The Free Market and CO₂ Reduction: Not Incompatible

Guest columnist Nick Lindquist writes today at RedState on Carbon and Capitalism.

FOR DECADES, conservatives have been lectured by the environmental Left on how we must reduce energy consumption in order to “save the world.”

Obama, Pelosi, Schumer, and many others have attempted everything from placing overbearing regulations on the auto industry through a recession to punishing companies for producing co2 in order to maintain their operations. There has, however, been a shift of sentiments in recent years among those on the Right regarding environmentalism and the state of our energy portfolio.

We are beginning to see the growth of an environmental Right, who are championing free market initiatives to approach the environment and energy sectors. A major push from the Right in the co2 arena is centered around offsetting carbon emissions through innovation and enterprise, rather than using regulations and mandates. This is an approach that reduces the amount of carbon in the air while not affecting economic performance or energy consumption.

Carbon offsets can and are being made by companies and private investors across the country in several different ways. The first is carbon offsets through reforestation. A major champion of this approach is Delta Airlines.

Liberal figureheads have long told us that flying airplanes is destroying the world; Delta, however, begs to differ. Instead of flying fewer planes to offset carbon emissions, they fly as many planes as the economy demands and then fund reforestation efforts. The thought process behind this is that the new forests planted will absorb excess co2 in the air and emit oxygen, offsetting the amount of co2 in the atmosphere. According to Delta, they have seen carbon neutral growth since 2013 by purchasing carbon offsets.


Another method of reducing co2 levels without reducing consumption is carbon capture. Carbon capture is a method of filtering the air of 90% of its carbon content and either utilizing it for more drilling or storing it naturally deep underground. How can carbon be used after being captured? Well, it can be used to pump more oil from our reservoirs. The method is a type of Enhanced Oil Recovery called Gas Injection. The co2 is pumped into a reservoir, expands, and pushes “hard to reach” oil to the production wellbore.

According to the Department of Energy, Gas Injection Enhanced Oil Recovery can produce 30-60% more oil than a well was previously able to produce. This would significantly improve our energy independence as a country while simultaneously putting excess co2 to good use. This method also creates a value for co2, making carbon capture processes economically feasible.

That being said, the costs are still a bit high for some companies to justify, increasing the need for innovation in this area.

The Utilizing Significant Emissions with Innovative Technologies (USE IT) Act will give carbon capture the push that it needs and ultimately lower costs over time. This proposed bill, introduced by Republican Senator John Barrasso, promotes innovation of carbon capture technologies in the private sector as well as makes these projects easier for investors.


The current system in place for carbon capture projects involves an outdated permitting scheme and is extremely inefficient, but this innovation rewards companies who invest in carbon capture. This is a true conservative approach to reducing co2 levels as opposed to carbon taxes, which are designed to punish industries and stifle economic growth. Since its introduction, several conservative environmental organizations have come out in favor of the bill, such as ClearPath and the American Conservation Coalition.

The environmental Left also fails to identify that it is innovation– not mandates and punishing corporate America– that has made our fuels cleaner and our technology more efficient. Barack Obama’s EPA Administration put in place heavy fuel efficiency regulations that were to be gradually implemented through 2025. This mandate tried forcing auto manufacturers to throw together a plan to make cars more efficient. Many people credit Obama for doing just that; however, when you look at EPA and DOE data, that is not the case. Below to the left you will see EPA data on average MPG across the auto industry by year. To the right, you will see average US fuel price for the month of January by year.

What’s interesting about these graphs when compared to each other is that auto manufacturers began making more fuel efficient vehicles as the gas prices started to increase nationally. Also, Obama’s term began in 2008, even though fuel efficiency became a concern of the auto industry around 2003-2004. This data tells a sensible person that expensive and overbearing mandates on the auto industry weren’t necessary in the first place, because companies like Ford and GM were voluntarily increasing fuel efficiency and cutting emissions due to market demands. Companies are continuing to make new technologies, energies, and reduce co2 levels –not because of government regulations– but because of market demands and free market initiative.


Free market solutions to our environmental challenges are happening voluntarily on the front of carbon emissions and many others. General Motors is implementing zero waste manufacturing, Delta is reforesting vulnerable areas of the natural world, and 131 companies across the country have committed to being 100% renewable energy.

All of these actions are voluntary, private sector initiatives not achieved through mandate. We don’t need mandates because, as seen with fuel efficiency and carbon offsets by multiples companies, companies are taking initiative and implementing these programs on their own.

Mandates are often intrusive and decelerate innovation. Funds previously allocated to paying employees, investing in engineering, and purchasing new technologies then have to be shelled out to the government in the form of taxation and penalty fees. Taxation is not meant to correct behavior, nor should the government attempt to do so. America is best at innovating. We have provided the world with life changing technology, literature, and processes that are crucial to western society. Reducing co2 levels can be achieved, but conservatives must fight for freedom and capitalism in order to achieve it.

Nick serves as the National Policy Director at the American Conservation Coalition, an organization focused on addressing environmental challenges with free market solutions. He is a student at Le Moyne College in Syracuse New York, where he studies marketing and communications.



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