The Global Climate Action Summit, currently taking place in San Francisco, aims to bring leaders together in creating bold, transformative solutions to climate change. The summit is a stern rebuke to the Trump administration, led by California Governor Jerry Brown, and an opportunity for groups to come together to create plans to reduce carbon emissions.
So why was the conference met by thousands of protesting environmental and indigenous activists? And why is Jerry Brown a target of the protests?
The activists point out that Brown is trying to appease both sides, including approving multiple new oil and gas drilling operations (a proposition also questioned in connection to Brown’s sister, who sits on the board of an energy corporation) even as global temperature records are set year after year. Additionally, they cite environmental justice concerns, as the poorest Californians are often those subjected to industrial air and water pollution.
I am particularly interested in the criticisms of cap-and-trade, the policy by which corporations trade “pollution permits” to ensure that pollution reduction goals are met, but theoretically allowing the most efficient market distribution of pollution. Cap-and-trade is the textbook example (in our textbook!) of why this flexible market-based solution is preferable (more efficient) than direct emissions regulations. The textbook is written by one of the economists who created our current market-based healthcare system, a system that still excludes many people from adequate healthcare, which is arguably a human rights violation, but back to the story at hand.
From what I can tell, the argument is this: Carbon trading and carbon taxing are tools that may be useful, but the market efficiency of the solution isn’t nearly as important as a scope and speed of carbon emission reduction necessary if we’re going to make progress against the climate crisis. New drilling, and business-friendly cap-and-trade policies won’t cut it.