Monday, July 20, 2009
Cap-and-Trade: A Failure of Democracy?
One of the main points I took from this report is that climate change seems to be, in many ways, the natural result of living in a democracy. Why? Climate change requires policymakers and citizens to simultaneously make long-term commitments to lifestyle changes. For example, citizens will only put up solar panels if they can sell surplus electricity to the electric company, otherwise it is not cost-effective for the average citizen to switch to solar. However, electric companies can reduce bills to zero, but cannot buy electricity from citizens. Change this policy - allow citizens to sell to the electric company - and you'll see more people, especially in places like Arizona or New Mexico, switching to solar power.
Is this the kind of idea that will get people elected and re-elected? Well, probably not. Solar energy is expensive and requires subsidies to be cost-effective, as the Economist points out. So it very well could be that a politician is forcing the majority (middle class) to pay for the minority (upper class) to use solar power and reduce his/her energy costs. This is not an electable position and politicians realize they will be better off pursuing pork in a cap-and-trade bill.
I'm not sure, but I suspect that the short terms served by most politicians make it much more difficult for them to adapt the long-term policies needed to solve the climate crisis. It seems the only way to fix this is to suspend the rules of democracy for a while or have the solution come from the Supreme Court (who are unlimited by problems such as elections and terms). Neither one seems imminent, unfortunately for us all...
Compared with the totality of knowledge which is continually utilized in the evolution of a dynamic civilization, the difference between the knowledge that the wisest and that which the most ignorant individual can deliberately employ is comparatively insignificant. ~Fredrich Hayek in The Constitution of Liberty