The current debate over global warming has obscured a fact that should not be debatable: that the planet has been environmentally degraded by the human footprint.
Every one-third of a second, the planet makes room to accommodate one additional human being, who on average spews into the air 3.2 tons of carbon, along with his share of 80,000 ton of carbon monoxide, 270,000 metric tons of methane and 355,000 tons of phosphorus. In order to provide living space for each additional human, 100 acres of rainforest are destroyed every minute, and one entire living species is sacrificed every 11 hours.
Current policy has almost exclusively failed to consider the affects of population on the environment, and instead has taken the self-defeating form of spending trillions on the "circle game," leading former Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lee Thomas to observe that current environmental policy has merely transferred pollution "in one medium, such as the air . . . to another, such as soil or water."
While governments spend billions on marginal reductions in pollution emitted per consumption unit, such as cars or refrigerators, an expanding world population exponentially increases the number of units. Thus, while emissions per automobile might be reduced by 10 percent, the number of cars produced triples and quadruples, with the result that for every step governments take forward in climate policy, population expansion results in taking a hundred steps back.
The so-called carbon market bill may be fine for people like Al Gore who can justify the extravagant pollution emitted by their Lear jets and mansions by saying that they bought their rights to pollute on the carbon market, but the European experience with such markets has shown that it has a negligible effect. Studies have further shown that cap-and-trade programs affect consumers the same way as a direct carbon tax that is equal to the market-determined permit price-equivalent, in other words, to, say, a straightforward gas tax on consumers.
Thus if government regulators truly want to reduce pollution by raising the cost of emitting it, the most transparent and efficient method would be to simply raise gasoline taxes to $8 or more a gallon (as the Europeans have done), using the proceeds to somewhat reduce income imposed on the poor.
While it is understandable why government regulators prefer to hide from voters the cost to consumers of cap and trade, in the long run a far better policy would be one of complete honesty, relying on the ultimate willingness of voters to support a sound environmental agenda even at the cost of reducing their standard of living. Otherwise, any cap-and-trade program runs the risk that it will ultimately backfire once the voters realized they have been tricked.
Robert Hardaway is a professor of law at the University of Denver College of Law and the co-author with Judy Trejos of "Tropical Rainforest Conservation Legislation and Policy: A Global Perspective."