18 November 2009

Good Intentions, Horrible Optics

In today's Boulder Daily Camera:

On their first day together as a new board of nine elected officials, the Boulder City Council started with light stuff: curing the planet's climate crisis and advocating global nuclear disarmament.

The council on Tuesday night unanimously voted to support a two-person delegation heading to Copenhagen, Denmark, next month to attend the United Nations Climate Change Conference of Parties.

How is the city going to pay the costs of sending its delegation to Copenhagen? By using proceeds from the Boulder's carbon tax.

Boulder is paying an estimated $2,500 for the trip, including airfare and meals. The money will come from the city's carbon-tax fund. To cut down on costs to taxpayers, the city employees will be staying at a private residence and riding bicycles to and from the conference, city spokesman Patrick von Keyserling said.

"It's a very reasonable amount," von Keyserling said of the costs to attend. "It's an international stage for Boulder to share best practices for municipalities."

Whatever you think about Boulder's ambitions to reduce emissions, the real lesson from this episode is that policy makers easily fall prey to engaging in all sorts of activities under so-called "emissions reductions policies" that have absolutely nothing to do with reducing emissions. And whatever the merits of going to Copenhagen are, the trip will do nothing to help Boulder meet its Kyoto goals, which is why the carbon tax exists in the first place. If the city values demonstrating its global leadership and vision (and why not?), it should probably earmark some funds for exactly that purpose. A more politically savvy Council would have taken the funds from elsewhere in the City budget, or better yet, secured external sponsorship of some sort.

On a more positive note, a letter-writer in the Camera today notes that since its passage in 1985, Boulder's non-nuclear policy has thus far prevented a nuclear attack on the city, so perhaps Boulder's delegation to Copenhagen can return with similar success.