Friday, July 25, 2008

Gore’s Challenge

Al Gore gave an incredibly important speech last week, as I’m sure you’ve heard. The challenge is for the US to dramatically reduce our demand, increase our efficiency, and retool our infrastructure in 10 years to produce all of our electricity with no carbon emissions. Echoing JFK’s man-on-the-moon in a decade vision, the challenge sets an ambitious, but achievable goal.


Of course, not everybody thinks so. The responses have been predictable:

1) 1) Gore is a gas-bag (or something to that effect)

2) 2) It’s impossible

3) 3) It will cripple the economy

4) 4) It’s political posturing

5) 5) It’s out of touch with the rest of the world

6) 6) He didn’t tell us exactly how to do it

Of those, I’d say the only one that has any real merit might be #1, and that’s a matter of opinion. The rest reflect only the assumptions we make about what’s possible, about what we want out of life, about why we’re here, and about what are our moral responsibilities to ourselves, other people in our country and around the world, other species, and future generations. The approach is exactly the kind we need. It recognizes the urgency of the problem, and the scale and scope of what’s needed. It moves us past rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.


(As an aside, the speech has also brought up criticism that people have been saying “we only have 10 years to deal with this” for over 10 years – I think that’s true, and there’s no doubt we’re locked into real, and painful climate change already. In that respect we’ve already failed. The emissions we are putting out today, will continue to have an effect for the coming 100+ years, changing the climate in ways we cannot predict and will have difficulty adapting to. Now it’s a question of how much and to what degree. So it’s not a “10 years or else” call, we’re already in “or else” now it’s how much “or else” and to set a hard, but achievable stretch goal like this, will hopefully help to wake us up and snap us into action).


The challenge takes a backcasting approach, which is the only way we’ll make the kinds of shifts needed to change our trajectory.


It has the potential to tap into our American drive to be leaders and help others. Something we haven’t shown in quite a while, particularly in the climate negotiations. For a quick eye-opener as to the sorts of reactions our policy is causing, check out this article from the Indian publication Down to Earth. An excerpt:


“In all this, the US has fast-tracked its own climate attack. It had already scored a coup, bringing all major emitters—China and India included—into one group, so blurring, indeed removing, the difference between rich countries legally required to take action and others. It cajoled countries like India by offering amnesty: join my club and I will protect you from taking commitments. Now, with the domestic mood changing, the US has changed tack. Instead of no commitments, it wants China and India to take on voluntary targets—‘aspirational’ in its language. The two are brought in, and the US ends up protecting itself, for the targets for action are set not for the interim (2020), but for 2050. Long enough for it to agree to do nothing, increase its emissions and grow. Climate-murder. But who cares?”


Gore's challenge alone, of course won’t make it happen. But it’s another important piece of a growing puzzle of hopeful developments. More and more sectors are getting started in measuring and planning their reductions, and taking early actions around green building, energy efficiency, and renewable energy. The American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment has nearly 560 schools, representing over 4.6 million students developing plans to go climate neutral. The US Conference of Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement has up over 840 mayors signed on to meet Kyoto targets. The US Climate Action Partnership between big businesses and big greens is calling for federal action. The We Campaign is getting the word out. 1Sky is focusing on federal action. Green for All is driving the creation of a green economy, and is not going to allow politicians to spin internalizing the cost of carbon as a burden on the poor. As Van Jones said on a conference call yesterday “they don’t speak for us – we speak for ourselves.” And 350.org is rallying people from around the world to demand action to get our atmospheric concentrations of CO2 back down to 350ppm. Even oil man T. Boone Pickens has his ambitious Picken’s Plan to bring huge amounts of wind power from the middle of the country to the coasts (in my view, a case of the means justifying the end).


And there are real solutions out there. My business partner has been deep into research on the potential for developing long-range transmission on a DC grid, a big players from business and government here in the US are starting to take these concepts seriously. Lester Brown just released a great piece on the return to thermal solar plants that can generate the MWs needed to make-up a meaningful piece of our energy mix, while addressing some of the solar-storage concerns (i.e. using solar electricity at night). On the demand side, it’s so much about design. It doesn’t need to cost more – we can build better buildings with lower capital costs and dramatically lower operating costs through smart, holistic integrated design. RMI has a host of compelling case studies, laid-out in a very digestible fashion that shows it’s possible. And don’t forget to put the two together – with dramatically lower demand, ramping up renewable to replace fossil fuels starts to look a lot easier, and the concept of no new coal, decommissioning existing coal, and not having to touch the nuclear waste issue, becomes feasible. So the solutions are out there. And we can get there in such a way that we create domestic jobs, revive local communities, and create the kind of sustainable economic development – the growth of value, not stuff – that we need. What’s been missing, but what we’re starting to see more and more is the vision and political will needed to really get it going. We need to get rid of the perverse subsidies for fossil fuels, and start to account for their true costs. We need to put that price on carbon.


Anyway, watch the speech if you haven’t already. And get behind this idea and all the others that will help us realize this goal and our vision for a sustainable, restorative society. Stay going.

3 comments:

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SESALMONY@aol.com said...

A workable, reality-oriented strategy for sustainability.....


How about choosing a new and sustainable way of organizing the global political economy?

