California's Inconvenient Truth

By The Monitor's View | The Christian Science Monitor, September 6, 2006 | Go to article overview

California's Inconvenient Truth


The Monitor's View, The Christian Science Monitor


If you buy a large appliance these days, a sticker reveals the estimated costs to run it. California lawmakers should have been as forthright last week. They ordered a 25 percent cut in carbon emissions for the state by 2020. But they weren't upfront on the cost to consumers.

An honest accounting of the price to be paid in the battle against global warming is necessary if that battle is to be won. Politicians cannot just set lofty goals that force industries and consumers to spend billions on clean or efficient energy technologies without providing down-to-earth estimates on the ultimate financial burden to working families.

Will electricity bills now rise 20 percent in California, as some economists predict? Will whole industries, such as cementmakers and refineries, move out? What if other states and the federal government don't follow suit? Will California's effort to save the planet from predicted rising seas and drastic weather then prove to be a mere drop in a rain cloud?

Answers to such questions remain vague. California lawmakers left it to a regulatory body to take the political heat by coming up with the hard details - years hence - of how much to squeeze industries and consumers for the costs of becoming better stewards of the atmosphere.

A more courageous step would have been to impose a high tax on all carbon fuels, much like the current tax on gasoline (a hydrocarbon) but one with enough bite to actually change behavior. That's a faster and a more politically accountable way to create incentives for greater efficiency and to move toward carbon-free energy sources.

But politicians are afraid voters - acting more as selfish consumers than enlightened environmentalists - would punish them at the polls. …

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