A long, long time ago…in a galaxy far, far away…a group of states and provinces banded together in frustration that their national governments were held hostage by Big Oil & Coal and had been unable to break free to harness the economic development opportunities presented by renewable energy, alternative fuels, energy efficiency, and carbon markets. Led by a cyborg sent from the future, this can-do group of policymakers, smart businesses, non-profits, and investors created a new paradigm for achieving energy independence, saving vast sums of money, and putting their citizenry to work again. Because someone had already used “Rebel Alliance”, they called themselves “R20 Regions of Climate Action”.
OK, so Sacramento only seems like a faraway place stuck in another century, but as former cyborg, now California Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger helped the United Nations and dozens of regional governments unveil the R20 last week, the mood was decidedly rebellious. With some newly elected members of Congress professing that the earth is only 6,000 years old and that their pet government projects (like wars over oil in the Middle East) should magically cost nothing to taxpayers, any serious debate about curtailing wasteful carbon pollution and keeping the US competitive with China has fallen off the agenda. Copenhagen was a bust and the next effort to get a global deal on carbon, in Cancun this December, will be measured more by delegates’ sunburns than any success at harnessing the burning sun for clean energy.
And although Darth Valero and Darth Tesoro were dealt a setback to their Death Star initiative in California (a ballot measure to overturn state carbon laws was defeated), no one thinks they are gone for good. George Shultz, President Reagan’s secretary of state and President Nixon’s first budget director, called it “the only vote on energy policy anywhere in the world” and applauded the R20 launch to “use this victory to get somewhere” on transforming our energy and our economy.
Sci-fi movie metaphors aside, Schwarzenegger and his carbon rebel alliance were clear about their motives and goals. Forget about climate change debates, he argued, and focus on the things all of us should care about. Unpredictable fossil fuel supplies and prices; sending so much money abroad that could be used to create new industries domestically; saving money on energy bills and health care costs related to carbon-based pollution.
In Sacramento last week too, environmental activist Robert F Kennedy Jr. renewed his call for exposing the real cost of fossil fuels so we can get on with innovating cleaner, more sustainable alternatives. Kennedy has also long called for the federal government to build a national smart electrical grid, just as it did with the interstate highway system, that can facilitate investments by local entrepreneurs and governments in renewable power projects.
Ironically, these same sentiments were expressed last week from Congressman Bob Inglis, R-S.C., a conservative who was defeated by an even more conservative Tea Party candidate. “Whether you think it’s all a bunch of hooey,” he said, “the Chinese don’t. They plan on innovating around these problems, and selling to us, and the rest of the world, the technology that’ll lead the 21st century.”
So how successful will the R20 be in its goals to rapidly commercialize low carbon economic development projects? The definition of insanity is banging your head against a wall repeatedly, each time expecting a different outcome. The R20 offers a way around that wall and perhaps the clearest evidence, that its members may be onto something, is the fact that George Shultz, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., and Bob Inglis all appear to agree.