Thursday, September 24, 2009

“Learn how you can save the planet”

Less than 30 days ago, William Becker, representing the Climate Action Project at the University of Colorado, published the “100-Day Action Plan to Save the Planet: a Climate Crisis Solution for the 44th President.” The plan has nine major areas for taking action against the ill-effects of climate change

1. Move rapidly away from investments that lock-in carbon emitting energy solutions
2. Rebuild government leadership in this important area
3. Mobilize the marketplace to build a new 21st century economy
4. Launch an economy-wide clean energy surge
5. Ensure that climate change is equitable and fair
6. Create an agenda for natural resource stewardship that responds to climate change
7. Help the nation adapt to the climate change already underway
8. Redefine national security to include climate and energy security
9. Integrate local, state, national and global organizations to create policies that acknowledge and advocate solutions to issues related to environmental sustainability

In light of the difficult military, economic, and social decisions President-elect Obama faces, the urgency of climate change may get mired in his decisions. For this reason, we take Becker’s document seriously; it should be read, actively critiqued, and discussed. Becker and his colleagues present compelling and practical ideas. For example, they show how we can rejuvenate Americans’ penchant for innovation through government grants and incentives. He proposes an extensive “green army” involving 1.5 million Americans in the fight against the negative impacts of climate change. Further, he advocates appointing the nation's best experts to climate-critical positions in the federal government. This action would solidify the wide acceptance of climate change science rather than bolster the politics of it.

Becker is especially cogent when explaining how we can mobilize the marketplace to build a new 21st century economy. By employing carbon taxes or cap and trade systems, we can find ways to account for the true cost to our ecosystems and can provide subsidies for renewable energy solutions.

Central to his plan is the redefining of national security to include energy and climate change. The national security argument for energy independence has been increasingly cited but remains incomplete. Typically, the argument has the effect of targeting and blaming nations rather than energy sources. For instance, the US government is exploring alternative energy sources largely to reduce ties to the Middle East instead of being motivated by environmental reasons. By redefining national security, Becker suggests shifting the focus of national security to include not only volatile foreign affairs but also domestic climate change issues.

The Plan highlights other problems and potential solutions. For instance, $78 billion is spent each year on traffic congestion. In our class’s benchmarking research of multiple cities, we found that some U.S. cities are attempting to centralize commerce centers to promote “smart growth,” which would cut emissions. However, even though emissions may be reduced, actual traffic congestion may increase. To combat this, cities are exploring various “smart solutions” for commuting (e.g. greenways, bike lanes, pedestrian lanes, and even efficient car pools). Each city has experienced the difficulty of striking the balance of centralizing commerce areas with reducing congestion. If done correctly, however, it allows people to travel easily and efficiently through town and emit fewer emissions. Overall,Becker’s ideas get us one step closer to viable solutions.
These solutions do not go uncontested, however. One proposed incentive in the Plan is for states to adopt new building codes that restrict greenhouse gas emissions in order to combat the 38.5% gas emission rate from buildings. Incentives are often effective mechanisms to create change, but Becker’s zero-tolerance emission standard is lofty. Currently, we already see voluntary adoption of private building standards (e.g. LEED), which increase energy efficiency and decrease greenhouse gas emissions. The Plan’s proposed government role to make this a national code, while feasible, is only as such if the goal of reduction in emissions is realistic. Further, perhaps the incentives should be directed more towards businesses and private individuals, since they are more flexible and will directly respond to the market.

These ideas as well as many others are available in “The 100 Day Action Plan.” We suggest you not only read this important work, but also respond to it, create dialogues around it, and send the new government your ideas on how to solve the important issues surrounding climate change. We cannot ignore this increasingly-important issue.

Ana Jerman, senior, Communications
Wesley Johnson, senior, Biology
Drew Legge, senior, Economics
Lacey Robinson, senior, Political Science
Emily Spear, senior, Senior Political Science
Dan Fogel, Executive Professor of Strategy

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