Evan Kopelson Video on The Incentives to a Low Carbon Economy

Evan Kopelson looks at the incentives to drive America to a low carbon economy, including a cap and trade system, and subsidies of clean energy investments. He looks at the pros and cons of each, and issues recommendations. Evan is the founder and president of Green Media Consulting, Inc. and advises on issues of climate change, sustainability, and corporate social responsibility.

** UPDATED COMMENTARY 10/15/2010 **

When I made this video a little over a year ago, I truly believed Cap and Trade was going to be the best incentive to a low carbon economy. I later started considering a straight up Carbon Tax as an even better solution.

I have since changed my mind about both these approaches.  Here is my new position:

Neither the Carbon Tax nor the Cap and Trade system are effective means of stimulating a low carbon economy. In fact, they represent a non-solution based in a sort of faulty “putting-the-cart-before-the-horse” logic, which would be terrible for the economy and not even lead us to a clean energy economy.

These are hard words to write, because of course the Republicans have been railing against the idea of a carbon tax and a cap and trade system in America from the get-go.  But I don’t want to get off point. There are valid reasons these are terrible ideas, and the Republicans could have taken on this issue respectfully and won on the merits. Instead they resorted to creating campaigns of hate, anti-science, fake “climate-gate” scandals, made-up death panels, and spreading vicious rumors that the President of the United States is really a secret Muslim… as if there’s anything wrong with being a Muslim, but again, I wish not to digress.

Here’s my commentary on the Incentives to a Low Carbon Economy, updated 10/15/2010 in simple terms for people who care:

In plain English, it’s not fair for you to tell me you’re gonna charge me extra for using your dirty energy until you provide me with clean energy in the first place.

Huh? OK here’s the way it should work:

Give me clean energy on one side and charge a little more up front for it but don’t tax it. On the other side, your dirty energy, which costs cheaper before tax, but now has a carbon tax on it which makes it more expensive than the clean energy. Now my choice is clear.

But… a carbon tax on the dirty stuff, without the clean stuff to choose from? How is that fair? That sounds like enslavement. I HAVE to use energy. And without a clean choice, I have no choice but to buy your dirty stuff. So if you TAX that dirty stuff, you’re FORCING me to pay your tax, while not giving me any way out by buying clean energy, because– well there isn’t any available.

Get it? Carbon Tax = Enslavement. If we have no choice but to go completely off the grid and shun energy altogether, or pay the tax for dirty energy without a clean energy alternative, it’s enslavement.

So how do you incentivize our move to a Low Carbon Economy?

With INCENTIVES.

Incentives should be in the form of tax credits that encourage investment in clean energy solutions and making these available to scale to the size of our economy.

Taxing the dirty stuff before we have clean stuff to choose from will enslave the population with a tax on everything we consume. It’s not necessary to spread lies and hate about anti-science or death panels (ok I know this isn’t the health care debate anymore but Grrr I can’t stand well-funded, well-coordinated dis-information campaigns). The truth is a good enough argument against a carbon tax; at least until clean energy alternatives are available at scale, and thus a carbon tax would be the fair and right thing to do to move us to a clean energy economy at that time.

In other words, we need to provide strong and steady incentives to bring clean energy to scale, incentives that will remain in place whether we have Dems or Republicans in office. Once we have a clean energy alternative to choose from, we can fairly implement a carbon tax on fossil fuels.

I still believe frameworks such as the GRI and CDP, which provide for transparency and accountability in reporting of GHG emissions data, will help move US policy in the right direction, even if bills are passed into law that do not provide the best of the best solutions straight out of the gate.

But we do need action and leadership on the incentives.