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.