Beyond a Carbon Tax

Article excerpt

Byline: Sharon Begley

when president obama announced plans this month to install solar panels on the White House, it was to set an example, not because any law required it. The U.S. military began using solar panels in Afghanistan because it costs $400 to $500 a barrel to transport diesel to bases there and because hundreds of soldiers have died guarding supply lines, not because of a carbon tax. And when DuPont cut its energy use to 19 percent below what it was in 1990 by turning waste into fuel, making burners more efficient, and taking other steps, it wasn't to stay on the right side of a cap-and-trade law. "We've saved $3 billion to $4 billion since 2000, so this is real money," says Linda Fisher, the company's chief sustainability officer.

A year ago, CEOs, greens, and policy wonks were all insisting that to make any progress on greenhouse emissions, the world needed to "put a price on carbon." De-jargoned, that means requiring manufacturers, utilities, oil refiners, and others who emit carbon dioxide by burning fossil fuels to buy permits to do so or pay a tax on their emissions. Without such a "price on carbon," went the argument, renewables like wind and solar would never be economically competitive, and only do-gooders and showoffs would adopt them. So after the Copenhagen climate talks imploded last year, and, more recently, the U.S. Senate failed to pass a climate bill, progress should have come to a screeching halt.

It didn't. For a long list of reasons, ranging from saving money to saving soldiers' lives, business and government are cracking down on carbon. "It's become obvious that [adopting low-carbon energy] is a business decision," says Peter Boyd of the Carbon War Room, a "think tank/do tank" that works with industries to reduce their carbon footprint. "You don't need politicians for this." The motivations driving CO2 reductions:

SAVING AND MAKING MONEY. Retrofits such as energy-efficient windows at the Empire State Building, which had an $11 million annual energy bill, will cut energy use by 38 percent, save $4. …