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The Reality-Based Community Praises the Los Angeles Times

And the LA Times does indeed do very good on carbon taxes:

The Reality-Based Community: Yay, LAT: "Print it once and print it all" used to be the LA Times tradition for news; instead of dribbling out an evolving story in daily disconnected tidbits, they would run long, coherent, interpretable stories about situations.

Today's editorial on the carbon tax is in that tradition. Informed, thoughtful, and complete. They also resist the meme of "yeah, but it's politically infeasible" on the principle that everything not yet enacted is infeasible, tautologically, and that discourse like this is supposed to change that.

Angelenos: go out (on your feet, of course) and buy many copies of the print edition. Then go shop at everybody with an ad in it; spend a lot.

And here are selections:

Time to tax carbon - Los Angeles Times: IF YOU HAVE KIDS, take them to the beach. They should enjoy it while it lasts, because there's a chance that within their lifetimes California's beaches will vanish under the waves.Global warming will redraw the maps of the world. The U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that sea levels will rise 7 to 23 inches by the end of the century; as the water gets higher, the sandy beaches that make California a tourist magnet will be washed away. Beachfront real estate will end up underwater, cliffs will erode faster, sea walls will buckle and inlets will become bays. The water supply will be threatened as mountain snowfall turns to rain and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta faces contamination with saltwater. Droughts will likely become more common, as will the wildfires they breed.

Global warming is happening and will accelerate regardless of what we do today, but the scenarios of climatologists' nightmares can still be avoided. Though the cost will be high, it pales in comparison to the cost of doing nothing.The proposed fixes for climate change are as numerous as its causes. Most only tinker at the edges of the problem, such as a California bill to phase out energy-inefficient lightbulbs. To produce the cuts in greenhouse gases needed to slow or stop global warming, the world will have to phase out the fossil fuels on which it relies....

The first is the simplest, and the least efficient: Just order the polluters to clean up. Unfortunately, that's the strategy favored by the Legislature....

Method No. 2: a cap-and-trade system. Under this system, the government decides how many tons of a given greenhouse gas can be emitted statewide and passes out credits to the emitters. Polluters trade credits among themselves; those for whom it's relatively cheap to cut emissions sell credits to those for whom it's expensive.... Cap-and-trade... has proved to be workable. In 1995, the federal government launched a cap-and-trade program for sulfur dioxide, the main ingredient in acid rain....

[F]or all its benefits, cap-and-trade still isn't the most effective or efficient approach. That distinction goes to Method No. 3: a carbon tax. While cap-and-trade creates opportunities for cheating, leads to unpredictable fluctuations in energy prices and does nothing to offset high power costs for consumers, carbon taxes can be structured to sidestep all those problems while providing a more reliable market incentive to produce clean-energy technology.... A carbon tax simply imposes a tax for polluting based on the amount emitted, thus encouraging polluters to clean up and entrepreneurs to come up with alternatives. The tax is constant and predictable. It doesn't require the creation of a new energy trading market, and it can be collected by existing state and federal agencies. It's straightforward and much harder to manipulate by special interests than the politicized process of allocating carbon credits....

There is a growing consensus among economists around the world that a carbon tax is the best way to combat global warming, and there are prominent backers across the political spectrum, from N. Gregory Mankiw, former chairman of the Bush administration's Council on Economic Advisors, and former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan to former Vice President Al Gore and Sierra Club head Carl Pope. Yet the political consensus is going in a very different direction. European leaders are pushing hard for the United States and other countries to join their failed carbon-trading scheme, and there are no fewer than five bills before Congress that would impose a federal cap-and-trade system. On the other side, there is just one lonely bill in the House, from Rep. Pete Stark (D-Fremont), to impose a carbon tax, and it's not expected to go far.

The obvious reason is that, for voters, taxes are radioactive, while carbon trading sounds like something that just affects utilities and big corporations. The many green politicians stumping for cap-and-trade seldom point out that such a system would result in higher and less predictable power bills. Ironically, even though a carbon tax could cost voters less, cap-and-trade is being sold as the more consumer-friendly approach.

A well-designed, well-monitored carbon-trading scheme could deeply reduce greenhouse gases with less economic damage than pure regulation. But it's not the best way, and it is so complex that it would probably take many years to iron out all the wrinkles. Voters might well embrace carbon taxes if political leaders were more honest about the comparative costs...

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