persuade the many anxious politicians
that the program's compliance costs will not
skyrocket. We cannot simply wish or shout
these anxieties away; we need to confront them
with solid analysis and effective advocacy.
That's what we are trying to do and we'd love
more help.
Use Auction Revenues Intelligently: The rest of
Denis’ piece is easy to agree with. But it fails to
recognize that the BLW would provide trillions of
dollars for the programs advocated in the
article. Every investment activity Denis
mentions is either explicitly supported by
auction or direct allocation revenue streams or
is among authorized activities. One can (and
should) argue about the shares that different
activities receive. For example, we'd like to see
more money for efficiency, renewables and rail.
Automobile performance standards: Yes, we
want to move faster than the just enacted EISA
2007 requirements. But we should focus on the
best tactics to achieve this objective. Perhaps
incorporating such standards into a
comprehensive climate bill is the speediest path
to success; perhaps not.
So I find Denis’ piece disappointing. The BLW
bill is not perfect but it is far from the disaster
that he paints. What is needed from critics who
want effective action is a more careful look at
what this and future bills actually provide. Even
more important, we all need to focus on the
critical task of creating the political and
analytical foundation to get a strong bill enacted
in the next Congress. That goal is possible. But
if we fail to focus our advocacy we could wind
up arguing among ourselves rather than
overcoming the real threats to prompt passage
of a law that will start cutting global warming
pollution now and put us on a path to averting
climate catastrophe..
Posted by David Hawkins on 26 Jun 2008

What is your opinion of the "Cap and Dividend" approach backed by Peter Barnes, James Hansen, Canadian Liberal leader Stephane Dion and Charlie Komanoff are converging on?

It sounds similar, and may even be identical-- I'm sorry I get confused by some of the details. Clarification would be helpful.
Posted by Jim on 28 Jun 2008

I really like this article and I'm very concerned about the condition of our environment. I know that land fills have long-term detrimental effects on our quality of living, which is why I've been trying to do my part to reduce waste.

There are a few things I've permanently adopted into my lifestyle. The first is NOT buying water bottles. Instead, I inaugurated myself into the green movement by buying a Brita filter and a Nalgene bottle. They're work together and offer coupons. It's great.

Another "recycle program" I've told my friends about is about cardboard boxes. I'm in college and most of my friends and I have nearly insufficient funds, so we don't want to spend money when we don't have to. I found a resourceful website called usedcardboardboxes.com. We ordered from this website when moving out of our apartments. We felt good about not spending so much, and being able to use recycled boxes that were only used once prior to purchasing them.

Brita, Nalgene, and usedcardboardboxes.com are three companies that seem to genuinely support the green movement. I care about the environment and I feel as if they do also.
Posted by Rona on 30 Jun 2008


I agree with much of your opinion; I don't agree with the concept of the federal government using proceeds of carbon permits auctions.

1. History proves Federal use of monies is inefficient, wasteful and often times ineffective;

2. Renewable energy will be installed at remarkable speed [as proven throughout the EU, in NJ and in CA] when capitalistic incentives are provided for deployment. Use proceeds of carbon permits as incentives to install renewable power;

Yes we need a national grid, yes we need electric trains, but both will take YEARS of political fighting to install. As proven in NJ and California, incentives for installing renewable produces rapid results. We need rapid results to solve $143 oil and rescue the Bush induced US economic collapse.
Posted by Steve Pluvia on 01 Jul 2008

You are right, we need to act now. Peter Barnes proposal (cap and trade with auction and equal dividend) is interesting, but the best proposal is James Hansen's: carbon tax with 100% dividend on an equal basis.
This would be bold, because adding a carbon tac that will progressively raise up to 4$ per gallon looks crazy. The 100% dividend will help poor people to support this tax for their mandatory buy oàf gasoline. But the wealthy people who will continue to use great amounts of carbon related products (air conditionner, airlines, SUV, ...) will pay a lot for their bad way of living.
In France also some organisations like Fondation Nicolas Hulot and TACA are supporting this measure.
Posted by Jean Sireyjol on 03 Jul 2008

New iniatives are poping up all the time in the world. One example is a site from Switzerland that finances the re-planting of deforested areas in the Amazon Forest, in Brazil. The idea is to offset carbon emmissions from that portal.

Interesting idea that could be followed by american companies.
Posted by Tom Kumru - Medical Suppliers on 08 Nov 2008

I'm an inventor, and I see the problem of global warming through a different lens.

Inventing is easy. Poor inventors are plentiful. We need a non-failed government, or a nonprofit philanthropist, or a brave cooperative of ordinary citizens and inventors, to take promising energy ideas through their "valley of death", through prototyping, through testing, through scaling up production, through the pains of birthing businesses. We need a wise committee to sift through 10000 inventions, select 100, winnow 50 out in early prototyping, winnow 25 out during testing, and run with the other 25.

In certain fields such as transit, invention for the little guy has been dead as a doornail for my entire lifetime. There is no known market for transit innovations, just a number of corporate ghouls waiting to steal a poor inventor's livelihood. As a result, little has improved for the American iron horse, except of course in many other countries who all got it years ago. The message to poor American inventors is crystal clear — either emigrate or else find some other line of work.

In any case, I was stubborn, stupid, a safe energy advocate and a daydreamer on top of it all for my lifetime. Quite poor, also. Now, when I say that we shall cut the cost of solar building heat by 2/3, we shall cut the cost of photovoltaic electricity to $.02/kwh and we shall cut the cost of transit to $.10/passenger-mile, I'm thinking of specific mechanical devices that no one else has imagined, that the earth needs, and that I don't have the money to develop. The dreams are here and now. If I don't hit the above targets, the next 1000 inventors probably will. Bring on the friendly competition!

Invent and win a cool planet. If we make coal mining uneconomical, China and every other country will all give up on their rapid coal expansion. Don't invent and lose. If we merely conserve a few watts ourselves, China and others will pollute all over the place for decades, cheating international laws whenever possible. I place actually winning and actually losing right in front of you. Choose.
Posted by Paul Klinkman on 16 Apr 2009

Comments have been closed on this feature.
Denis Hayes is president of the Bullitt Foundation and chairman of the board of trustees of the American Solar Energy Society. He was director of the federal Solar Energy Research Institute during the Carter administration and was national coordinator of the first Earth Day in 1970, and he now is chair emeritus of the International Earth Day Network.



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