Why Merely Trade Carbon Emissions?

You’re sitting down with friends for a picnic, when you realize you didn’t pack enough of everything. You’re going to have to share. So you come up with an ingenious scheme to balance both the amount of food everyone gets and let people have as much of the food they like as possible, while remaining sensitive to any potential allergies or special dietary requirements. Congratulations!

This sort of solution is what Carbon Emission Trading (or Carbon Tax; the two are interchangeable for the purposes of this post) is supposed to be. If it were ever actually implemented, that is. We’re instead still gobbling away at the picnic food without considering what happens when the lake’s shore begins to move up to our comfy blanket.

But the question comes, assuming that emissions trading would work, why couldn’t we use it for other things? For example, could countries, cities, trade in things like poverty?

Of course, the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of US cities having to reduce poverty is the problem of cheating. Which may be one of the major problems with actual emission trading. It remains to be seen, but seems plausible that some of the measures to combat a problem would be more efficient than cheating. In that case, even when accounting for cheating, it may still be a useful scheme.

Which is sort of odd, that we might be okay with cheating in some cases. Especially if the city next door is actually paying their full poverty credit deficit, while the city down the block is hiding some of its poverty. But when we’re talking about things that don’t get enough attention, even caring enough to cheat may just be a step in the right direction.

And that leads to the other side of the issue: participation. Currently the USA does not have a carbon reduction plan any more sophisticated than a Texas governor’s. But a few individual states do have taxes in place for carbon. And many other countries do have reduction plans.

For the time being, it may be acceptable to consider non-participation to be about like cheating. And then, as participation levels build, most of the outsiders will join and meet their international and ecological obligations.

But the question remains, whether the same approach should be implemented for many more things. Whether we can make greater progress on big and small issues (the aforementioned poverty, but others that plague us like education and infrastructure investment, to smaller more public health type of problems such as light pollution) using different approaches than simply hoping that action will come.

One of the features of trading approaches would seem to be political cover. The politicians don’t directly institute restrictions, but only set them generally as part of a new market. In that respect, they can’t be as demonized as new regulations usually are.