Monday, June 2, 2008

George Will on Cap and Trade: A Policythought Response

George Will, one of the few columnists out there that actually comments on policy. This week, gives his scathing critique of the carbon cap-and-trade system being debated in congress this week. I don't always agree with Mr. Will, this is yet another example. Will argues, that cap and trade is essentially a very well-cloaked tax. That a carbon-tax is politically untenable so instead a cap and trade system is the way to go for greedy politicians that essentially want more power over the our lives. He continues to argue that since the funds collected from cap and trade will fund government investment program, dedicated to fighting the climate crisis and building an alternative energy program, it's a form of pervasive socialism dedicated to destroying the free market, with governments picking and choosing winners and losers and fundamentally shaping our economy. Take a minute to read his column, then come back and read my retort.

George Will seems, at least in his tone, skeptical of the idea of man-made global warming and climate change. I don't expect everyone to agree with prevailing scientific opinion or logic. Just because many do, doesn't mean everyone should. The science behind global warming is as certain as any science can be, it's good enough for most of the world's experts (i.e. those not paid by oil companies to think otherwise) but it doesn't have to be good enough for Mr. Will.

What is an economic imperative however, is the oil economy. We have built our economy and indeed our lifestyle on the idea of personal autonomy- the idea that anyone can own a car and drive wherever they please to do whatever they like. It's as American as apple pie. Cheap energy, largely based on a ready supply first of domestic, then foreign oil and coal led to our automobiles, homes, factories, and offices burning fossil fuels at an unprecedented rate and fundamentally changing the way the nation worked, lived and played.

Now as the developing world begins to move from childhood to adolescence, they demand the same energy use that we bask in. The need for carbon-based fuel is rising more rapidly than supply can keep up. It is this issue that the government must attack. The problem of both domestic and worldwide energy shortage. If that is dealt with intelligently, then we solve an economic woe for our nation, but also, stem the tide of global warming.

The economic issues we are facing require a governmental response on the level of the New Deal. The private sector is concerned, rightly, with is its own short term economic viability-not with the long term problems of energy crisis. As a nation we need governmental intervention to create market conditions that will stimulate innovation and growth over the long term. We encourage diversification in all other manner of investment. Yet when it comes to our energy investment portfolio, we invest only in Oil and Coal. Conservatives, like Mr. Will would have you believe that the market can solve any problem. The Great Depression was not solved by the market alone. The Federal works programs of FDR's new deal were the bedrock of the new solution.

Am I likening the Cap and Trade Program under consideration today with FDR's New Deal? Of course not, however I believe the government must create a challenging environment for industry to come up with solutions to problems. The government must create the kind of challenge, and crisis that we could see in the future, today. To solve a this giant problem before we really are behind the 8-ball. If, for instance Saudi oil supplies were cut off from us by some natural disaster out of man's control, would we simply cease to function? If every drop of oil disappeared tomorrow, what would we do?

We would solve the problem, we would go through a devestating period, and then the nation would pick itself up and build wind, hydro, solar, nuclear and coal plants (clean or not) to solve the energy crisis. Why do conservatives fear government intervention when it comes to solving the greatest problem in our history? Mr. Will, cap and trade solved the acid rain problem. Why shouldn't we try it to solve not global climate change, but our Oil problem?

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