After the coldest winter in most of the richest country, the UN releases a breathless report about the renewed rugency to do something about climate change. The actual summit isn’t until September this year, but I already have misgivings.
The flyer for the summit advertises that “Heads of State and Government along with business, finance, civil society and local leaders” are invited to figure out what “governments, business, finance, industry, and civil society” can do to slow down or prevent climate change. The problem is that climate change, the accidental warming of the earth by our addition of heat trapping chemicals, is caused by us, but we have no idea what to do about it.. Heat trapping chemicals that we produce and emit, like Carbon Dioxide, Methane, Nitrous Oxide, and Hydroflurocarbons, are byproducts and products of our economy. The production of these “greenhouse gases”, like Carbon Dioxide, hasn’t been directly linked to economic growth since the 1970s. However, we still haven’t figured out a way to have an economy without producing a lot of Carbon Dioxide.
Governments do not emit these chemicals by themselves. True, as large operations, state, federal and local governments might emit up to 40% of these within each nation, but the main source of “greenhouse gases” is all of us. The emission of Carbon Dioxide is mostly the responsibility of trillions of choices and events every day. This is why I do not support a cap-and-trade market for Carbon Dioxide. A market in a gas like Sulfur Dioxide, relies on a small number of major actors, producing most of the pollutant, to work. For a gas like SO2 or CO2, you need impartial monitoring and inventory of all the emissions to ensure the traders in the market are doing what they claim. Those claims are what they are trading, so they have to be honest trades. so that they can trade on it.
This is much more difficult than selling cereal at market prices. For Carbon Dioxide emissions, equally intangible but millions of times more routine, monitoring enough to set up a market in clean innovation is impossible.
While government does have a monitoring role in cap-and-trade, it is not responsible for who cleans up and who stays dirty. That is a corporate choice, made hundreds of times a week throughout the Sulfur dioxide market. The decision to live a high-carbon lifestyle or a slightly less high-carbon lifestyle in America is similarly driven by the market and our personal choices.
My misgiving is that the UN, the IPCC, and nearly every other global panel on climate change starts with governments and thinks of markets as an afterthought.
If governments act or mandate in spite of the needs of their people or their markets, their people will reward them with a different government, or a weak economy. Neither of which is going to do anything about climate change. Though global organizations are typically unwilling to deal with anything but governments, they need to deal with the things that are actually going to solve this problem.
To government, every policy looks like a regulation. To markets, policies look like opportunities gained or lost. Lost opportunities get discarded sooner or later, but good opportunities succeed and transform the world. If we want to deal best with climate change, we should thing of it as an opportunity, not a regulation.
Monday I’m going to talk a bit about schools. Hard to find good data on that, as adults shouldn’t loiter around schools, so it might be yet another blasted think piece.