Just after right-wing conservatives worked to successfully block a Senate measure last week that would bring carbon trading to the U.S., their foes in the radical environmental movement launched a cyber protest to try to do the same thing in Europe.
It was a strange if accidental joining of hands across the climate divide, with left and right making common cause over discontent with market-driven carbon trading schemes.
On Friday — one day after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-N.V.) said he lacked the votes to pass a bill with climate policies — activists from Climate Justice Action (CJA) and hacker groups "cyberjacked" the website of the European Climate Exchange (ECX), replacing it with an anti-carbon trading missive and calls for "wider, systemic changes."
The site, which gets around 10,000 hits per month, according to Alexa, provides real-time carbon pricing and volume data. It was offline for much of Saturday.
"Climate for Sale, Guaranteed Profit," a banner splashed across the site said instead.
"The cap and trade system ... generates outrageous profits for big industry polluters, investors in fraudulent offset projects, opportunist traders and new 'marketplaces' such as the European Climate Exchange," it continued.
Based in London, ECX is the world's biggest exchange for emissions trading. It was launched in 2005 with the European Union Emissions Trading System (EU-ETS) and accounts for around 90 percent of trading in EU permits and Kyoto Protocol carbon offsets.
ECX, which was recently acquired by IntercontinentalExchange, the second largest U.S. futures market, told SolveClimate News that it was not permitted to comment but that the "hacking happened outside of trading hours" and that the site is now "fully functional."
Carbon Market Booms
Cap-and-trade schemes work by setting a ceiling on greenhouse gas pollution (the cap) and issuing a limited and declining number of permits to emit greenhouse gases. Trade in the carbon permits is supposed to squeeze carbon out of the economy over time, with the free market assuring the most cost-effective price.
In the EU-ETS market, which covers almost half of total EU emissions, a raft of design mistakes have led to complaints over windfall gains for fossil fuel generators and minimal, if any, emissions reductions. In the U.S., meanwhile, federal proposals have become a complicated mishmash of concessions and exemptions to coal companies, utilities, refiners and other industry groups, with most permits to be given to them for free.
Still, as Congress dawdles, the market continues to expand. According to a report last May by the World Bank, carbon trading reached $144 billion in 2009, up six percent from 2008, despite the Wall Street meltdown. Over 80 percent came from the EU-ETS.
Hacktivists Seek Justice
The digital takedown of ECX was sponsored by Decocidio, an "anonymous group of hacktivists" that is "pursuing the same goals" as Climate Justice Action.
The website Hackbloc.org, whose slogan is "exploit code, not people," was also involved in the hit.
CJA, the lead group, is a loosely connected grassroots network. It sprang up around the UN Copenhagen summit in December to bombard delegates with demonstrations and direct action. Its ideology — "climate ethics" – sees carbon trading as a corporate-led scam to profit polluters with no climate benefits.
Climate justice advocates want a hefty price on carbon at a scale that would force firms to shift toward renewable energy production. They also support repayment of an "ecological debt" to poor countries by industrialized ones.
CJA did not return messages seeking comment on the hacking. It has no central command and was described to SolveClimate by one activist, who did not want to be named, as "people printing pamphlets in their bedrooms."
Same Disdain, Different Motive
Writing in the National Review earlier this year, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free market think tank, said that industries stand to profit the most from "parochial giveaways" in proposed "cap and tax" legislation, with "little or no real environmental benefit."
Unlike critics on the environmental left, however, CEI questions the scientific consensus for controlling climate change and is opposed to government regulation of greenhouse gases.
In May, Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joseph (I-Conn.) introduced the American Power Act, a carbon-trading pact that would cap emissions for utilities, with other industries phased in later years. CEI and others were thrilled that Sen. Reid put it on the backburner.
Dr. Margo Thorning, senior vice president and chief economist at the American Council for Capital Formation (ACCF), a Washington think tank that lobbies for lower taxes on capital, said: "Fortunately, lawmakers ... have rejected it – for now."
ACCF, which has received over $1.5 million in funding from ExxonMobil, claims that cap and trade would cause the loss of up to 80,000 jobs by 2020.
"Americans were spared another high cost proposition from Capitol Hill today," Thorning said. "The Senate is wise to shelve its climate change plan and should continue to keep it off the table until it is willing to explore options that don't center on a high-priced carbon control measure through a cap and trade system."