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My Video Reviews

Category: Economics
Published: 2009
Watched: 2011
Reviewed: Oct 2011

Summary

Narrated by Annie Leonard, The Story of Cap & Trade is one of the videos released by "The Story of Stuff" project, whose goal is to educate viewers about environmental, social and economic issues by publishing animated videos.

This video (which is subtitled, "why you canít solve a problem with the thinking that created it") is a 10-minute video that focuses specifically on the Cap & Trade system, which is the leading policy tool used to address pollution problems. After a brief introduction, the video looks at how the financial system (specifically, the energy traders on Wall Street) are the real winners of the system. It also details the intrinsic flaws in the current Cap & Trade system:
  1. giveaways - pollution permits are given away to corporations when they should be sold
  2. offsets - offsets are difficult to define and audit, which leads to companies creating false offsets and selling them, undermining the whole system
  3. distraction - the players in the Cap & Trade system are keeping people from talking about real solutions
Leonard explains an alternative to the current Cap & Trade system:
"We already have a law, the Clean Air Act, that confirms that carbon is a pollutant that our environmental agency is allowed to cap...Instead, a US Cap & Trade law proposed in 2009 guts the Clean Air Act, leaving it to the market to fix the problem. If a Cap and Trade proposal weakens our ability to make strong laws, it's a distraction."

My Opinion

The video serves as a good introduction to the Cap & Trade issue - it explains how the system works in the first minute of the video. But it doesn't present a detailed discussion of the issues, so someone looking for more comprehensive debate (or someone who is already knowledgeable about the issue) will need to look elsewhere. The video is also very one-sided in its views, but since most people are critical of the how the current Cap & Trade system operates, this bias isn't as harmful as it could have been.

The upbeat and "fun" style of these videos, to me, is a negative. While in the middle of making the previous statement about how the EPA currently has the ability to regulate pollution, Annie Leonard proclaims "Go, EPA, go! Cap that carbon!" This kind of dumbed-down and condescending dialogue is embarrassing and insulting. In today's entertainment-driven world, the techniques used in these videos (the animation, the seductively amusing tone) is just pandering to people's apathy about learning about these important issues. And although these techniques will probably be effective in the short run, the fact that the levers of change are based on entertainment means that these techniques will ultimately be self-defeating.

Because of the simplistic content of the videos, the solutions and attitudes tend to also be overly-simplistic because they ignore the backdrop of political incompetency and corruption. When talking about how concerned citizens can create change, Leonard recommends that people "speak out and demand" change. Speak out to who? The same politicians being paid off by the rich corporations to undermine the Cap & Trade system? Leonard's narrow worldview shows itself when she talks about how the Cap and Trade system is prone to scamming. The problem is, any system where the parties are driven by power and money is prone to scamming. Leonard tells us that the "Cap and Trade proposal weakens our ability to make strong [environmental] laws", but this isn't true. Granted, the design of the Cap & Trade system creates transparency problems which contribute to it's abuse. But ultimately, it is the combination of greedy corporations and corrupt politicians that are weakening our ability to make strong laws.

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"Local Trader" (I Trade Size)
The Story of Stuff: Cap & Trade
NEWBO: The Rise of America's New Black Overclass
The Business of Innovation (CNBC): Season 2

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