Carbon Credits, Anyone?

The City Journal has an article written by Peter Huber on the concept of cap and trade and carbon credits.  He points out that American does not control the world’s carbon emissions, we only control our part, nor do we control world-wide energy use.  He compares today’s carbon brokers to medieval priests selling indulgences.  The typical American needs to spend about $500 per year on carbon credits–the average family of four–about $2000.  The person handling the transaction for you will spend the money on such things as reducing methane emissions from hog farms in Brazil.  But what about the carbon emissions from families in poor countries around the world?  They can’t afford to buy carbon credits. 

According to the article:

“If making carbon this personal seems rude, then think globally instead. During the presidential race, Barack Obama was heard to remark that he would bankrupt the coal industry. No one can doubt Washington’s power to bankrupt almost anything–in the United States. But China is adding 100 gigawatts of coal-fired electrical capacity a year. That’s another whole United States’ worth of coal consumption added every three years, with no stopping point in sight. Much of the rest of the developing world is on a similar path.”

The bottom line on this is that we cannot control the world’s use of carbon.  It is also interesting to note that 80% of the world’s population is not at all interested in limiting its carbon use.  If we choose to limit ours, we will cripple our economy for no real gain.

The article proposes a practical solution to the problem of carbon:

“If we’re truly worried about carbon, we must instead approach it as if the emissions originated in an annual eruption of Mount Krakatoa. Don’t try to persuade the volcano to sign a treaty promising to stop. Focus instead on what might be done to protect and promote the planet’s carbon sinks–the systems that suck carbon back out of the air and bury it. Green plants currently pump 15 to 20 times as much carbon out of the atmosphere as humanity releases into it–that’s the pump that put all that carbon underground in the first place, millions of years ago. At present, almost all of that plant-captured carbon is released back into the atmosphere within a year or so by animal consumers. North America, however, is currently sinking almost two-thirds of its carbon emissions back into prairies and forests that were originally leveled in the 1800s but are now recovering. For the next 50 years or so, we should focus on promoting better land use and reforestation worldwide. Beyond that, weather and the oceans naturally sink about one-fifth of total fossil-fuel emissions. We should also investigate large-scale options for accelerating the process of ocean sequestration.”

Now what we need are people willing to listen to alternative solutions to the ‘carbon’ problem!