Thursday, October 31, 2013

Sympathy for those lost in the shuffle

Interesting editorial in the Mercury News over the "resource reshuffling" issue and California's effort to control climate change. And attention, carbon tax fans, you're not safe from this issue either.

It's a variation on the leakage problem, that reducing carbon emissions in one jurisdiction might result in more emissions elsewhere. The argument in this case is that coal and gas plants outside of California that previously supplied the California and other state markets would just reshuffle who gets supplied with what, with California achieving "reduced" emissions only because other states are being credited with the "increased" emissions.

I'm not sure what to think of the argument. To be fair, it reminds me a lot of my Burma boycott days from the 1990s, when a retail buyer of clothing from a manufacturer would promise not to take any of their Burma imports. We said that's unacceptable, the manufacture will just reshuffle the Burma stuff to another retailer who doesn't even pretend to care about ethics.

But there's always another hand. The resource reshuffling mentioned here shrinks the market for the worst fuels - gas can sell anywhere, while coal can't. And doesn't that reshuffling happen all the time anyway - if I buy an electric car and a bunch of solar panels, wouldn't just a tiny decrease in gas price result in more purchases that (almost) make up for my removal of my vehicle from the market? What's the real solution - is California supposed to go to other states, buy and shut down their coal plants, and then buy and shut down any new coal plants proposed to take the old plants' place? As for the editorial, it suggests continued responsibility for the reshuffled emissions - but for how long? Forever?

I think I could agree with some transitional responsibility for reshuffled emissions for one or a few years, but after a while I'd say the emissions belong to whoever's creating them, not whoever used to create them in the past.