Saturday, April 18, 2009

[Excerpt from my Facebook wall in the last 24 hours, consisting of a back and forth I'm having with a former colleague]

Status: Chris likens the green movement to the Church's Indulgences during the Middle Ages. Keep sinning, but no Hell.

Colleague: Intriguing notion, but I can't connect the dots. Can you elaborate?

Me: Whether it's sustainability or lowering CO2 emissions, fear motivates us more so than desire to do right for right's sake. If we *were* acting on ethics/honor and not guilt, we wouldn't commit the eco sin of living the way we do in the first place. We'd choose *lifestyles* that are green rather than try to erase every material step we take.

Identical to the Catholic Church's selling of indulgences 100's of years ago. The church turned the supply of guilt (collectively perceived thanks to centuries of religious indoctrination + shorter life spans) into a source of revenue. The church knew people couldn't live up to the Christian ideal, and so it offered Get Out of Hell Free cards that people bought out of fear - not because it was right.

Same with today's environmental movement. Hypocritical eco-priests like Al Gore & Holllywood sucking on our guilty bones.

Colleague: Are all pollution credits BS, or just carbon credits?

Me: We know pollution is bad for us in the here and now, so we deal with it because it affects us. That's a social contract. Carbon credits, on the other hand (me selling you a carbon credit so you can keep operating a coal-fired choo-choo train, for example) is an Indulgence because even though I know it will have zero impact on what global warming *might* exist, I sell it to you so I can fund the growth of my cause.

Colleague: Thanks for the explanation. I understand your point now. You see carbon-trading as a useless activity that can in no way help reduce global warming. All that it reduces is guilt--or, more likely, what it does is allow a corporation to advertise that it is clean, thus creating positive PR for itself.

Do you object to the theory behind carbon trading, or do you merely think that it is poorly implemented? As I understand it, the theory is that environmental costs must be built into the marketplace and, when proper costs are assigned, the market will then self-correct. Further, as I understand it, when a corporation purchases a carbon offset, the money they spend actually goes to reduce carbon emmisions elsewhere, so that the net will be zero.

Me: Yes, and yes. I object to the theory because it assumes a) that we know what causes the planet's temperature to vary; b) that our math can accurately model climate; c) that climate variation is bad; and d) that there's anything we can & should do about it. And I object to the implementation because it gives the new fires every chance to burn and ... Read Morefocuses on the naturally dying old fires.

I also object to it because it's a fantastic racket that I unfortunately didn't think up; but I *am* thinking about building a global warming carbon offset iPhone app.

Colleague: Yes, I understand that you question the underlying assumptions behind global warming. But, suppose those assumptions were true: namely, that global warming is occurring and that's it's bad for the environment. Do you think carbon trading would be an effective way to combat it?

Me: Supposing all you ask me to suppose, I very, very much do think carbon trading would be a horrible way to combat it, for the simple reason that it would give CO2 emitters a perfect & easy way to avoid reducing CO2 while passing on the fees they pay straight to the consumer in the form of higher prices. At first glance, that's exactly what seems to ... Read Morebe happening.

A better way - and I hate even talking about this since to me the notion of climate change being caused by humans is preposterous - would be to give citizens tax *rebates* as they lower their carbon footprint. Lowered taxes as an incentive would be way more powerful an incentive to achieve the desired ends, and it would avoid the gross ineffeciencies that always result when citizens let govt manage money.

Colleague: Ah, but if you're willing to believe for a moment that humans *are* causing climate change...and you believe in supply and demand...then passing the cost of CO2 emitters to their customers is precisely the right thing to do---increased cost->decreased demand->reduced CO2

Rebates (lowered costs) are just the flip side of increased costs. All the ... Read Moresame coin, so all the same result.

The difference being---it's easy to measure the emitters and increase their cost. It's exceedingly difficult to measure those who lower footprints.

Me: *If* I'm willing to accept anthropogenic climate change, then please don't add insult to injury and make me accept that ballooning the federal govt or the UN to try and manage it top-down is the best way to mitigate it.