Practical Means Real, Not Theoretical Support

Another great post from Ryan Avent on the illusion of political practicality for instituting carbon taxes and geoengineering:

But of course, a carbon tax looks like a clean, simple option at the moment because no one is invested in securing protections or advantages for themselves because a carbon tax isn’t on the table. The moment it looked as though Congress might actually consider and pass a carbon tax, every single interest that has pushed for free carbon credits or other assistance would take on the carbon tax, demanding exemptions or offsetting subsidies of some kind, and generally producing the exact same kind of mess for a carbon tax bill that we have now with a cap-and-trade bill.

It’s worth thinking about this when reading things by people supportive of geoengineering as a solution to the climate change problem. They tend to look at the difficulty the world has had putting in place a system that will succeed at reducing emissions, conclude that the world will fail at reducing emissions sufficiently, and argue that geoengineering is the only way forward.

Sounds almost reasonable, but…

But the question that stands out most to me is just why these geoengineering advocates think that it will be easier to do grand scale, highly unpredictable projects that will affect the earth’s climate in a significant fashion in just a short amount of time than it will be to continue on the path we’re currently following, negotiating for emission cuts. Really, have they thought about this?

Begin with the fact that politicians are extremely risk averse. Who wants to be the guy in charge of the effort to build the who-knows-how-many-billions-of-dollars 18-mile long sulphur dioxide tube? The downside risks are enormous relative to the potential upside benefits.

Seriously, it’s hard enough to get the United States to pass any environmental legislation much less a H.G. Wells style scheme, which has never been tired at any level.

As for the supposedly practical carbon tax proposal, there seems to a total lack of interest outside of the internet and other hypothetical musings. Sure a carbon tax could be simpler then a cap and trade system, but other then Jeff Flake nobody of any relevance seems to have made any effort to have such a proposal enacted.

I mean you’ve got all the major environmental groups and business coalitions supporting some kind of cap and trade system, by contrast you’ve got a handful of prominent people that support a carbon tax, that also support a cap and trade system. You’ve also got a few dozen bloggers and endless comments drawn from GOP statements and other people with no actual interest in doing anything about climate change about how a carbon tax would be better then a cap and trade system. Collectively the ratio of people talking about a theoretical carbon tax vs. advocating for a real life carbon tax is about 1000 to 1.

-Chris

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