October 12, 2008 at 6:11AM
by Jim DiPeso
At the rate that the stock market has declined over the past week or so, the Dow Jones Industrial Average will fall to zero by Thanksgiving, by which time Americas system of industrial capitalism will have collapsed and well all be herding goats for a living.
Then, we can stop worrying about climate change.
OK, Im kidding I hope. A little dark humor never hurts in times of trouble and uncertainty.
But seriously ... lets talk about climate change, a problem that wont go away regardless of how low irrational non-exuberance drives down the markets.
The conventional wisdom had been that in 2009, the federal government at last would enact economy-wide legislation to cap and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The politics have changed. The next president will take office on January 20 facing immense pressure to do something about the economy. Climate likely will take a back seat to the economy until the hangover headache from the national debt bender has worn off.
Its still important to push on with climate legislation in 2009, but given the changing politics, it may be necessary to think about a bill that initially jogs rather than charges into the climate game.
How so? A hint at a possible way forward is in the discussion draft released by Congressmen John Dingell and Rich Boucher, the principals on the House Energy and Commerce Committee who will shape a climate bill.
The 461-page draft takes a phased approach, imposing caps in 2012 on power plants and on producers of petroleum and coal-based liquid fuels.
In 2014, caps would fall on other industries, such as steel, aluminum, glass, cement, and petrochemical production. Local natural gas companies would face caps beginning in 2017.
By 2024, up to 35 percent of compliance obligations could be met with offsets.
There may be merit to considering what Senator Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, has called a simpler approach. Cap carbon dioxide emissions from power plants only, which account for 40 percent of all energy and industry-related CO2 emissions. His pitch is that power plants are relatively limited in number and we already know how to enforce emissions caps on them.
Alexander also backs a low-carbon fuels standard, and crash programs to push advanced energy technologies into the marketplace, such as cheaper solar, plug-in hybrid cars, and carbon capture.
At a time of economic uncertainty, energy efficiency is even more of a no-brainer than it is when times are flush. Part of the strategy for next year should be expansion and extension of incentives for buying efficient vehicles, buildings, and equipment. The Dingell draft calls for toughening building energy codes 50 percent by 2020.
The politics of climate, difficult in the best of times, have become even rougher as a result of the financial hurricane. Adjustments in policy and political strategies likely will be necessary. But we cant put the issue off entirely, or else the job of stabilizing the climate will become that much harder.