Residents of California, land of freeways and belching tailpipes, drive fewer miles per capita than the rest of the country. How's that for turning a stereotype on its head?
It's true - and underscores a poignant lesson as the world drags its feet in addressing man-made global warming: While tackling climate change is good for the environment, it may be even better for the economy.
The statistic is one of dozens of jaw-dropping nuggets in the inaugural "California Green Innovation Index," an initiative by the non-profit, non-partisan Next 10 group that is designed to track key indicators as California moves to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels.
Consider this: Despite the state's reputation for high electricity costs, Californians, per capita, pay lower utility bills - less than half of residents in Texas, for example. Tougher building and appliance standards saved the state $56 billion by 2003 and are expected to save another $23 billion in the next five years. Energy efficiency allowed the state to avoid building 24 power plants in the last 30 years.
With all the green talk today, the report gives something scientists and policy makers clamor for: Long term data. The Golden State began its energy efficient and green innovation efforts in the 1970s, far earlier than anywhere else in the country. That has allowed a rare glimpse into a reduced carbon future, and is sealing California's reputation as a leader in innovation. Today, for example, inventors there account for 44 percent of U.S. patents for solar and 37 percent of U.S. patents for wind technology.
As economists and policy makers debate climate change, the resistance is often accompanied by soundbites that the economy will suffer or the fixes are too expensive. But the California story turns this logic on its head - - and everyday residents there know it. According to a survey conducted by the index, 85 percent of Californians agree the state can reduce greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming and, at the same time, expand jobs and economic prosperity.
Of course, the state still has some challenges. Californians may drive less per capita than any other state, but they still drive a heck of a lot. Given the population growth of the state, the report notes that the next wave of innovation must be larger, faster and more powerful than the last to drive greenhouse emissions below 1990 levels.
But savor for a second the profound insight the report tells us. Climate change is fixable. We don't have to go broke doing it. And we all might save more money once we are done.
The only thing is, someone is going to have to rewrite all those jokes about California driving. Mindy S. Lubber is president of Ceres, a coalition of investors, environmental groups and other public interest organizations working with companies to address sustainability challenges such as climate change. http://www.ceres.org
read this because I am currently visiting Los Angeles. I find it surreal to suggest that California is a leader in the fight against global warming based on calculations of energy consumption against economic measures like GDP. Energy consumption in CA continues to grow, the incredible volume of cars on the road all the time and the impossibility, due to sprawl of pedestrian and bicycle transportation as practical alternatives to motor vehicles, the failure after 50 years of reducing air pollution, because vehicle miles just keep growing....Jeavon's paradox and the the failure of efficiency as a solution to pollution are so starkly highlighted.
The blind spot here is that efficiency runs into a total dead end when the underlying structure (land use, importation of necessities from thousands of miles away, including water) demands energy consumption far above the available solar energy on site. The real issue is not the competitive or comparative advantage with the rest of the US, but developing a strategy to live within that current energy budget. Who's thinking about this?
Hopefully, the rest of the U.S. will follow California's lead! We almost need a friendly competition between the states!