A few months ago when some scientists, notably Jim Hansen, and less notably myself, were expressing doubts about cap-and-trade, the more politically active of our acquaintance were urging us to STFU, since we are presumed totally unrealistic about how Washington works. Notably it was David Roberts (in combination with the impenetrability of the bill’s language) that convinced me to drop the matter.
Suddenly, David is running a convincing video that makes the exact case that people like Hansen were making in the first place, viz., that the whole cap-and-trade idea is too complicated and legalistic to work, and that the likelihood of market distortions and loopholes was much larger than for a simple tax-and-rebate scheme.
To David’s credit, (and not so much to Obama’s) this is a free-speech issue for him. The video’s authors are on the federal payroll and have been asked to take it down, even though they were explicit about not speaking for their employer.
But I think we ought to pay attention to the substance of what they say, as well.
I think we ought to be in a hurry to get things right, not in a hurry to “do something, anything”. It’s better to do something next year that works than something this year that backfires.
If the way the video describes things is right, which seems entirely plausible to me, this is classic politics, getting buy-in from enough constituencies by buying them off. Democrats seem to think buy-in through buy-off is the way to get things passed. It reminds me of how I see some real mistakes working in scientific funding, actually. If everybody gets a piece of the pie, there’s nobody left to object. Unfortunately we are left, it seems, with action that is only symbolically effective.
OK, the US congress can only do things in odd-numbered years. (They ought to take a leaf from the Texas State Legislature’s book, and not bother to show up in election years at all.) So maybe we wait two years. Maybe that will give us time to do something effective. It’s not the end of the world, with probability 0.97 or so…
The issue is which path probabilistically yields the best long range outcome. Yes, there are risks with each further delay, but a broken bill is likely as bad as a delay or worse. Now that Copenhagen is not a big deal anymore, there’s no real rush to produce a bill in the US. Let’s drop Waxman-Markey and its variants, and take our time to try to come up with something that works.