Via Brian Beutler (The Other Wunderkind), I notice that longtime Bush loyalist and former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson has used his inexplicably granted space on the Washington Post op-ed page to support a cap-and-trade system, prompting me to throw up in my mouth a little.
The column offends on so many levels that one hardly knows where to begin. So lets begin, as we bloggers are wont to do, at the meta level. Here I turn the mic over to Matt Yglesias (nobody does meta betta!):
I, too, believe all that stuff. Inconveniently for me, I've never been a top aide to the President of the United States, which is always a good situation to be in when you'd like to see action taken on a cause.
Meanwhile, Gerson somehow manages to parcel blame out evenly between conservative Republicans like Gerson, Gerson's boss, every boss Gerson has ever had in his career, Gerson's colleagues, and Gerson's subordinates, all of whom have been fighting serious action on global warming tooth-and-nail, and unspecified liberals whose unspecified "hysteria" has contributed to the problem in an unspecified way.
Right. Gerson, who worked closely with the man who's done more than any other human being on earth to stymie effective action on climate change, now -- now, after leaving the White House -- speaks up in support of action. And even now, he can't bear to be honest about where the blame for inaction belongs.
Continuing the offensiveness, Gerson cites Gregg Easterbrook, the Worst Science Writer in the World, and does so in service of a fundamental misunderstanding about climate change. Gerson writes:
This technological progress [reducing smog] would not have taken place as a result of the free market alone. Easterbrook argues that as long as producing pollution is a free good -- without cost to the polluter -- there is little economic incentive to produce new methods to restrict it. Federal and state regulations on auto emissions and air quality created an environment in which the invention of new technologies was economically necessary.
There are lessons here in the controversy over global warming.
Not really. As Tom Casten explained mere moments ago, the pollutants that make up smog are, in fact, a free good, without cost to the polluter. But carbon isn't like that. Carbon isn't free -- everyone who burns it paid for it. It is, after all, fuel. So it does in fact cost polluters money to waste it, just as it would to waste any fuel.
Why do they waste something they paid for? Precisely because we are not operating in a free market. We are operating in a market that, in a hundred different ways, incentivizes wasting carbon. Inefficient ways of burning carbon are heavily subsidized. Market sectors where competition might serve to increase efficiency are neutered by the presence of monopolies. Our infrastructure and land-use policies encourage carbon-burning transportation. Above all, of course, those who emit carbon do not pay for the damage it does.
We could reduce CO2 emissions substantially by moving toward a free market.
Gerson could reduce offensiveness emissions substantially by S'ing the FU and slinking off into shame and obscurity with the rest of his war criminal buddies.