A great awakening is occurring in regard to making a positive impact on humanity and specifically the environment. People have begun to realize that little things we can do in our daily life can make a difference. Shopping locally, purchasing Fair Trade and union made goods, supporting local organic farmers, making conscious decisions about the food we eat, volunteering, riding bicycles more frequently, even carrying your own reusable totes to the grocery store. All of these are important and empowering tools in our quest to leave the world a little better than it was left us. However, beneath all of that important work done on the individual level, there are also a strong desires amongst us new age environmentalists for all-encompassing, worldwide solutions.
Enter Cap and Trade. The Cap and Trade scheme has been put forth in the climate of disaster and doom and want for real change. There is only one problem. It won’t change anything. In fact it will make our problems worse. The two creators of the Cap and Trade concept stated in a recent interview that their original intentions weren’t global in nature at all, but rather solutions to specific local pollution scenarios. David Morris of the Institute for Local Self Reliance wrote an amazing article for Alternet in 2007, laying out the conflict between local and global solutions. This helps explain the differences between both points.
It is easy to see how carbon trading legislation would only serve to enhance globalization, thus moving more industries to countries that have zero labor and environmental laws. The end result of this course will be not only disastrous for the rights of workers in these countries, ultimately leading to the building of more sweatshops for our goods. Ironically, the environment will also suffer. It is already estimated that 50% of the mercury falling on North America is from Chinese power plants. This corresponds with other major industrial airborne pollutants. The results of more industry moving to China would not only raise carbon dioxide emissions, but more deadly and dangerous chemicals ending up back on the U.S.
However, even in the United States, under cap and trade the major polluters will be able to operate business as usual. By simply buying the cheapest carbon credits, they can continue to to run dirty operations. Basically, the bigger the corporation, the more credits can be bought. There is no provision that requires local or regional offsets, so credits can be purchased anywhere in the world, while the actual costs are passed on to the consumer the worker and the communities down wind and down stream from the factories and power plants. This is a major reason why, many environmental groups actually oppose the idea of carbon trading.
A national and international carbon trading scheme is also ripe for corruption and has the opportunity (almost the guarantee) to create an economic bubble the world has never seen. One commentator called this the “white collar crime wave of the future.” In that vein, it is telling who some of the proponents of cap and trade legislation are. An Enron executive said carbon trading, “will do more to promote Enron’s business than will almost any other regulatory initiative outside of restructuring of the energy and natural-gas industries in Europe and the United States.” It must also be noted that Goldman Sachs and the rest of Wall Street financial firms are chomping at the bit for any mandatory cap and trade system.
So is Cap and Trade really helpful? It doesn’t seem that it is an actual solution to a serious pollution and environmental problem. If anything it seems to be the same solution America has used for past issues, a way to make money. It is also important to note that hope does not always equal reality. It is nearly impossible to be a proponent of Fair Trade and of real environmentalism and still support Cap and Trade. What is important, however is to continue doing whatever you can locally to improve the environment of your community and your region. We can not only accomplish more on the local and regional level through our actions, we can truly affect the world in a positive way.