PRESS RELEASE
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
August 8, 2008
Contact:
Kelly Boatman, Chair, City of Bloomington Environmental Commission
(812) 287-0031

ENVIRONMENTAL COMMISSION ADDRESSES GROWTH

The City of Bloomington Environmental Commission has adopted a position statement and completed a report to increase awareness of growth and sustainable development. The statement, “Position of the City of Bloomington Environmental Commission on Economic Growth in the United States” is modeled on similar statements issued by the United States Society for Ecological Economics and over 40 other groups inspired by the work of the Center for the Advancement of a Steady State Economy (CASSE). The statement advocates a steady state economy in which resource consumption and waste production are maintained within the environment’s capacity to regenerate resources and assimilate waste, emphasizing development as a qualitative, rather than quantitative, process.

“This position statement acknowledges that the human economy is contained within, and dependent on, a finite and depletable natural environment,” said Environmental Commission member Heather Reynolds. “Ever-increasing economic growth ultimately leads to resource consumption and waste production at rates greater than can be sustained by nature.” A steady state economy for the U.S. will depend in no small part on the efforts made by communities across the nation to achieve sustainable local economies. The first step is awareness and acceptance of the concepts, both of which it is hoped that the position statement will foster.

The report, “An Examination of the Costs Associated with Residential Growth in Bloomington” is modeled after similar studies in other communities. Such studies have shown that infrastructure costs to support growth often outpace the benefits of that growth to the city. A sustainable approach to development would mean ensuring long-term benefits outweigh costs.

The Commission’s report focuses on the City of Bloomington’s capital expenditures and how these expenditures are impacted by residential growth. The report is not intended to define the full costs of growth in Bloomington, but rather to illustrate that there are substantial costs incurred by the City to provide necessary infrastructure to residences. To fully examine costs, further analysis of not only facilities and infrastructure, but also social and environmental impacts is needed.

“The Commission’s report illustrates that the City incurs real costs that are associated with residential growth,” said Environmental Commission member Mike Litwin. “The Commission would like to see the costs of growth balanced against the benefits and incorporated into the decision-making process in order to promote sustainable development in Bloomington.” The report and position statement are available on the Environmental Commission website at http://bloomington.in.gov/environmental-commission.

Position of the City of Bloomington Environmental Commission on Economic Growth in the United States

(Adapted from the Position of the United States Society for Ecological Economics on Economic Growth in the United States and adopted on May 22, 2008 in a 4-2-0 vote following two years of discussion.)

Whereas:

1) Economic growth, as understood by most professional economists, policy officials and private citizens, is an increase in the production and consumption of goods and services, and;

2) Economic growth occurs when there is an increase in the multiplied product of population and per capita consumption, and;

3) Economic growth has long been a primary policy goal of U.S. society and government because of the belief that it leads to an enhanced quality of life, and;

4) Economic growth is usually measured by increasing gross domestic product (GDP), although this is an incomplete indicator of quality of life that excludes the equity of income distribution, other social factors such as physical health and level of crime, and ecological health, and;

5) The U.S. economy grows as an integrated whole consisting of agricultural, extractive, manufacturing, and services sectors (and the supporting infrastructure) that requires physical inputs of non-renewable resources, land and water, and that produces wastes, and;

6) Economic growth occurs in a finite and depletable biophysical context, and;

7) Continuing non-renewable resource-intensive economic growth is having unintended damaging consequences for ecosystems and human societies…

Therefore, the Bloomington Environmental Commission takes the position that based on the above evidence:

1) There is a fundamental conflict between economic growth and ecosystem health (in such areas as biodiversity conservation, clean air and water, and atmospheric stability) and the ecosystem services deriving from healthy ecosystems that underpin the human economy (for example, regeneration of renewable resources, decomposition and recycling of wastes, pollination of crops and other vegetation, and climate regulation), and;

2) Although technological progress and unregulated markets have had many positive effects they cannot be depended upon to fully reconcile the conflict between economic growth and the long-term ecological and social welfare of the U.S. and the world, and;

3) A sustainable economy (that is, an economy with a relatively stable, mildly fluctuating product of population and per capita consumption) is a viable alternative to a growing economy and has become a more appropriate goal for the U.S. and other large, wealthy economies, and;

4) A long-run sustainable economy requires its establishment at a size small enough to avoid the breaching of ecological and economic capacity (especially during supply shocks such as droughts and energy shortages) to promote the efficient use of energy, materials and water, and enable an accelerated shift toward the use of renewable energy sources, and;

5) A sustainable economy supports economic development, an increase in human welfare through strategic changes in the relative prominence of economic sectors and techniques (e.g. renewable vs. non-renewable energy) that maintains the human economy within the regenerative and assimilative capacity of the larger earth system, and;

6) While establishing a sustainable economy, it would be advisable for the U.S. to assist other nations in moving from the goal of economic growth to the goal of a sustainable economy, beginning with those nations currently enjoying adequate per capita consumption, and;

7) For many nations with widespread poverty, increasing per capita consumption through economic growth and often via more equitable distributions of wealth remains an appropriate goal.


Steven Earl Salmony
AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population, established 2001
http://sustainabilitysoutheast.org/index.php

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