POLITICS

Sorry, your Chinese-made iPad won’t save the planet

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Politics,Business,Science and Technology,Timothy P. Carney

Apple’s new iPad, like the iPhone, MacBook, and iPod, derives part of its value as a “signaling” device: When you bust it out next to your latte at Busboys & Poets or scroll through your playlist while waiting for the Metro at the U St./Cardozo stop, you wordlessly broadcast something about yourself to those nearby: you’re hip, you’re educated, you’re not as old as you look.

The Apple clientele is not homogenous -- it’s got a few different species of hip. But watch closely the current iPad commercial and you’ll see Apple’s beau ideal: a New York Times reader who goes kayaking, buys Ted Kennedy’s memoirs, and visits Paris. OK, there’s also nerd stuff in there — “Star Trek” and “Dawn of the Dead” — but the urban, hip, cosmopolitan is a huge target audience for this device, which helps explain Apple’s effort to green itself.

But the greening of Apple has been a matter less of reducing a carbon footprint than of increasing a lobbying footprint.

In the modern Church of Environmentalism, a company is justified not through its works, but through its lobbying efforts. It’s pretty simple in the eyes of the media opinion makers: You’re bad if you oppose cap-and-trade schemes that purportedly cut greenhouse gas emissions and thus slow global warming. You’re good if you support such policies.

While Apple is happy to lobby for energy constraints and carbon caps in the U.S., laboring under them is another question entirely. You do know your iPad was made in China, right?

Apple last October loudly quit the U.S. Chamber of Commerce because the chamber has lobbied against many federal cap-and-trade schemes.

This public breakup, executed on a letterhead featuring a large green apple and accompanied by press releases and fanfare, can be understood largely as an act of branding and little else.

The greenhouse-gas regulations the chamber opposes are effectively energy taxes. The chamber objects that current proposals would put  the U.S. at a disadvantage because they restrict our emissions while leaving other manufacturing countries — such as China — free to emit without cost.

Apple, however, has not publicly called on the Chinese or Taiwanese government to institute a cap-and-trade energy tax.

So if Apple’s lobbying effort is successful, American companies will pay for their carbon emissions, but no such carbon costs will fall on Hon Hai Precision Industry Company, which made your iPad.

Under cap-and-trade, Apple company would pay for the 400,000 tons of carbon dioxide emitted annually by its U.S. buildings and domestic operations, and also for the 500,000 tons of carbon dioxide emitted by shipping its products. But the 3.8 million tons of CO2 emitted by its manufacturing — 81 percent of the company’s total — would be exempt from a carbon tax because the emissions would be in China.

Many of the companies who take the Chamber’s side against cap-and-trade schemes are in a different position from Apple. These companies actually make stuff here, and so they would actually pay the energy tax that is cap and trade.

So Apple is loudly and self-righteously lobbying for “green” taxes that it intends to continue avoiding. This may sound bad, but it’s actually fairly moderate on the spectrum of climate hypocrisy.

There’s Nike, which exempts itself from the carbon tax it advocates by making its shoes and golf clubs in Malaysia and Indonesia. By backing cap-and-trade Nike is knee-capping its smaller competitor New Balance, which makes shoes in New England.

Power company AES also lobbies for cap and trade. Why? For one thing, it would drive businesses to the greenhouse-gas-dealing company AES has started with General Electric. AES, meanwhile, is opening new coal-fired power plants in the developing world.

Apple, by contrast, would actually endure — indirectly — some of the economic shelling induced by the green policies it endorses. More precisely, Apple’s customers would shoulder the burden: To its credit, when Apple conducted a study of its carbon footprint, the company included the emissions caused by people running their iMacs and charging and their iPhones. Apple use causes an estimated 5 million tons of CO2 per year, which is more than all of the CO2 emitted by all of Apple’s manufacturing, shipping, and operations.

So Apple doesn’t avoid the costs of cap and trade entirely. The policy would make an iPad slightly less desirable by making it more expensive to recharge by making electricity more expensive in the U.S. -- which doesn’t matter, I suppose, when you’re at a cafe in Paris.

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