What is cap and trade and why do some people hate it?

Cap and trade, carbon pricing, cash for carbon: They’re all basically the idea that we should make companies pay for the crap they’re putting in the atmosphere. Sounds simple, right? So why are some communities saying it throws them under the bus? Kanyon Sayers-Roods calls herself a sky protector. Here’s what she said at the Global Climate Action Summit in California. “We have a responsibility to the earth. We need to ensure the safety. I’m going
to say don’t support carbon trading. Please keep the fossil fuels in the soil.” Hold up. Did you catch that? “I’m going to say don’t support carbon trading.” That was a bold move on Kanyon’s part. Carbon trading is California’s most celebrated
climate intervention. Here’s how this particular flavor of carbon
pricing works. The state sets a limit or a “cap” on the total amount of carbon that industry can release. Companies purchase or “trade” emission allowances with each other. Big polluters can purchase the right to emit more greenhouse gases from other companies that aren’t sending out as much carbon. Instead of cutting emissions, they can also invest in green projects to offset that carbon somewhere else. Opponents say the danger of this system is that companies that end up purchasing those extra allowances tend to be located in fenceline communities. Those are the neighborhoods close to polluters, and they tend to be lower-income and have more residents of color. So even though carbon emissions have dropped statewide, air pollution is still concentrated in those fenceline neighborhoods. And people who live there suffer from higher rates of asthma and cancer. And those investments in green projects? Turns out 75 percent of them weren’t even based in California, so they did nothing for local air quality. Those were the findings in a recent study that some folks critical of the carbon trade have called the “I Told You So Report.” But the report also offers solutions to address the disparity created by cap-and-trade programs. Climate change is global, air pollution is
local. One idea is to make sure we’re acting on
them at the same time. Green projects, paid for by polluters, could be located in the same communities, making sure fenceline neighborhoods see the benefits. Those researchers say we’re giving out too many carbon credits. Lowering that cap could cut pollution even faster. But with only incremental fixes, many climate justice advocates like Kanyon still aren’t buying it. We need to take action on climate change in a big way, and also in a way that doesn’t screw people over.

3 Replies to “What is cap and trade and why do some people hate it?”

  1. Link to the report mentioned in video: https://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.1002604#abstract2

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