The Story of Cap & Trade Video Begs Us to Get Real

“Get real! This is the biggest crisis humanity has faced,” warns Annie Leonard in her latest environmental education video, The Story of Cap & Trade. It is getting mixed reviews as the dust settles since its recent release.

A follow up to her widely popular animated eco tutorial, The Story of Stuff, it offers a pureed breakdown of how energy traders (greedy corporations and industries) and Wall Street financiers hope to get rich off of pretending to save the planet. The method to the madness: capping carbon emissions by giving permits to the polluters, who will in turn have the free license to pollute, especially in the third world where lax standards pose disastrous consequences for farmers and villagers.

Leonard’s release of the video comes on the heels of what many considered the failed talks for climate change solutions at Copenhagen, and identified the devils in the existing caps and trade proposals. These include issuing free permits to major polluters rather than selling the permits instead and allotting dividends to citizens and paying back ecological debt.  She also cites fake offsets which let polluters make false claims about what they will do the cut emissions, as well as the most dangerous devil of the plan – distraction.

Leonard tells us relying on the scheme weakens our ability to make strong laws away from fossil fuels.


While climate talks in Europe or on Capitol Hill have yet to scratch the surface on global caps on carbon emissions, the video illustrates (with charming, monochromatic animated stick figures) that education of the masses is crucial for curbing any crisis, as witnessed with the AIDS public information campaigns of the early 80s.

Leonard is adept at making sense of it all with her wholesome, kindergarten teacher approach to feeding our overwhelmed brains one truth at a time. In the end, she basically throws up her arms to declare about the process, “It’s protecting business as usual.”

Not all agree. “Just colossally ignorant,” is how one Grist writer sums up the video’s treatment of the trade entities, such as Enron, and how Europe has botched its attempts at handing out permits to cut emissions. Of course, many of the critics calling the critique of cap and trade deceptive also lump Leonard with the rest of the “Left” making up all of this hogwash about fossil fuels contributing to climate change.

Meanwhile, eco activist Michael Gaworecki, writing for, agrees with the video’s arguments, but says he isn’t sure the cap-and-trade plan isn’t the best mechanism for lowering carbon emissions that we can put in place  in enough time to make a difference.

“America needs to take the lead on stopping global warming if we’re to stand a chance, and anything perceived to interfere with unfettered capitalism is unlikely to fly in the good ol’ US of A,” he says.

Gaworecki adds that the few alternatives, such as a straight-up tax on carbon pollution, could be simple and effective, but “would never make it out of the American Congress alive.”

Image: Telegraph

Luanne Bradley

Luanne Sanders Bradley is the West coast Editor at EcoSalon and currently resides in San Francisco, California.