False Solutions to Climate Change: From “Cap and Trade” to Plastic Coating the Desert

False Solutions to Climate Change

Over the past few years, “global warming” and “climate change” have become buzzwords in mainstream political discussion. Everywhere we turn, politicians, corporations, and even some environmental groups are offering “solutions” to these very serious problems.

However, in many cases, the solutions are false ones. Many of them require no fundamental change in our lifestyles and no real sacrifice, instead allowing those of us to who live in the global north to county our living our lives as we always have through an economic model that promotes inequality and the destruction of the natural earth. We’re told not to worry and that new technology will save us. As such, these new technologies dominate the policy debate.

To counter this, Rising Tide North America–a direct action group working on climate change and climate justice-has released a new pamphlet titled “Hoodwinked in the Hothouse: False Solutions to Climate Change” that provides a critical and highly readable look at the “false solutions” that the group says are “merely dangerous detours on the road to a just, livable planet, distracting us from the root causes of the crisis.”

An Array of False Solutions

In the pamphlet, Rising Tide North America critiques a number of “false solutions” including “clean coal,” carbon capture and storage, nuclear power, and biofuels. Along with these sections, it also criticizes a number of other technological solutions that have been proposed in recent years ranging from plastic coating deserts to genetically engineering trees.

A particularly useful section in light of the current global warming debate is its examination of so-called “cap and trade” systems. Under these systems:

“governments create a market commodity out of carbon pollution by issuing a finite amount of tradable pollution permits each year. As the theory goes, the amount of permits issued would decrease year to year and carbon emissions would be reduced. Because the permits are tradable, and emissions cuts are easier and cheaper for some businesses to make than others, the ‘invisible hand’ of the market will cut overall lowest possible cost to the economy.”

However, Rising Tide argues that this approach has not worked in Europe, calling the “European Emissions Trading Scheme” an “unmitigated failure, beset by fraud and market manipulation.” They point out that companies have over-estimated their emissions, received permits for free, and raised prices-all leading to windfall profits while doing little to address carbon emissions.

A worldwide system would allow the wealthy countries to purchase credits from the Global South to delay action, while offering no incentive to move towards a post-carbon society. At the same time, it would setup yet another poorly understood, experimental market-much like the complex trading schemes that led to the current financial crisis.

Real Solutions to Climate Change

The group argues that there needs to be a fundamental shift in U.S. policy that has for centuries degraded and exploited the natural world:

“Our Southern allies believe we should respond to climate change through commitments to reduced consumption and by payment of the ecological debt from the Global North to the Global South owed from decades of resource extraction. Investment in community-led renewable energy initiatives and sustainable, small-scale agriculture infrastructure geared to meeting the right of all people to healthy food are supported, corporate development is rejected.

The climate crisis demands that we, as residents of the Global North, ask what kind of world we want to live in, and recognize that the answer is as much a social issue as it is an environmental one. Climate Justice is more than a theoretical goal–it is a practice in the movement against climate chaos. No effort to create a livable climate future will succeed without the empowerment of marginalized communities. No justice will be found without an end to policies long-pursued by the wealthy countries which treat communities–from Iraq’s oil fields to Indonesia’s palm oil plantations to Appalachia’s coal fields–merely as resource colonies.”

To that end, the group argues that we must replace the concept of unlimited “growth” with one that prioritizes meeting human needs and sustainability.

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