More Voices Advance a New Climate Paradigm Abroad

June 9, 2011 | Devon Swezey,

After 20 years of dominance, the pollution paradigm--the idea that we could solve climate change similar to the way we've addressed conventional pollution problems--irretrievably failed in 2010. At the end of 2009, the collapse in Copenhagen spelled the end of efforts to enact legally binding emissions caps at the international level. In the United States, cap and trade failed for the fourth time in ten years and is politically dead for decades.

Carbon pricing and emissions trading schemes are also in retreat in other nations around the world, including Canada and Australia. Recognizing both the political difficulties associated with carbon pricing and its failure to reduce emissions where it has been tried, more scholars and opinionmakers in other countries are advancing an innovation and investment-centered climate agenda developed over the years by the Breakthrough Institute and its allies.

Case in point are two new articles about climate policies in Canada and Australia that discuss the failure of current policies and the need for a new approach.

In a new brief for Canada's Macdonald-Laurier Institute, Dr. Lewis Perelman, a DC-based energy policy consultant, writes that a new carbon policy proposal by the Peterson Institute for International Economics, which would use NAFTA to impose an emissions regulation scheme on North America, ignores the imperative of technology innovation and "lags far behind the growing consensus for an innovation-focused strategy" (full PDF here):

The technology-focused policy framework has been echoed in various forms by a growing number of other policy groups and thought leaders in what they now call "the emerging consensus." The thread that joins their diverse interests together is a fundamental fact: That the technology needed to achieve ambitious carbon policy goals does not currently exist.

"It's not true that all the technologies are available and we just need the political will to deploy them," says Nathan Lewis, professor of chemistry at the California Institute of Technology.

Perelman writes that imposing a cap and trade program on the three NAFTA countries "would conflict with the goals of free trade, economic recovery, and energy security, and inflame political conflict, all while offering at best minor environmental or other benefits." Instead, he writes, "because the technology needed to solve carbon-related problems does not yet exist, an aggressive energy innovation push offers a far more appropriate, politically feasible, and promising path forward."

In Australia, meanwhile, left-leaning political bloggers Tad Tietze and Elizabeth Humphrys, challenge the Australian government's carbon pricing plans:

What if one of the biggest debates in federal politics today - the increasingly hysterical and partisan debate on a carbon price - actually mattered very little in terms of the practical outcomes purportedly being sought: the de-carbonisation of the Australian economy?

Tietze and Humphrys explain that market mechanisms like cap and trade and carbon pricing are a function "neoliberal ideology" that have more to do with theory than reality. In reality, the absence of cheap and available alternatives to fossil fuels mean that carbon prices will be much less effective than advertised. "Australia has had very high taxes on petrol since the 1970s," they write, "but this has not led to a significant shift to public transport or clean energy vehicles."

The duo have some harsh words for the Australian government's prevarication on the impact of carbon taxes, writing that the government's insistence on a carbon tax is one of the greatest harms to effective climate action:

Yet the Government, by trying to sell a complicated and inherently regressive market mechanism with no evidence of effectiveness, tied to an even more labyrinthine set of guarantees about compensation, is doing more to hurt the case for climate action than all the denialists and direct actionists put together.

The government wasn't always captured by neoliberal economic ideology, according to Tietze and Humphrys. After World War II, the state invested in Australia's largest ever engineering project--the "Snowy Mountain Scheme"--which provided hydropower to Australia's cities and towns and drove economic development. Today, a new large-scale investment is needed to drive the development and adoption of clean energy technologies.

The with the collapse of the "pollution paradigm" and the manifest failure of carbon pricing policies to gain political favor or reduce emissions, more voices are joining the emerging climate consensus for large-scale investment in clean energy innovation, and are advancing the long-term project for effective climate progress.