Will Transparency Curb Carbon Emissions if Cap and Trade Fails?


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Is it a possibility that transparency could all but make up for the lack of a mandated cap on carbon emissions? Grist wonders if that could be the case, and takes a closer look at the EPA's newly instated Greenhouse Gas Reporting Rule, which requires companies polluting over 25,000 tons of greenhouse gases a year to disclose exactly how much they're spewing. This data will then be made public--and possibly be prone to public outrage. Could companies then be shamed into reducing emissions, thereby allowing the GGRR to achieve a similar effect of a full on cap and trade? Shaming Companies into Curbing Carbon
Jonathan Hiskies makes his case (read the full piece here):

The emissions data collected will be made public starting in March 2011. Affected companies will find themselves in a searchable database--and maybe in the headlines too. The data could well become fodder for "the biggest polluters in Area X" local and national stories.

Climate advocates hope the rule will inspire companies to cut their emissions voluntarily. "Some companies may have a light bulb turn on when they come face to face with their own emissions," said David Doniger, climate policy director at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Even if companies aren't interested in doing the right thing for its own sake, they might act to avoid bad PR. And the added attention on emissions could raise public support for regulations with teeth.

Hiskies goes on to cite a case where, faced with Reagan's reversals of regulations, it was all Rep. Henry Waxman could do to keep a law requiring companies to report their airborne toxic pollution in place--not restrict it, mind you. Just report it. But when companies reported the first wave of pollution, the media reported it, the public was outraged, and it lead to meaningful regulation.

But Would it Work?
The same thing could happen with carbon emissions, Hiskies argues. My concern (and Hiskies' as well) is that this case would be different because of the key fact that greenhouse gases themselves aren't immediately dangerous to human health. Sure, they contribute to global climate change, and thus eventually to rising sea levels, the spread of infectious diseases, displaced peoples, more severe storms, droughts, and so on and so forth.

But, since carbon emissions aren't going to poison any Americans directly--combined with the fact that polluting industries will continue to spend millions of dollars to distort the scientific findings and sow doubt in the public--I truly doubt the outrage will be anywhere as great as was the case with toxic airborne pollution records. Can you honestly imagine anyone being that appalled when they find out an Exxon refinery emits 100,000 tons of CO2 a year (or whatever the actual figure turns out to be)? The green movement will be, as will certainly socially and environmentally conscious people--but I fear the rest of the US would hardly raise an eyebrow. I hope I'm being too cynical here--I really do.

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Tags: Carbon Emissions | Congress | EPA | Global Warming Solutions | United States