Preeminent Climate Scientist Blasts Cap & Trade

Dr. James Hansen was awarded the prestigious Stephen H. Schneider climate award at the Commonwealth Club in S.F. on Dec. 4 and chose to trash CA's landmark cap-and-trade program, preferring a 'simple, clean carbon tax'. Gov. Brown was attending.

Science reporter David R. Baker, who has written about the outcome of the landmark Nov. 14 cabon permit auction by the CA Air Resources Board and the proposed 'climate dividend' for rate payers, reported on the sold-out Commonwealth Club meeting.

"Hansen, who leads NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, was there to receive the Commonwealth Club's annual Stephen H. Schneider Award for Outstanding Climate Science Communications. The award, named after a Stanford University professor who died in 2010, goes to scientists who make significant contributions to the public discussion of climate change. Hansen, who has been pilloried by climate-change doubters, certainly fits that bill.

Arguably the best-known climate scientist in America, Hansen trashed cap and trade during a talk Tuesday night at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. The system, in which companies buy and sell permits to produce greenhouse gases, is a "half-baked" and "half-assed" way to deal with global warming, Hansen said."

Hansen opposes cap & trade because he feels it will "enrich the trading desks of banks, which have a new market to explore".

Indeed, Baker noted in his Nov. 19 article on the results on the Nov. 14 auction that "some of the allowances went to traders with financial outfits such as EDF Trading and Morgan Stanley Capital Group. They are expected to be active participants in the "secondary market" for allowances, buying and selling with other traders as well as with companies covered by California's emissions cap."

Hansen believes that a "simpler system would be a carbon tax. Hansen argued for taxing carbon pollution and returning the money to taxpayers, an approach often called "tax-and-dividend."

"You don't want a system with caps, where you have trading, you have derivatives, you have markets that then collapse and don't actually reduce emissions much. That's been tried in Europe, and it didn't do much."

"To Hansen, the most important thing is putting a firm, high price on carbon. Do that, and the private sector will quickly find ways to cut greenhouse gas emissions, he said."

And what did Gov. Brown have to say about this outspoken critic of this "key element of state climate plan"?

"We are out there in the forefront," Brown told the crowd. "As you've just heard, the forefront isn't good enough. But it's still pretty damn good."

Full Story: James Hansen blasts cap and trade



Irvin Dawid's picture

Reporter contrasts Carbon tax with cap & trade

San Francisco Chronicle science reporter, David R. Baker wrote a follow-up article on this topic that appeared the following day. His article described above centers on the disadvantages of cap & trade that preeminent climate scientist and now Stephen H. Schneider climate award recipient, James Hansen, so vociferously charged against the California program. In "California faces carbon conundrum", Baker describes the advantages and disadvantages of both a carbon tax and cap and trade. In short, businesses would appear to favor the former and environmentalists the latter.....

Climate Scientists Are Not Economists

Hansen is possibly the nation's best climate scientist. But he is not an expert in economics, and does not have any special authority to say whether a carbon tax or a cap and trade is more effective economically. Even more obviously, he is not an expert political strategist, and he does not have any special authority to say which method of controlling global warming is feasible politically.

When Waxman-Markey was going through Congress, Hansen won a lot of ill-will for himself by attacking the bill on the grounds that cap and trade is not as effective as a carbon tax. You can see some of the criticism at

At the time, cap and trade was clearly the only approach that was politically feasible: it had already passed the House, it was supported by the President, and it was close to passing the Senate.

I myself would back any plan that could control global warming and that is politically feasible. I would not attack a plan that is politically feasible on the grounds that I know of a better plan that is not politically feasible.

(Note to planetizen editor: This is not really a reply to the previous comment, but I can only enter it as a reply. It seems, because there is already a comment, the Add Comment link has disappeared, and only the Reply link is available.)

Irvin Dawid's picture

Two House Concurrent Resolutions Oppose Carbon Tax

Energy & Environment Publishing reported today, "U.S. carbon tax would be 'disastrous' -- House GOP resolution" (sorry, subscription-only, as are all E&E articles). Now here's the ironic part - the sponsor of the resolution, Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) has apparently teamed up with Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.); yes - that's the Markey in "Waxman-Markey" described above, "to cut energy subsidies" that amount to $4 billion annually. See H. CON. RES. 144 (PDF) and H. CON. RES. 142 (PDF) to read the resolutions.

Bottom line: you go with the carbon pricing scheme you have, not the one you wish you have.

Irvin Dawid's picture

Businesses, Enviros Split On Tax vs. Cap & Trade

Above I concluded that "In short, businesses would appear to favor the former (carbon tax) and environmentalists the latter (cap & trade)....."

Can I take that back?

From The Hill's E2 Wire blog: "Shell, Swiss Re want ‘unambiguous price on carbon’: Ben Geman , on 11/19/12, writes, "Policies to “price carbon” include a tax on emissions, and imposing a cap on emissions coupled with the buying and selling of emissions credits among polluters.

The companies say that while there are multiple ways to set a price on emissions, they prefer market-based approaches like emissions credit trading “which offer both environmental integrity and flexibility for business.”

And let us not forgot Nobel Peace Prize recepient, VP Al Gore who "want(s) to tax greenhouse-gas emissions....The Environmental Defense Fund said it prefers a cap on carbon emissions to a tax", wrote Bloomberg reporter, Mark Drajem on November 16, 2012 in "Carbon Fee From Obama Seen Viable With Backing From Exxon".

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