Carbon Grandstanding

Last week Gov. Kulongoski and the governors of five other western states signed a regional agreement that commits their respective states to reducing greenhouse gases by an aggregate of 15% below 2005 levels by 2020. Although this sounds aggressive, it’s actually a goal that rides the momentum of an ongoing trend.

In Oregon, total carbon dioxide emissions peaked in 1999 and were 6% lower by 2003. Emissions will continue to decline for the indefinite future because our economy is constantly becoming more efficient. In fact the carbon intensity of the entire U.S. economy — measured as carbon emissions per unit of economic output – has been declining for at least the past 60 years. Carbon intensity dropped by 4.5% in 2005, the largest decline since 1990 and the 4th largest since 1949.

I have no idea if reducing carbon emissions will actually affect global climate, and neither does the governor, but if we want such reductions, we don’t need to impose additional taxes or regulations on Oregon’s economy. Competition in a dynamic market forces everyone to become more efficient, thereby reducing energy consumption and the associated carbon emissions.

It would be nice if politicians had a press conference to announce that they’ve decided to do absolutely nothing about global warming because they’ve finally figured out how markets work. But I’m not counting on it.

John A. Charles, Jr. is president and CEO at Cascade Policy Institute, a Portland, Oregon-based think tank.

© 2007, Cascade Policy Institute. All rights reserved. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and Cascade Policy Institute are cited. Contact Cascade at (503) 242-0900 to arrange print or broadcast interviews on this topic. For more topics visit the QuickPoint! archive.

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