An animated short story on the flaws of the Cap & Trade system.
by Erin Weber
Annie Leonard, the narrator of “The Story of Stuff,” is at it again. She teamed up with Free Range Graphics to produce a follow-up to her clever, animated short story about the consequences of consumption. This time, she is questioning the sustainability of the proposed Cap & Trade system.
Her main critique of the proposed system includes:
- The placement of the system’s design into the hands of financial institutions which are incentivized by short-term monetary gains
- Free Permits: Polluting companies will be able to get carbon permits without being fined (This prevents fine money from being collected and used for investment in clean energy, dividends to citizens and/or paying down our ecological debt to developing countries)
- Offsetting: Difficult to track if the offsets are genuine, therefore false offsets can lead to increased polluting
- Most importantly: Cap & Trade is a distraction from solving the underlying problem of excessive carbon emissions
Just before the Summit in Copenhagen began, New York Times OpEd author Paul Krugman wrote a piece entitled “An Affordable Truth” in which he supports the Cap & Trade system. In the article, he argued that the recession should not be a excuse for implementing innovative, environmentally friendly business practices, “because the prospect of climate-change legislation could spur more investment spending.”
Krugman goes on to point out a parallel to the acid rain-inspired cap and trade on sulfur dioxide in the 1990s. It would be interesting to hear his response to Annie Leonard’s video, which suggests that the simplicity of the acid rain Cap & Trade cannot be directly compared to the complexities of the Carbon Cap & Trade system.
I agree that it is essential to use the free market to incentivize a timely adoption of responsible business practices. I believe the Cap & Trade system has the potential to work as a short-term solution during the necessary transition while new technologies are developed and new procedures are adopted. However, I agree with Annie Leonard that the proposed system could potentially undermine our ultimate goals. If Cap & Trade is a short-term solution, then I believe that it needs to be designed for obsolescence with incentives declining at the same rate at which technological innovation needs to evolve in order to diminish carbon to the target of 350 parts per million.
To learn more about the Cap & Trade video, visit www.StoryofStuff.org. The site houses a wealth of information including ways to take action, FAQs and donation opportunities. You can also subscribe to the Story of Stuff YouTube Channel.
On a separate note, the design firm who helped produce the video is also worth tracking: Free Range Studios. Their offices are based in Washington, DC and San Francisco and they are committed to doing great design work for good causes. Free Range is a certified B Corporation, “devoted to changing the world through triple bottom line business practices.” The B Corporation Certified Community is growing fast and is another group worth following.