Pope Trashes Cap-and-Trade: It’s Likely a “Ploy” by Elites that Won’t Work

Monday, June 22, 2015
Pope Francis

Forget about Pope Francis’s eye-opening, broad lefty-like views of climate change and global capitalism. The man has established his progressive bona fides by getting down in the weeds and taking a position on cap-and-trade―pioneered in Europe and California―that is to the left of the state’s Democratic Party and many environmentalists.

The pope doesn’t like it. He doesn’t think it will work and that it’s being used as a distraction by vested interests to avoid doing the right thing.

“The strategy of buying and selling ‘carbon credits’ can lead to a new form of speculation which would not help reduce the emission of polluting gases worldwide,” he wrote in last week’s encyclical on climate change.

“This system seems to provide a quick and easy solution under the guise of a certain commitment to the environment, but in no way does it allow for the radical change which present circumstances require. Rather, it may simply become a ploy which permits maintaining the excessive consumption of some countries and sectors.”

Pope Francis tucked his broadside at cap-and-trade in a larger plea for action to halt climate change. The pope argued for international agreements that reduce carbon emissions while not putting the burden on the backs of poor nations and poor individuals. Environmental justice groups express concern that poor folks, who tend to live next to the biggest polluters, are harmed by cap-and-trade.

Legal Planet’s Ethan Elkind, no early fan of cap-and-trade, said the pope was probably more familiar with the European version that hasn’t worked out that well while showering utilities with windfall profits. He’s impressed with the lack of market manipulation in California, its backstopping of other state climate policies and resulting big bucks for fighting pollution.

California’s cap-and-trade law is a market-based approach to reducing global greenhouse gas emissions that lets local companies buy and trade pollution allowances and credits. Heavy polluters can spend money on permits that others who pollute less (or reduce pollution) have put on the market. Those credits in Vermont for planting trees can bring big bucks from polluting utilities in California.

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) says on its website “No other system can guarantee lower emissions.” But a lot of people would like to try a straight carbon tax on polluters along with requirements they deploy new technology immediately to stop polluting.  

That was not considered politically possible when California passed the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, otherwise known as AB 32. The law, which took effect in 2012, has a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 80% from 1990 levels by 2050.

The pope does not seem to think we have that long and is dubious that the program works. Environmental economists generally lauded the pope’s encyclical, according to the New York Times, but regarded the cap-and-trade stuff as “part of a radical critique of market economies.” Kind of like that money-changer-in-the-temple rubbish that radicals used to peddle a couple millennia ago.

Stephen Stromberg at the Washington Post led off an assessment of the pope’s climate change encyclical (“What Pope Francis Gets Wrong About Climate Change”) with a quote from Republican presidential contender Jeb Bush that, “I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinal or my pope.”

Correct. That’s who Bush gets his policies on abortion and pedophilia from. When it comes to global warming, still denied by most Republicans but looking grimmer by the moment, Stromberg and elites prefer policies that are “modest, channeling human behavior to advance toward a common goal rather than dictating to society how it will get there.”

The pope would prefer not having a toxic planet devoid of humans.

–Ken Broder  


To Learn More:

Pope Blasts California’s Cap-and-Trade System (by David R. Baker, San Francisco Chronicle)

Championing Environment, Francis Takes Aim at Global Capitalism (by Coral Davenport, New York Times)

Does Pope Francis Really Hate California’s Cap-and-Trade Program? (by Ethan Elkind, Legal Planet) 

What Pope Francis Gets Wrong About Climate Change (by Stephen Stromberg, Washington Post)

With California Carbon Cap-and-Trade Program Launch, Experts Debate Economic Side (by Barbara Grady, San Francisco Public Press)

Will California's Cap and Trade Be Fair? (by Madeline Ostrander, The Nation)

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