Ten Point Plan of Action

Fortunately, the outlines of a climate strategy we can implement now are highly visible, in part because of the extraordinary efforts already being made by so many Americans to move the United States in the right directions. What follows is a ten-point agenda of action that builds on the many positive, encouraging initiatives are already under way. Many of these strategies are presented in greater detail in the next four parts of this book.

1. State and Local Action

Up to this point, the path forward has been blocked in Washington, although the 2006 midterm election appears to have changed that to some degree. The good news? Many states and localities across the country have moved to fill the breach. More than half the states have developed or are developing initiatives that will reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Many of them, such as programs in NewYork and New England, focus on reducing GHG emissions from power plants. Nine northeastern states are developing a market-based cap-and-trade program—the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI)—aimed at reducing GHG emissions from more than 600 power plants by 10 percent by 2020. Several western states are building a similar trading scheme. Other states, such as New Jersey and, most notably, California, have ambitious legislation that seeks to reduce overall emissions in the state. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has also announced a California goal of reducing that state's GHG emissions to a level 80 percent below the 1990's emissions level by 2050, and California has also taken the lead in regulating GHGs from vehicles, a lead that some states in the East have started to follow. New York is committed to having 25 percent of its power from renewable energy by 2013, and some twenty other states also have renewable energy goals for their power sectors.

Cities are also taking remarkable steps. The mayors of many U.S. cities have announced that they pledge to have their cities meet the requirements of the Kyoto Protocol. By late-2006, 339 mayors representing more than fifty-four million Americans have accepted this challenge (although, it must be admitted, with varying commitments to success).

The goal in the years immediately ahead should be to strengthen and deepen state and local commitments and actions. Until we have a fully adequate national program, we should work to get every state to adopt an overall GHG reduction plan, a renewable energy portfolio standard, the California plan for vehicles, and an energy efficiency program that covers everything from much tighter building codes to transportation and land use planning. We should work to build state participation in regional cap-and-trade programs and to increase the number of cities joining Seattle and others in achieving Kyoto's goals. Most important is to ensure that goals set at the state and local levels are achieved. (For more on progress at the state and local levels, see chapter 16.)

2. Carrots and Sticks with Business

Scores of major corporations are not waiting for federal action on climate and are taking significant, voluntary initiatives to reduce their GHG emissions. They anticipate they will be regulated one day, and they are also acting because of shareholder pressure, consumer pressure, the threat of eventual liability for damages, pressure from insurers and lenders, and public image and corporate responsibility concerns. The strategy regarding business should be to escalate on all those fronts that recognize and reward positive performance by business as well as those that put serious pressure on business to reduce emissions.

3. Greening the Financial Sector

The financial and insurance sectors are waking up to climate dangers. Investors representing more than $4 trillion in assets have formed the Investor Network on Climate Risk organized by Ceres (www.ceres.org). These investors, large lenders, and insurers are becoming increasingly sensitized to financial risks (and opportunities) presented by climate change. Such developments should be encouraged. The Securities and Exchange Commission should be forced to require companies to disclose fully the financial risks of global warming. Fund and other investment managers should be pressed to develop climate-risk competence and to support climate-risk disclosure and action.

4. A Sensible National Energy Strategy

Congress should move beyond the current impasse and write energy legislation that gives priority to energy efficiency and renewable energy. The imperative is to simultaneously meet several national objectives: decreased dependence on problematic oil imports, clean air, climate protection, and new jobs and industries based on advanced technologies. Our goal must be national energy legislation that puts the United States squarely on the road to a low-carbon economy, including legislation that steadily increases the fuel economy of cars, SUVs, and all trucks. In doing so, we should keep in mind that energy efficiency gains provide the cheapest, cleanest, and quickest path ahead. (For more on breaking congressional gridlock, see chapter 14.)

5. Ambitious and Cost-Effective Climate Policy

The McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act proposal, first introduced in 2003, was a start. Yes, it was modest even by the standards of the Kyoto Protocol, and still it did not pass, but its market-based approach of establishing a national cap-and-trade program, which would be cost effective for the American producer and consumer alike, is the best way forward. The bill introduced in 2006 by Vermont's retiring Sen. James Jeffords is more promising, and it has been reintroduced by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). The Jeffords bill called for an 80 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2050, 20 percent renewable power by 2020, and cars that get at least 40 miles per gallon. The goal here must be to build broad public support to get such legislation passed into law, the sooner the better.

Right now, although action is beginning in Congress, we are not yet near the legislation we need. Moreover, our political leaders and others in Washington are not being held accountable for failing to address so serious a threat. Therefore, it is time for this issue to become highly salient in electoral politics. Those alarmed about climate change—and that should be everyone—can start voting the issue in national elections. (For more on the importance of mobilizing voters at the national level, see chapter 11.)

