Bloomberg, Brown offer climate hope

November 14, 2017 by Denis Pombriant

The climate issue is really a mashup. One issue involves getting energy from renewable non-carbon sources, another calls for removing carbon from the environment not just limiting emissions.

There’s a good deal to be hopeful for in the climate discussion though it will be important to keep the train on the rails in the new reality that is Trumpism. Today’s ray of hope comes from Michael R. Blumberg, former mayor of New York City and Jerry Brown, governor of California. They’ve collaborated on an op-ed piece in the New York Times, “The U.S. Is Tackling Global Warming, Even if Trump Isn’t.”

The piece recounts some of the ways that states, cities, and ordinary people can make positive change. It’s a clear sign that the free market is taking over the climate debate and putting it on a no nonsense footing for the most obvious and basic reason that free markets do anything. There’s an opportunity to make or save money.

Despite the disappointing leadership of energy secretary, Rick Perry and EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, the article points out some great successes that keep America in the Paris Climate Accord if only by action and not by membership. Already half of the US economy’s output is onboard. For example,

California just extended its landmark cap-and-trade emissions program through 2030, and has adopted incentives that will help put 1.5 million electric and other zero-emission vehicles on the road by 2025.

1.5 million seems low given all of the effort now going into EVs by Ford, GM, Volvo and some German and Japanese carmakers. I’m willing to be surprised on the high side with this.

Chicago has proposed an energy rating system for its large buildings to drive down emissions substantially, with $70 million in projected annual savings on utility bills.

This could be fun and not too hard given Chicago’s penchant for great architecture. Big buildings are challenged to stay cool in all seasons because they absorb solar energy and generate a fair amount of heat during the day. It’s well to keep in mind that $70 million is a small number but that it is projected annual savings so it goes into the nebulous future. What might other cities learn from this and how transferrable are the things they’ll learn in Chi-town?

But the most important idea coming from Bloomberg and Brown involves renewable energy,

Companies in a wide variety of industries — from Bloomberg to Wal-Mart — have pledged to procure 100 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2025 or sooner.

To that list let’s add which is already at net zero emissions.

Best of all,

[W]e are already almost halfway to reaching our Paris commitment, thanks largely to consumer preferences and market forces. Half the country’s coal plants have closed or are being phased out while air quality improves and electricity bills fall for American consumers.

But let’s add a sober reminder that there’s already too much carbon in the environment so slowing the rate of increase is nice but far from sufficient.

While we’re at it let’s also give a nod to the home states of Rick Perry (Texas) and Scott Pruitt (Oklahoma) for being leaders in wind generation even though their leaders don’t believe in climate change. There’s a place that covers each of these states called Tornado Alley so maybe it wasn’t exactly a hard lift to harness wind in that part of the world. But still. At any rate this kind of disconnect is about what you’d expect when the free market takes over from a belief system at variance from reality. We can expect that profits will fix the belief systems in a short time.

Other free market opportunities for states and consumers include joining regional initiatives like

[T]he Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a carbon pricing program involving nine Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states to drive down power plant emissions, or California’s independently managed vehicle emissions programs, including its Zero Emission Vehicle Mandate, which nine states have adopted. More cities can adopt greener building codes, policies and programs to reduce electricity waste.

All of this is good news but we must also report that it’s not enough. Environmental carbon, which is in both the air and oceans, has an ongoing effect. A given amount will capture a known amount of solar energy and on an ongoing basis it’s like putting a kettle on the stove. First the water in the kettle doesn’t do much but eventually the kettle boils and its teatime. The environment is like that. If you want to reduce global warming you need to remove some of the carbon that’s there as well as quit putting more out there.

There are solutions to both. Converting the economy to electricity and away from fossil fuels is under way and in the process we are reducing fossil fuel use. Next on the agenda is beginning to remove carbon from the environment. It will require a different set of skills than those used in renewable energy. But just like the renewable revolution, the carbon revolution will generate new industries and new jobs that will significantly benefit society. “The Age of Sustainability” discusses all of this as well as the positive economic impacts we can anticipate as we move in those directions.

So, perhaps there’s irony in this, one of the major themes of the Trump agenda is being killed with a thousand paper cuts. The administration is powerless against the determination of the states and an organized and well-intended citizenry. That’s the free market.







Leave a Reply