Sorry to say, GTM readership, but you have disappointed me.
When I lay down my challenge to rebrand cap and trade, I was sure some of you great minds out there would put your (low carbon) thinking caps on and wow me with your creativity. After all, the question of how to better frame the climate debate not only affects us all as citizens, but, for many of us in the cleantech nation, could have a direct connection to our livelihood. When John Doerr tells Congress that putting a price on carbon is the single biggest boost that Washington can provide to a domestic clean energy economy, he's talking about putting money in your pockets, people.
So, though I thank the handful of you who gave it an earnest effort and sent in your suggestions, I am not going to award a winner for the mere sake of a "beauty prize" -- none of the ideas presented below is, to my mind, a game changer. Indeed, the atmosphere in Washington is so rancorous that whatever slim hopes might have existed a month ago to reframe or reshape the debate, the prospects for movement on climate and energy legislation in the current session have almost completely evaporated by now. Better luck next year, planet Earth!
As a public service to the next cycle of interest in this topic, here is a complete recap of the suggestions I received:
Ø Pay to pollute
Ø Pay your way [for the fossil fuel industry]
Ø Pollution (or emissions) licensing
Ø Resource optimization
Ø CLEANS: Clean Energy for America's National Security
Ø American Energy Transition Incentive Program
Ø The American Carbon Tax Refund Bill
Ø (re)Power America [incorporating the acronym for Renewable Energy] or Energize America
Ø The Freedom from Oil Act, Free Energy Act, or Victory Over Foreign Oil Act
Ø Cap and Invest
Note: A couple of commenters pointed out that "cap and dividend" is currently in play in some Congressional discussions, and that alternatives such as "cap and cash" or "cap and credit" might be appropriate, depending on the ultimate form of the rebate contained in legislation.
A few observations on this list are in order. First, focusing on the "pay" side of the equation is, I believe, unlikely ever to capture the public imagination in a positive way. Frankly, what underpins broad support for clean energy policy is probably as much the feeling that we are paying "too much" for our energy today -- or at least sending our money to unsavory and undemocratic parts of the world. As I have written elsewhere, one explanation for the popularity of Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) as a means for promoting wind and solar is that they hide the cost of these investments from consumers -- leaving us with the false impression that we can have our clean energy cake and eat it, too. As a question of framing, it is certainly a poor plan to "lead with your chin" and start the conversation with the fact that going green costs more.
Framing carbon as a traditional environmental "pollution" problem is also, to my mind, disingenuous and risks underselling the complexity and scale of the sustained, global effort required to combat climate change. CO2 is not some trace toxin to be scrubbed from the smokestacks of a recalcitrant local industrial plant. Carbon emissions are an unavoidable consequence of nearly every energy-using decision and purchase in our daily lives. As such, the challenge of actually measuring it, regulating it and reducing it meaningfully enough to achieve the desired climate benefit is orders of magnitude harder than for traditional environmental irritants.
Another group of responses focused on the kinds of pithy buzzword bingo titles that always go on top of legislation (and which the public generally ignores) -- the "American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA)" for the Stimulus Bill, for example. In fact, the House climate and energy bill already has a perfectly serviceable name of this sort -- the "American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009," or ACES. My proposition was that we need to rebrand (and perhaps reconsider) cap and trade, not merely rename the bill to add more buzzwords.
Finally, to the family tree of "cap and __" alternatives, I say, good luck. Good luck explaining it to the American public in a way that sticks. Good luck getting Congress to approve a big new source of revenue and then turn right around and give the money back to the taxpayer (rather than say, siphoning it off to fund new bailouts, earmarks, or programs). Good luck getting Lindsey Graham to sip the sweet Kool-Aid of bipartisanship now that he claims the well has been "poisoned" by the Democrats' successful health care reform push...
In short, if I had to declare a winner in all of this, it would be coal.