A few days ago, this news article caught my eye:
Major corporations and environmental groups on Friday announced what they called an “unprecedented alliance” to push for quicker action against global warming — urging lawmakers to pass mandatory curbs on carbon emissions, in contrast to President Bush’s voluntary approach.
In a statement, the 10 U.S.-based companies and four environmental groups called for mandatory reductions of greenhouse gas emissions, including those from power plants, transportation and buildings.
Called the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, the group includes aluminum giant Alcoa, BP America, Caterpillar, DuPont, General Electric, Lehman Brothers and four utilities with a big stake in climate policy: Duke Energy, FPL Group, PG&E and PNM Resources.
Well, big business appears to be calling for a government intervention against itself. The U.S. Climate Action Partnership is calling for the government to step in and place some mandatory curbs on the carbon emissions that are the normal result of life, business, and manufacturing. Keep in mind that if any business wanted to reduce its own carbon emissions, it could choose to do so right now, without government intervention. I know that big-government fans tend to see government intervention as a panacea for all life’s ills, but my libertarian nature says we should only allow government to step in and meddle with the free markets as a last resort.
Here’s the real crux of the matter: why do you suppose these ten organizations are calling for the government to make carbon emission reductions mandatory for everyone? If cutting back on carbon emissions is so crucial to saving the planet, why don’t they set the example for others by voluntarily cutting their own carbon emissions by, say, 10-33%? Then other companies might react to their bold planet-saving decisions by voluntarily cutting back their own carbon emissions. But no, it can’t be left to individual entities to choose for themselves: government must enter the fray and force everyone to cut back.
Why such strong-arm tactics? As with many businesses that look to the government for national solutions to free-market problems, there is a simple motivation: the bottom line. These ten companies know instinctively that if they spend the necessary time and money to cut back on their carbon emissions voluntarily, they will find themselves at a financial disadvantage against any of their competitors who choose not to spend their money on cutting carbon emissions. It is far more likely for a competing business to use as much of its resources as possible to create cheaper products — and divert customers with them — than it is for that business to spend money on stemming carbon emissions, if it isn’t required to do so.
Of course, there are some ways to get around this initial financial disadvantage — if a company creates really superlative products, for example, or if it uses its investment in cleaner manufacturing processes to enhance a “greener, Earth-friendly” company image and thus attract more customers. But there’s too much uncertainty involved for most businesses to choose this route and risk losing some of their customers, even in the short run.
Due to fears over the competition getting ahead, then, the U.S. Climate Action Partnership seeks to hobble all businesses with the same burden, to force everyone to work under the same restrictions. So they are petitioning the government to play the role of heavy and force all American businesses to spend money to cut back on their carbon emissions. Hey, it’s for the good of the planet, don’t you know!
Of course, even if the government were to force all American businesses into adopting more planet-friendly manufacturing processes, that wouldn’t do a thing to fix or even coerce the other competition — carbon-spewing businesses located outside the United States. Which brings us to the Kyoto Protocol.
Are we in agreement that keeping one company to a high standard while loosening standards for its competitors results in an unfair burden on the company that must labor under the higher standard? That does seem common sense. So why do people continue to labor under the belief that the Kyoto Protocol is a good idea? Kyoto calls for extremely rigorous carbon emission standards on highly productive countries such as the United States, but it fails to apply those same standards to growing industrial powers like China and India.
If the Senate under President Clinton had ratified the Kyoto Protocol, rather than voting 95-0 against it, the United States would be laboring under a hugely restrictive set of environmental standards, while other nations would be free to do as they chose. The United States’ legendary productivity would have been hobbled under Kyoto, which is precisely why the Senate voted against it. In essence, those who pushed for the United States to implement the Kyoto Protocol were suffering from a classic case of tall poppy syndrome — attempting to use the ham-fisted force of treaty law to punish the United States for its dominance in world markets.
Yet that’s exactly what the U.S. Climate Action Partnership wants the U.S. government to do to its own economy.