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Think like a progressive and act like a progessive. The planet needs real Democrats.

When it comes to facing our environmental problems, doing nothing is simply unacceptable. We cannot maintain the status quo in the fact of potential ecological collapse. But unfortunately that is exactly what we are doing now.

On the campaign trail Barack Obama favored tradable emission permits. But once he got selected to govern, he challenged the idea of tradable emission permits, saying that the political nature of permit instrument creation made them subject to over-allocation—a problem Obama noted had occurred in Europe. Rather than carbon taxes and/or cap-and-trade sufficient to maintain carbon production within acceptable parameter, now we really have nothing in terms of effective industrial carbon policy at the national level.

Emission taxes and tradable emission permits, the so-called cap-and-trade system, are somewhat similar solutions. The economic logic in favor of emission permits is fairly straightforward. Emission permits and taxes could produce the same quantity of carbon emissions at the same price. Carbon taxes fix the price and demand for carbon can increase or decrease the quantity of carbon emitted. While emissions permits have perfectly inelastic supply upon initial allocation because they fix carbon emissions at a given level, and thus in the case of carbon permits changes in demand for carbon output change the price of carbon but cannot increase the carbon emitted.

Notice that both of these still rests on the fundamental logic of capitalism--namely that supply and demand should be allowed to determine the allocation of resources and the price of their allocation based on magic of the supra-individual agency of the invisible hand (the proposition that any agency exists outside the conscious minds of individual cognition is certainly not reductionist, nor is it uncontroversial).

This is always the fundamentalist solution to problems: we must rely on the fundamentals of the system and not deviate from them; the system will only work properly if we suffer no impurities and we stay faithful to the authoritative theory. In the case of capitalist economics, the fundamentalist answer is a call to allow the market forces of supply and demand to work unimpeded.

These solutions still rely on these fundamental principles. Much of the groundwork for the basic principles of economics was laid at a time when more production was always a good thing, because human survival was contingent upon more production. In the 18th century when Adam Smith was doing his academic scribbling efficient production could literally be a matter of life and death. But now more production often just means more gadgets and gizmos.

Economists may maintain that social welfare and the well-being of individuals is still contingent upon efficient production. But do we really need to maintain the levels of production that we have in order to be better off? We do not live by bread alone, and we certainly do not live by gadgets, gizmos, and contemporary conveniences alone.

These solutions ignore the potential that it may be just such a system of production with an insatiable appetite and a need for continuous capital flows in order to avoid financial collapse in capital markets that causes us to face the grim prospect of ecological collapse. We may need to rely on a new moral logic, the kind that Adam Smith would have been interested in because he was first and foremost a moral philosopher (Adam Smith wrote The Theory of Moral Sentiments and was, incidentally, opposed to the division of labor).

The foundational theory of capitalism is significantly morality-based. We may need to rely on a moral logic driven by solidarity and social discipline in order to avoid ecological collapse. We may need to challenge capitalism.

That is why I am in favor of regulation of industry. But calling it command-and-control regulation is a disingenuous way to abuse language to frame the issue. Regulation is really just public approval.

We have a sovereign power in this nation, which binds us to our national identity and is the rational object of our patriotism, of course in addition to ourselves as a national people. We can use the instruments of that sovereign power to create helpful rules that require profit-seeking institutions to change the means, mode, and scale of their production in order to meet standards of public approval to improve environmental health and welfare and sustain our ecology, which is a kind of national wealth, for the benefit of all of us.

Some call this environmental justice, but I like to think of it as just taking care of the land that we love and that our forefathers entrusted and left to us. Think of it as creative destruction. We must destroy some patterns of activity and structures of industry in order to save our precious natural wealth. We can then rebuild industry and regain wealth with more advanced technology and smarter applications of productive techniques. This will leave everyone better off.


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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    divineorder, too many people

    There will always be plenty of things to compute in the detailed affairs of millions of people doing complicated things. -Vannevar Bush 1945

    by Nathan Jaco on Wed Jul 18, 2012 at 12:50:03 PM PDT

  •  Your ideas brought us Cash For Clunkers (0+ / 0-)

    which was a really bad idea for the environment.

    So while I can agree with you to some extent, the government can also do a whole lot of harm.  

    Look at suburban sprawl brought on by stupid government policies.

    •  Well the government certainly makes mistakes (0+ / 0-)

      and can cause harm. But does that mean we should stop trying? Should be let unaccountable private tyrannies do what they want? Should we wait for the corpus of well-meaning social-justice inclined citizens to metastasize into an anarcho-syndicalist commune and take on the job of fixing the environmental crisis without reliance on any center of concentrated public or private power?

      There will always be plenty of things to compute in the detailed affairs of millions of people doing complicated things. -Vannevar Bush 1945

      by Nathan Jaco on Wed Jul 18, 2012 at 02:33:34 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I will be buying a yurt, thank you. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    too many people

    You don't need to firebomb Dresden to prove that you can fly the plane.

    by SpamNunn on Wed Jul 18, 2012 at 01:09:38 PM PDT

  •  Tech Challenges (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Nathan Jaco

    I think the challenge faced by alt energy is one of perfecting a given tech so it is affordable, reliable and can be mass manufactured.

    In this regard I think projects need to exist that use the tech.  With usage one discovers bugs and can fix them.

    For example, DOE invested in a variety of alt energy tech start-ups like Tesla and Fisker.

    It would have been better to do a pilot where the govt. would put out a bid to buy, use and hammer on EVs.

    Have the Post office buy 1k EVs and then deploy them in a variety of different climatic locations around the country.  The obvious benefit is that one is on a local loop so the battery won't die.

    The other benefit is one would discover how the tech works in snow, ice, salt, sand, humidity, heat, etc.

    Engineers could then work on fixes to any bugs.  Then as the bugs are ironed out one can expand the program.  This way one is on a path to a better, cheaper and more reliable product for the mass market.

    One could also grow EV usage out from these areas.

    I think hydrogen is a more doable alt energy vehicle, but you get the idea.

    Would also like to see more utility scale alt energy plants being built - again with the idea of working out the bugs.

    Mass adoption of any tech will come when the economics/reliability are right.

    Carbon credits worry me though as per investment banks having yet another market to manipulate and according to the Rolling Stone- GS Vampire Squid article were the brain child of Goldman Sachs - don't want to put anymore money in their pockets.

    So the solution in my mind is perfecting the tech - not carbon credits as this becomes a sin tax where the average consumer can't go green anyway so they end up paying the tax.

    95% of electricity is not green so charging a sin tax doesn't stop pollution.  Building out concentrated thermal solar or other alt energy tech does reduce pollution though.

  •  It's extremely hard (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    too many people

    to figure out the net greenhouse load of various activities. People argue a huge amount about it, largely because it's hard to trace all the inputs etc. There are a few points, mainly directly in the energy business, where we can actually keep track of carbon destined to be released as CO2 or CH3. Taxing or capping those is the obvious way to effectively slash greenhouse emissions.

    Philosophical emissions are a separate issue.

    Michael Weissman UID 197542

    by docmidwest on Wed Jul 18, 2012 at 04:51:53 PM PDT

    •  I agree, determining carbon output (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      on a case by case basis is too complicated. It will lead to Byzantine regulations that are gamed by the rich and powerful.  Tax it at the source, and tax it very heavily.

      There is only one planet suitable for human habitation in our solar system.

      by too many people on Wed Jul 18, 2012 at 06:48:11 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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