Environmental policy: 73% of Americans don’t know the facts

The USA has been gripped by three simple words that most Americans can’t explain – ‘Cap And Trade’. President Obama is trying to pass legislation that will impose caps on the quantity of carbon emissions individual companies are allowed to release, with companies releasing less than their allotted quota being allowed to sell the surplus on. In providing financial incentive for low carbon emissions, the policy should induce some major companies to become more environmentally friendly – by switching from fossil fuels to solar power, for example – while allowing for the fact that some companies inevitably cannot, or will not, limit their pollution. It’s like GCSE Maths for Big Business: Rex has an allowance of eight barrels of oil, but he only needs to use three. David has an allowance of eight barrels of oil, but he needs to use ten. How many oil-barrel quotas should David buy from Rex?

Since 2003 Europe has used a similar model,the European Union Emission Trading Scheme, yet for a majority of Americans the entire concept remains something of a mystery. Rasmussen Reports, a public opinion pollster, asked a thousand Americans what they thought ‘Cap and Trade’ was. 30% thought it was related to Wall Street regulation, 17% suggested it was connected with healthcare reform and 30% couldn’t even hazard a guess. Only 24% thought it had something to do with environmental issues.

It is a worrying indication of ignorance, especially for a country with one of the highest CO2 emissions per capita in the world. It is also very embarrassing considering the amount of money spent on the lobbying, advertising and spin-doctoring swirling around the words ‘Cap and Trade’; “I’ve never seen this much media spending on a bill that is only in the subcommittee” says John Larsen of the World Resource Institute. Unfortunately, the overwhelming message being conveyed is sponsored by lobbyists arguing that the expensive transition to greener practices would cost the consumer dearly: “Turn on a radio in the blighted town in America’s rust belt, and a new advertisement paid for by a lobbying group claims that ordinary families could be worse off by thousands of dollars if Congress passes the draft global warming law” reports the Guardian. “Emissions Cap-and-Trade Aids the Corrupt, Hurts the Little Guy” argues US News. Clearly the crucial weapon in what Mr Larsen calls the “war of perception” is the wallet; the consumer does not want to pay for changes that will not directly improve the product they receive. As Warren Buffet, the multi-billionaire businessman, told CNBC: “Anything you put in that effectively taxes carbon emissions, somebody is going to bear the brunt of it. In the case of a regulated utility company, the utility customers are going to pay for it”.

So they may not understand it, but Mr and Mrs Average Joe are the ones who’ll be paying for ‘Cap and Trade’. It’s difficult to predict exactly how much will be taken from US pay cheques: $680 to $1,500 per year according to The Wall Street Journal; $3,100 per year according to some Republicans. You can hear cursings of Obama reverberating across the internet; “First you give American families a $400 to $1000 tax break, then you make companies like Shell (profits of $26 billion), Chevron ($23 billion) and ExxonMobil ($45 billion) take it!” The consumer inevitably bares the brunt of the millions and millions spent lobbying against the ‘Cap and Trade’ system.

The International Energy Agency has stressed that “the need to address climate change will require a massive switch to high-efficiency, low-carbon, energy technologies”. Scientists at the University of Bristol have proven that human pollution is turning the sea dangerously acidic, and the Kremlin recently predicted the growing struggle for the world’s energy resources could lead to military conflict in the Arctic. A recent report from University CollegeLondon and The Lancet described global warming as “the biggest global health threat of the 21st century”. Yet these facts are not at the forefront of the ‘Cap and Trade’ debate; in what John Larsen calls this “war of perception”, hysteria surrounds the financial cost of action rather than the environmental cost of inaction and there is often still a slight ‘left-wing-hippie’ tag attached to those raising green issues. As Charlie Munger, the CEO billionaire, has said about rising sea and pollution levels, “I don’t think it’s an utter calamity for mankind…you’d have to be a pot-smoking journalism student to think that”.


  1. Thoughts from America:

    Before we increase the cost of energy for Americans with cap-and-trade and also enrich a new class of financial traders, I believe it’s imperative that the United States establishes a non-political, scientific commission to review all facts and evidence surrounding global warming. Currently, we are relying upon a political organization, the United Nations, for their assessment of global warming. This is not good for America. The stakes are too huge.