6. Hands Across the Seas

Europe is taking the climate issue seriously, and it can press the United States to start a credible program of GHG emissions reduction and join the climate treaty process. Prime Minister Tony Blair of the United Kingdom has made a strong effort in this area. In the summer of 2006, he announced, alongside Schwarzenegger, the possibility of inviting California to participate in a cap-and-trade GHG market.

It would be comforting to think that the international community used the last two decades to build an effective international framework for climate action, but it would be wrong. Scholars have lately been developing the concept of treaty "ossification," and they cite as an example the climate treaty and its well-known offspring, the Kyoto Protocol. One reason is that the North-South divide has deepened in the negotiations. There has been no agreement yet on how to achieve equity in the greenhouse. Another reason, of course, is U.S. intransigence. A huge effort is now required from the United States and others to revitalize international negotiations with the aim of moving beyond the Kyoto Protocol and realizing emissions cuts such as those mentioned in the opening part of this chapter.

7. Climate-Friendly Cooperation with Developing Countries

With China's emissions now rising rapidly and soon to exceed those of the United States, future agreements under the climate treaty should provide for commitments from developing countries on climate and GHGs. Such agreements need not seek (yet) actual reduction in GHG emissions from the developing world as a whole. They should, however, vigorously promote measures to achieve rapid decreases in developing-country GHG releases per unit of gross domestic product or, as it is sometimes put, reductions in the carbon intensity of production.

To support these efforts, the international community, including the World Bank, should launch major new programs for large-scale capacity building, urgent transfer of green technology, liberal access to low-cost capital for climate-friendly investments, support for renewable energy and "carbon capture and storage" for any fossil development, programs to aid firms in industrial countries to receive credit for climate-saving investments in developing countries, and tropical forest conservation (moving from net deforestation to net afforestation).

8. Climate-Friendly Consumers and Institutions

We each must do our part to reduce our own carbon emissions. Individually, it is satisfying; collectively, if a lot of us get moving, it's significant. Spurred more by higher gasoline prices than climate fears, consumers are already voting with their pocketbooks for hybrids and other high-mileage vehicles and against SUVs. What if all U.S. colleges and universities joined in a commitment to reduce their GHG emissions impressively below 1990 levels by 2020? What if all U.S. religious organizations made a similar commitment? And all fraternal organizations? And all medical centers and hospitals? And all environmental, consumer, civil rights, and other organizations such as private foundations with commitments to the public interest? We can make a big difference by getting the institutions with which we are associated to take climate action, starting locally and then expanding regionally and nationally. (For more on transforming institutions, see chapter 12.)

9. Limits on Coal

Plans are being laid to construct more than one hundred coal-fired power plants in thirty-six U.S. states, and American coal use is projected to go up by more than 40 percent over the next twenty years. Launching a new generation of coal-fired power plants without plans for capturing and storing the carbon is the worst possible thing we could do climate-wise.

We will need a combination of national, state, and local efforts to ensure that climate and other environmental risks are taken into account in decisions regarding new coal plants. The momentum must be stopped or must be redirected to carbon capture and storage. Environmental, public health, and other citizens groups and foundations can collaborate on such a strategy. In Congress, the prospect of all these coal plants should spur the so-called four-pollutants bill, which would regulate not only sulfur, nitrogen, and mercury emissions, but also carbon dioxide.

10. Movement Building

Items 1 through 9 now bring us to the tenth and most fundamental area: building a powerful grassroots movement for change. To press forward with rapid progress on the other nine fronts requires a new movement of citizens and scientists, one capable of dramatically advancing the political and personal actions now urgently needed. We have had movement against slavery, and many have participated in movements for civil rights and against apartheid and the Vietnam War. Environmentalists are often said to be part of the "environmental movement." Now we need a real one. It is time for we the people, as citizens and as consumers, to take charge. As Bill McKibben recounts in the introduction to this book, politicians will follow if we do take charge.

The best hope we have for a new force for change is a coalescing of a wide array of Americans. It begins at the grassroots level: concerned families, engaged communities, and the nation's many civic groups, be they scientific, environmental, religious, student, or other organizations. These dedicated leaders must team up with climate-friendly business leaders and forward-thinking politicians, demanding action and accountability from corporations and governments, taking steps as consumers and communities to act on these values in everyday life.

A new movement of consumer and households committed to sustainable living could drive a world of change. Young people will almost certainly be centrally involved in any movement for real change. They always have been. New dreams are born most easily when the world is seen with fresh eyes and confronted with impertinent questions. The Internet is empowering young people in an unprecedented way, not just by access to information but by access to one another and to a wider world.

One goal must be to ignite the spark that can set off a period of rapid change, like the flowering of the domestic environmental agenda in the early 1970s. Part of the challenge is changing the perception of global-scale concerns like climate change so that they come alive with the immediacy and reality of the domestic challenges of the 19 70s. In the end, we need to trigger a response that in historical terms will come to be seen as revolutionary, a new environmental, social, and economic revolution of the twenty-first century that will transform our communities, institutions, and politics. Only such a response is likely to avert huge and even catastrophic losses.

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