Hoff Stauffer has written an interesting paper
on climate change, for anyone who wants to get into the gritty policy details. According to Stauffer, the carbon emissions we really
need to worry about are those that will come from new sources—buildings that have yet to be built, cars that have yet to be driven, power plants that have yet to go online. That means that policymakers who want to mitigate global warming should concentrate their efforts primarily
on putting in place strict performance standards for all new sources of pollution (CAFE standards, green building codes, power plant regulations, etc.), and focus somewhat less on carbon taxes and cap-and-trade schemes as the answer to all our problems.
As I understand it, Stauffer helped design the cap-and-trade system that curbed sulfur-dioxide emissions in the 1990s, so if he says a different approach would work more effectively for greenhouse gases, that deserves a hearing. And granted, on some level, this is all just quibbling, and Congress will likely need to try anything and everything to wean the country off fossil fuels. (Plus, if he's right, we'll still need to raise the price of carbon in order to reduce emissions from current sources.)
But it's also true that, as things stand, no serious climate-change legislation will be signed into law until George W. Bush leaves office. Right now seems like the time to look at all the relevant policy options and figure out which ones will work best. In any case, I'd imagine that businesses would fight performance standards harder than they would a cap-and-trade system or carbon tax—auto makers, for instance, tend to be fine with a gas tax but not so keen on higher CAFE standards. But I'd like to hear more about this, since Stauffer seems to be suggesting that all of the climate-change bills currently being pushed in Congress are, to some extent, misguided.