[Wired magazine](http://www.wired.com/wired/issue/16-06 “”) this month decided to slay some environmental sacred cows. It’s worth a read and the assertion that climate change is too important to be left to environmentalists is not unhelpfully provocative or without some truth. But they went too far when they [dismissed emissions trading](http://www.wired.com/science/planetearth/magazine/16-06/ff_heresies_07trading “”) as a tool to tackle the problem and argued instead in favour of carbon taxes.
Maybe this misconception stems from the fact that Wired is an american magazine – if it were edited in the UK, the contributors would perhaps better understand the problems inherent in trying to price people out of doing the things they want to do. The huge level of duty paid on transport fuels for example, has not resulted in reductions in emissions, or a drive towards more efficient vehicles – quite the reverse. And the much celebrated ‘Climate Change Levy’ has done little beyond raise awareness in board rooms since it is set a too low a level to genuinuely drive investment.
Use of taxes to tackle climate change has two fundamental problems – the levels need to be set by Governments, who are subject to political pressures to keep the costs of everything as low as possible – and more importantly, even when they are set at theoretically the right price to drive change, there is no way of guaranteeing emissions levels will go down. Energy systems in the West are well established and highly capitalised – if nobody wants a change in the status quo, the cost of the tax is simply incorporated and business carries on as usual.
Most of the arguments cited in the article against emissions trading actually relate to problems with the offsetting market but this is not a reason to dismiss the entire concept. And as they begrudgingly acknowledge, systems with tight national scrutiny could work – so rather than recommending a return to the drawing board what Wired should be doing is calling for tougher rules and tighter caps.