Already, the United States is taking a lot of heat this week in Copenhagen for being the largest emitter of CO2 per capita in the world. Our country is doing a lot of talking, trying to figure out the best way to reduce these emissions while still preserving our economy, and with minimal disturbance to the American way of life. One of the proposed solutions, cap and trade, still fits into our consumerist society by turning carbon into a commodity. Cap and trade is a system that plans to limit the amount of emissions by allocating a “capped” or limited amount of carbon credits to companies that may be bought and sold (if some go unused). This seems to be a good idea in theory, and one that many environmentalists support. However, the pot has been stirred with the video below. Please click on the link and watch!
Last night, many delegates squeezed into a small room in the DGI Byen building to watch the European premier of Annie Leonard’s short animation film, “The Story of Cap & Trade: Why you can’t solve a problem with the Thinking that Created it.” Notably, a majority of these viewers were youth, a generation of YouTube watchers and visual learners. Though the 9 minute video features simple stick figures and goofy animations that made the crowd chuckle, the message is a serious one. Leonard disagrees with the US movement towards Cap and Trade as a solution to carbon emissions. What she seems to stress is that cap and trade is only a temporary solution, and one with a lot of loopholes.
The stick figures of Enron executives and Goldman Sachs (who, we are reminded, gave us the sub-prime mortgage crisis) are held responsible for coming up with cap and trade as a solution, with a strong implication that they are acting only out of their own self interests: greed. The flaw, she suggests, is that they design markets that they know will eventually fail, and cash out before the big crash. Cap and Trade will fail because too many “free credits” of carbon are being given away, serving as a reward for polluting. Loopholes such as offsetting, where countries may plant trees to give them credit back to emit more CO2 into the atmosphere. The problem is, those trees are really palm-oil trees that are planted in previously deforested areas in the Brazilian Rainforest, for example.
Developing countries shouldn’t have to clean up after their neighbor’s messes. In this light, Annex 1 countries should be held fully responsible. No offsetting should be allowed, and cap and trade would let them off the hook a bit by allowing offsetting. Leonard’s suggested solution was that the credits be allocated for a sum of money up front, not given away. This would help to cut back on further emissions and avoid “rewarding” large companies for emitting CO2.
She brings up some valid points, made accessible to the masses via this factual, persuasive, and entertaining animation. Hopefully, the youth will move out of the role of merely audience members this week in Copenhagen as cap and trade comes up in discussion. We will certainly have to come up with something permanent if we strive to reach the long-term goal of reducing carbon emissions in this country by 80% by 2050.