Thursday, October 6, 2011

Unintended consequences

This is reaching I know, but while watching Prohibition, a three-part PBS documentary film, I was struck by similarities I saw between the lead-up to the laws to enact Prohibition in the United States and the campaigns we see to enact legislation to implement a carbon tax, cap and trade or other such schemes.

After nearly a century of activism, Prohibition passed into law early in the last century as the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It had been “sold” to Americans as a way to improve their lives and to protect their families from the oftentimes devastating effects of alcohol abuse. prohibition

But almost the instant the laws were passed, formerly law-abiding Americans seemed to change their definition of morality and embarked on a binge of lawlessness that saw corruption and criminality spread from the cop on the beat to the White House, making a mockery of the U.S. justice system. 

Prohibition was a cautionary tale of unintended consequences. And I fear that we now risk unintended consequences on a world-wide scale as we follow the bleating of climate-change activists just as sheep follow Judas goats to slaughter.

Proponents of Prohibition had important things in common with those of man-made climate change/global warming. They both sought to deal with very real and important problems and to avert what they believed were pending disasters of tragic proportions. And, just as Prohibition zealots quickly silenced anti-Prohibition voices and demonized their owners as purveyors of sin, similarly treated are those who dare question the role mankind has in climate change and man’s ability to slow or reverse what some consider an un-stoppable, irreversible force of nature.

Moreover, we know the heavy toll Prohibition took on American society: law-abiding citizens became criminals, illicit drinking was seen to be glamorous and fun, neighborhood gangs became powerful national crime syndicates, government officials routinely bent and even broke the law. Prohibition fostered cynicism and hypocrisy that corroded a general respect for the law and rent the very social fabric of America—perhaps irreversibly.

And now we are beginning to see a similar pattern emerge from our earliest attempts to deal with carbon dioxide emissions.

One alarm is being sounded by the Toronto Sun’s Lorrie Goldstein who writes:

“One of the great scams of the cap-and-trade market—a regional version of which Premier Dalton McGuinty wants to bring to Ontario some day—is the purchase of carbon credits through the United Nation’s hopelessly inept and ironically named Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).”

As Mr. Goldstein points out, the CDM was one of the mechanisms defined in the Kyoto Protocol. It is part of the UN’s efforts “to save the planet from man-made global warming.” With the CDM facilitating a transfer of wealth from the developed to the developing world, rich nations and climate-change_1509200ccorporations can offset their carbon dioxide emissions by investing in greenhouse gas reduction projects in the developing world. Carbon credits generated in the process can then be sold for a profit. That’s the theory anyway—not a great one, but there you have it.

Unfortunately, many so-called emission reduction projects apparently should never have been approved in the first place, and fraud has entered the system. We know this from a report by the science journal, Nature, which is based on a leaked (thank you, WikiLeaks) 2008 U.S. state department cable. According to the cable, while projects are supposed to go through a two-step validation and verification process, officials in India, in this case, take project developers at their word without requiring independent evidence.

Mr. Goldstein’s tale is a cautionary one indeed. You really should read his full story, but here’s part of his conclusion:

“As Eva Filzmoser of CDM Watch, a Brussels-based organization, told Nature: ‘What has leaked just confirms our view that in its present form the CDM is basically a farce … it is no wonder the United States has backed away from emissions trading.’ Canadians should be thankful they just elected a Harper majority government. Had it been an NDP or Liberal one, or an NDP-Liberal minority, Canada would now be setting up a cap-and-trade market. This would have undermined our economy, imposing a new cost on Canadian businesses not reflected in the policies of the U.S., our largest trading partner, towards its industries.

“We would also have been walking, like babes in the woods, into the international carbon trading market, whose sole achievement to date has not been to lower emissions, but to raise consumer prices for electricity and other goods and services.”

I appreciate Mr. Goldstein’s optimism—he’s younger than I and less of a cynic—but I fear that under a provincial Liberal government we will indeed be setting up a cap-and-trade market with all the inherent risks to our economy. And it will be only a matter of time before we see the rise in “consumer prices for electricity and other goods and services” he warns us about.

Ah, those unintended consequences can be killers.



© Russell G. Campbell, 2011.
All rights reserved.
The views I express on this blog are my own and do not necessarily represent the views or positions of political parties, institutions or organizations with which I am associated.

1 comment:

  1. My in-laws lived on a farm, on a back road near the US border and told many stories of the big black cars making their liquor run from Canada to the USA in the middle of the night.
    They knew what they were, blew out the lamps and stayed in the house.