In a conversation the other night, a friend made the point that it is a natural tendency of politicians everywhere to put off action, to make plans that their successors will be trusted to implement, to delay change until it costs as little political capital as possible.
But with climate change (and our other major sustainability challenges -- let's not succumb to carbon blindness), what we need is fast action. The deadlines we face are too pressing -- and the changes we need to make are too large -- to trust that people later will have the power to change sufficiently if we don't begin changing now.
And so we started kicking around immediate goals, goals that could be accomplished while the elected officials who voted for them were still in office, or even in the same year they were enacted.
How much CO2 could we cut in a couple years? Let's say our goal was to make as big an initial difference by the end of 2010 as we could. How much of a difference could we make?
Given the slow speed of infrastructural change, and the relatively slow build-out of clean energy sources, within a two-year time frame we're essentially talking about efficiencies and lifestyle modifications.
We know there are vast reservoirs of negawatts waiting to be tapped, many at a profit even under current market conditions -- given a slight shove (even an announced-but-not-yet-implemented price on carbon might do it, or some low-level government subsidies/tax breaks for early adopters) many more energy-efficiency solutions would make bottom-line sense. Even the lowest and most easily-picked of the low-hanging fruit could certainly deliver an immediate and significant reduction in energy use.
In addition, we know that both businesses and consumers are profligate with energy today, often needlessly and unconsciously wasteful. I'd be willing to bet that a set of strong national education campaigns to encourage continued attention to energy conservation could net a couple percentage points drop in energy use just by getting people to stop doing the really, really dumb stuff.
What could efficiency and education do together in two years? Could we expect them both to cut total energy use by 10% by the end of 2010?
Yes? No? Why? Why not? What would your list of "low-hanging fruit" include? And what would your target be?
* money spent on greening now probably needs to go most heavily toward saving people money to help soften the landing. likely focus on mitigating cost of fuel relative to income may not give big carbon returns?
* aiming for a carbon goal invites the crazy opposition -- already committing to "spending freeze", convinced conservation is an economic loss, and implying they'll fight almost any non-military, non-supply spending -- to shoot the program down as frivolous or worse, "uncaring"?
calculating the impact and progress toward a longer goal might be better?
Check out H.R. 6739 by Rep. Inslee of Washington. The U.S. Climate Action Now bill is intended as a bill to include a lot of the things the fed. govt. should do in the short term while we work out the details of cap and trade. It's intended to leave out anything that would be a bargaining chip in the big, slow, cap and trade bill, but address lots of points where fast action can have a positive effect (and the resulting economic boost help kill the enviro vs. jobs fight).
What's in the bill? Unsexy things like building codes, transmission line infrastructure (and national "renewable energy zones" where the feds can step in and help with transmission), and adds black carbon to the list of pollutants we get to be officially concerned about as a greenhouse agent.
10% by 2010 would make a great community organizing target. The main issue I foresee is credibly identifying the policies that would get us there. Any suggestions?
Asa already mentioned my first choice - building codes. Simple things like timers for lights, ventilation fans that only turn on when needed and don't just run constantly, etc. Many of these changes will not only save energy but save money for businesses as well. I'm not sure there is a good way to mandate across the board changes for older buildings, but some sort of program to help promote low-cost upgrades would be effective I think. Along the lines of some of the things Adobe has done - http://news.cnet.com/2300-11746_3-6157708-8.html?tag=mncol
It wouldn't help meet a 2010 goal (kinda soon for new bills anyways), but modernizing and expanding the electrical grid is a must, and will help further down the line by enabling the development of large scale renewable energy projects.
yes we can