The "Cap and Trade FAQ" by Lissa Harris (see "Up in smoke," June 4, 2009) was timely and covers an issue of great importance, but too little understood. Yes, the system proposed is a "vast, rickety Rube Goldberg contraption, complete with ramps and gears and pulleys and suspended buckets of water."
To assume that this is accidental, however, would be a mistake. It will do exactly what it is designed to do: give the appearance of doing something when it isn't. Or, more accurately, do things very differently from what the public would reasonably expect. If this weren't the most serious crisis to ever face our species, it might be humorous.
Wall Street and the oil companies will love it. The oil companies, because it will give the appearance of something being done while not changing anything. Wall Street, because it will be a new source of money for them—a new bubble to get rich off of. The carbon offsets side of the system, which Harris properly criticizes, was covered in a June Scientific American article, which concludes that the system is hopelessly flawed.
Harris does miss the mark with this statement: "The grim fact is, nobody knows for sure how much carbon reduction we'll need in order to avoid the most dire global warming scenario." Actually, there are those who know quite well. Columbia's Center for Climate Systems Research, for instance, concluded in a publication last year that a maximum carbon dioxide level to prevent runaway global warming is 350 parts per million (ppm). We are now at 385. If we begin immediately to reduce emissions and sequestration of carbon (mostly through reforestation and modified agricultural practices) we can lower the figure to below the 350 ppm figure.
How bad can it get? We don't know and we shouldn't try to find out. It all depends on how much methane will be released from the ocean floor and from receding glaciers and permafrost, and how fast. Certainly, most cities and most agricultural areas would be lost. It would be a grim planet, even for Wall Street brokers and oil company executives.Harold Young, St. Ignatius