VIEWS: Climate Bill Passed but With What Risks?

Dispatch from SSC Intern Elizabeth Vayda

Yesterday the U.S. House passed a climate bill that will impose a cap and trade system designed to limit CO2 emissions in a cost-efficient way. I am incredibly excited that there has finally been a measure by Congress to direct America away from its reliance on oil and towards renewable energy; however, I do feel that it is important to discuss its possible risks.

Though the U.S. was successful at reducing harmful levels of sulphur dioxide in the atmosphere in the 1990's (which was causing acid rain), there was significantly less sulphur dioxide compared to the amount of carbon dioxide polluting our atmosphere today. Large amounts of SO2 were sequestered underground, something that will not be nearly as easy with CO2. This means that even though the U.S. has experience with a cap and trade system, the pollutants were dealing with today are at much higher levels than that being dealt with in the 90's. Cap and trade systems are complex, and it is unlikely that its implementation will occur quickly.

It's no doubt that America is synonymous with overconsumption. With a disposable version of nearly everything, a fast food restaurant at every street corner, and a T.V that constantly blares advertisements, Americans are using the Earth's resources at an alarming rate. By implementing a cap and trade system, efforts to make the U.S. more environmentally conscious and less consuming are placed in the hands of businesses rather than consumers. Consumer behaviour is not necessarily being affected by large scale businesses who are polluting over the limit, but are able to purchase credits from lesser polluting companies. Another potential problem with a cap and trade system is that it is not revenue neutral. This creates the possibility of it being manipulated by special interest, leading to corruption.

Don't get me wrong, I'm elated that the climate bill was passed today. We desperately need regulation regarding our emissions in order to reduce our contributions to global warming. As the limit gets more and more strict, heavy polluters will be forced to switch to renewable energy, thus making things like solar or wind power more affordable for the American public. We're on the right track with this new bill, but it's important to be wary of the possible setbacks it may experience.