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Federal policymakers’ reluctance to enact a comprehensive climate change policy during the past decade has coincided with increased awareness of the inevitability and severity of the problems from global climate change. Thus, it is no surprise that piecemeal, sub-federal policies have garnered considerable support. Bolstered by the political science literature on the promise of incrementalism and democratic experimentalism, many proponents of climate change action favor incremental steps in the hope that they will improve the environment or at least serve as a basis for more comprehensive policies. Against this hopeful view, we explain why ad hoc responses to climate change may well be no better than, and possibly will be worse than, no action at all. Incremental climate change policies can give rise to predictable and nontrivial problems, such as non-effect, leakage, climate side effects, other side effects, lock-in, and lulling. Such problems not only can undermine the interim policies themselves but also may delay the adoption of a more comprehensive climate change policy. We present an upstream cap-and-trade policy as one such comprehensive alternative, showing how it would prove less susceptible to the kinds of policy failures that afflict incremental policies. Only by resisting the pressures to act immediately, and investing the necessary time and resources to craft a comprehensive solution, will environmental policymakers be able to guard against the perils that afflict ad hoc policymaking.


Comprehensive climate change policy, incrementalism, democratic experimentalism, comprehensive policymaking, ad hoc responses to global warming, incremental policies, upstream cap and trade policy, policy failure

Publication Title

Connecticut Law Review

Publication Citation

40 Conn. L. Rev. 1411 (2008)