Monday, August 02, 2010

The Glorious Mess

In this recent piece for Yale e360, Eric Pooley, deputy editor of Bloomberg BusinessWeek and author of The Climate War gives a great analysis of the current status of a national climate bill this year (near dead).

While the disastrous downsides of this failure to act are many, this quote sums up pretty well what we're looking at for next steps, and why it is about as far from a strategic and effective approach as we can get:

Welcome to the “glorious mess” — Michigan Rep. John Dingell’s phrase for the tangle of regulation and litigation that will follow when Congress fails to act. We are about to experience precisely the sort of costly, protracted, plant-by-plant trench warfare the cap was intended to avoid. Since the utilities and the manufacturers weren’t willing to cut a deal, this is what they get. The fragile period of compromise and cooperation between environmentalists and big business may now be coming to an end. Green groups that have invested time and money into the legislative process are now putting on their war paint and returning to the courts, with a renewed focus on stopping new coal-fired power plants and shutting down the oldest and dirtiest ones.

I remain hopeful that good sense will prevail, that we will be able to remove poisonous partisan politics from this issue and realize that this is one we're all in together, and we're way overdue in responding to.  My optimism also leads me to believe (or at least hope) that maybe the glorious mess won't be quite as messy as suggested above - the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), the Midwestern Greenhouse Gas Reduction Accord, and the Western Climate Initiative (WCI) are getting more and more established, and looking into linking.  These states and provinces account for nearly 40% of US GHG emissions, and are taking important steps in internalizing more of the true costs of carbon emissions and driving the investments in better design, efficiency upgrades, and product innovation that will not only reduce emissions but also spark economic activity and create jobs.

State and regional precedent is important for federal policy, and now I expect NGOs, businesses, and local and state government to refocus energy on effective programs that will set that precedent while reducing emissions and creating jobs at the same time.

Sector-wide approaches continue to lay the ground work.  Hundreds of colleges and universities are demonstrating real leadership, educating students, driving research, eliminating their own emissions, and engaging with communities to create solutions.  Through the ACUPCC hundreds have publicly reported comprehensive climate action plans on how they will do this.  ICLEI continues to help municipalities ramp up progress, and the C40 Cities initiative has the world's most influential cities stepping up and trying to out-do each other in the most productive ways possible.

It's painful to dwell on the missed opportunity the Senate's inaction represents, but it's possible it will open up more unexpected opportunities that will enable us to avoid the worst impacts of climate disruption.

Stay going.