    I am a Democrat. For the past 20 years I believed global warming was caused by CO2. Now I’m not so sure, after taking an objective look at the wellspring of man-made global warming theory, the United Nations’ Climate Change 2007 report. Whereas the report should have considered all possible global warming culprits then narrow the field, it instead removed from consideration the possibility that natural forces might drive global warming. It is little wonder that the report pinned the blame on CO2 when in their own words (p. 95), “The topics have been chosen for…assessing…risks of human-induced climate change.” The fix was in. It was politics not science. The mission statement should have read, “Topics have been chosen for assessing risks of human-induced and NATURE INDUCED climate change.” Remember, the UN developed in Kyoto Protocol. They have a vested in demonizing CO2. For further discussion of the report see

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  2. So, Rmoen, do you believe the (photographed, well-established) evidence that the ice-caps and glaciers are melting? If so, do you accept that this melt will inevitably lead to the H2O currently locked up in that ice running off into the sea, raising sea levels (the ‘ice-cubes in a drink’ defence is bunk – massed land-ice at the poles, and ice in glaciers, is not free-floating, and so has no effect on water-levels until it melts. Buoyancy also means that free-floating icebergs have a significant proportion of their mass above sea level, keeping sea levels lower than when they are melted)? If you accept this, do you accept that the rise in sea-levels will be catastrophic, not only for low-lying regions but for the wider world as weather systems are utterly dished by the loss of reflective ice and an addition of water to the water-cycle? If you accept that, how do you propose to stop the ice melting, and thus stop the chain of events?

    Whatever the causes, global warming is a demonstrable fact, and its results will be catastrophic within our lifetimes unless we act to stop it. The current majority opinion amongst scientists is that climate change is due to CO2 emissions, and that reducing these emissions presents a – admittedly slim – chance of halting it. No other credible root solution to the problem has yet been put forward by anyone – the most vehement opponents insist that it will not be a catastrophe, that it is all a natural phenomenon that has happened before or that sea levels will not rise – so in defiance of the evident facts that we can see happening before our eyes that it can only be attributed to ostrich mentality. If a scientific institute were to put forward a credible alternative to dealing with the problem, that would be a case for reconsidering – but as it is, reducing CO2 emissions are the only suggested course of action – so what do we lose following that? Especially since, in any case, fossil fuels will run out sooner rather than later, and we might as well begin developing alternatives or making the current fuel methods more efficient whilst we still have the resources to facilitate a changeover.

    I’d also take issue with your claim that the UN “as a political organization”, has a vested interest in reducing emissions. It has taken the view that reduction is necessary based upon the majority view of scientists, as I said above, and developed the Kyoto protocol with that view in mind. Were it not for that view-point, there would be no purpose to their advocacy of reducing emissions.

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  3. It is extremely important to note that whilst several graphs have been doctored by scientists, politicians and intermediates; the danger is still extreme, the level of proof is still extremely high and, most importantly:

    a) It has been demonstrated that the reason that, for example, Venus is so hot compared to us is because of gases like carbon dioxide and methane; and that on Earth these gases do increase global temperature.

    b) We have tripled the amount of CO2 (Carbon Dioxide) and CH4 (Methane) in the atmosphere.

    Knowing those two facts alone should assure people that we are contributing heavily to an average temperature increase that we call ‘global warming’, even if we aren’t the driving force or even if we are acting against a natural ‘global cooling’..

    One thing’s for sure though; http://www.reuters.com/article/environmentNews/idUSTRE4BT49G20081230

    the average temperature for 01-07 was 0.21 degrees above the previous decade, despite what Lord Monkton described as a “global cooling period” in his infinite wisdom. It is likely that 2009 will be one of the two hottest years this decade, also.

    I am upset that scientists, and others, have deliberately skewed information to make their evidence ‘more conclusive’ – I agree that we need to start fixing it now but the truth is conclusive enough without having to doctor results!

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