Why GHG reduction policies that focus on ‘big polluters’ aren’t good enough

The Achilles heal of most policies to reduce GHG emissions, is their focus on ‘so-called’ big emitters. Factories, steal produces and other industrial emitters are often the focus, while emissions from normal people like you are ignored.

A Big Sum of Small Differences
Individual Americans Cause — and Could Cure — Most of U.S. Emissions Problem

It’s easy to mock little efforts to save the environment: reusing grocery bags, buying a Prius, putting an energy-efficient refrigerator in an energy-eating mansion. The big gains to curb greenhouse emissions, the argument goes, will come from controlling big industrial companies that spew millions of tons of heat-trapping gases every year.

But consumers — especially American consumers — have more influence over climate change than they might think.

U.S. consumers have direct or indirect control over 65% of the country’s greenhouse-gas emissions, according to new statistics tallied by consultant McKinsey & Co. The figure for consumers in the rest of the world is just 43%. Americans, largely because of how they drive and how they build and use their homes and offices, lead some of the most energy-intensive lives in the world…

Industry — including oil, steel, chemicals and cement — produces 23% of U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions, according to the McKinsey study. But a handful of other emission sources more directly controlled by consumers far outweigh industry when those sources are pooled together.

Passenger cars account for 17% of U.S. emissions — something consumers could affect by driving more-efficient cars or by driving less. Residential buildings and appliances contribute another 17% of emissions, underscoring the impact consumers could have if they lived in smaller buildings, or added more insulation, or bought a more energy-efficient model next time they replaced their washing machine.

This is precisely why polices like a carbon tax, which puts a direct price on all emissions, make more sense than cap and trade proposals which only target ‘big polluters’. This is exactly why economist Mark Jaccard, criticized both the NDP, and Conservatives polices for reducing GHG emissions, while praising the the Liberal Green Shift.

As long as politicians pretend that they can tackle our ever rising GHG emissions, by ignoring one of the largest (and in some cases the largest) sources of emissions our polices will be doomed to failure.

5 thoughts on “Why GHG reduction policies that focus on ‘big polluters’ aren’t good enough

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  1. Too bad any re-introduction of a carbon tax has been poisoned for the forseeable future by the the Conservative disinformation campaign, and even more so by the vehement and inexplicable attacks by the NDP.

  2. I remember when Dion was all in favour of intensity targets but changed his mind. I actually don’t remember the NDP attacking but I do have memories of the liberals dirty smear campaign.

  3. I definitely don’t remember Dion (or the Liberals) backing intensity based targets (just years of inaction), the Conservatives on the other hand…

    But Jennifer is correct. It doesn’t matter what anybody thought last year. What matters is what they are proposing to do today. If the NDP, or the Conservatives change their tune and introduce effective legislation I will be the first to give them kudos.

  4. I see the BC NDP is trying to decide where to set the limit on “big polluters”, i.e. how much any one industry needs to emit to be captured in their cap and trade. While it is true that cap and trade only works if you are big enough to be involved in the carbon market, this highlights a major flaw of the NDP position. In their plan, if one company breaks into three smaller companies, they could escape any carbon pricing, while continuing to pollute at exactly the same level as before. Perhaps the BC NDP would be better off just scrapping any pretense of having an environmental plan.


    As to Layton’s and the NDP’s attacks on carbon pricing, I thought the one where they attacked Harper for not attacking carbon taxes vigorously enough (by giving BC carbon taxes an easy ride) took the prize. That one was up on the NDP website (and may still be there). I can think of plenty of things to attack Harper’s environmental position for, but Harper going easy on carbon taxes is not one of them. There really should be some kind of prize for that.

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