Accuracy in Media

Vox has the solution to the world’s carbon emissions problems – require Americans to stop using fossil fuels.

There’s a new “cogent argument” out there, says Vox’s David Roberts, that it may be time to apply what he calls supply-side principles to climate policy.

“There is a bias in climate policy shared by analysts, politicians and pundits across the political spectrum so common it is rarely remarked upon. To put it bluntly: Nobody, at least nobody in power, wants to restrict the supply of fossil fuels,” wrote David Roberts of Vox under the headline, “It’s time to think seriously about cutting off the supply of fossil fuels.”

It won’t be an easy sell, he said, but it is beginning to happen.

“Policies that choke off fossil fuels at their origin – shutting down mines and wells; banning new ones; opting against new pipelines, refineries and export terminals – have been embraced by climate activists, picking up steam with the Keystone pipeline protests and the recent direct action of the Valve Turners,” he writes.

“But they are looked upon with some disdain by the climate intelligentsia, who are united in their belief that such strategies are economically suboptimal and politically counterproductive.”

Sometimes the consensus opinion is correct.

Fossil fuel accounts for 86 percent of the world’s energy consumption and Americans own about 300 million vehicles, 99 percent of which rely on fossil fuels. Also, the United States has gone from importing nearly 70 percent of its oil in the 1970s to the brinkin of being a net fossil fuels exporter, creating millions of high-paying jobs.

Roberts says there are four quadrants of climate policy – all aimed in the direction of increasing costs and government mandates in an attempt to force Americans to use less.

There are restrictive supply-side policies that “cut off FF [fossil fuel] supply, including declining quotas, supply taxes and subsidy reductions.”

There are restrictive demand-side policies that restrict demand through carbon prices and caps on emissions that continue to decline.

There are supportive supply-side policies that support alternatives such as renewable energy and mandates that renewables serve set percentages of the market.

And there are supportive demand-side policies, such as subsidies for purchasing energy-efficient appliances.

Vox’s suggestion, based on the paper, is to focus on the first quadrant, rather than the second and fourth, which get the most attention now. It’s not a silver bullet – even more interventions will be needed once access to fossil fuels has been cut off – but it should be part of a portfolio of responses, Roberts writes.

“In other areas of policy, demand- and supply-side policies are routinely mixed and considered mutually reinforcing,” Roberts writes. “As an example,” the researchers who wrote the cogent ideas in the paper Roberts is writing about pointed to an anti-smoking campaign in Australia.

“Those efforts, which have won acclaim around the world, are a wide-ranging mix of tactics,” Roberts writes. “Supply is restricted through taxes, licensing agreements and prohibitions on advertising and sponsorships. Demand is restricted through consumption taxes, public education campaigns and warnings on packs.”

Besides, Roberts points out, what he calls restrictive supply-side policies are easier to administer. Simply close the power plants – that’s easier to monitor, unambiguous to verify and “by definition, cover[s] all downstream consumers.”

Also, energy companies now keep plants producing as long as they are covering marginal costs even if they are not covering average costs, which include the fixed assets. By simply ordering the plant closed or refusing to allow it to be built, regardless of demand, the government can remove this problem.

Policies designed to end fossil fuel use are an “excellent complement to demand-side policies, with economic and political strengths that help fill in the gaps,” Roberts writes. “They are simple, transparent, easy for the public to grasp and unmistakable signs of good faith in international climate negotiations.”

Americans would be in the dark and on foot, but we’d have a good reputation at the climate bargaining table.

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