Climate change mitigation in fewer than seven words
In response to David’s challenge, I decided to summarize not only the problem of global warming, but the solution, in fewer than seven words. I cheated, of course — each word is an acronym (one stolen from David), with a phrase behind it and an accompanying elevator speech.
- XTRA-COOL: (XTRA Carbon Out Of Our Lives)
- URGE2 (Use Renewably Generated Electricity Efficiently)
- RAPID RESPONSE (Regulation And Public Investment Develops Renewable Energy, Supplies Power to Our Nation & Supports Efficiency)
- CARE (Cap & Auction, Rebate Everything)
- GROUPHUG (Greens Reach Out, Unity with Progressives Helps Us Grow)
The elevator speeches follow:
XTRA-COOL: (XTRA Carbon Out Of Our Lives)
Fossil fuels, logging, and industrial agriculture all emit carbon and other greenhouse gases, and turn the atmosphere into a garbage dump for those emissions. It turns out that we have filled up all that dump space we can use safely; the overflow is already causing disasters, and continued emissions will lead to catastrophes, including famine, flooding, diseases, and mass deaths from climate extremes. To prevent as much of this as possible, we need to stop the extra carbon emissions by phasing out the use of fossil fuels, and switching to more sustainable forestry and agriculture.
URGE2 (Use Renewably Generated Electricity Efficiently).
We can generate all the solar and wind electricity (plus others) we are likely to need in this century; potential for renewable fuel is tiny in comparison. So we need to substitute renewable electricity (and low-temperature solar and geothermal heat) for fuel whenever possible. But renewable electricity (at the moment) costs more than we like. So we need to use that energy more efficiently, through things like attic insulation and CFL bulbs, so that total cost (including the efficiency measures) is around the same as what we pay now.
RAPID RESPONSE (Regulation And Public Investment Develops Renewable Energy, Supplies Power to Our Nation & Supports Efficiency)
Well-designed regulations can promote large scale increases in efficiency and use of renewable sources quickly. CAFE auto efficiency rules raised average U.S. fleet efficiency from 14 mpg to 25 mpg in a very short time, before auto lobbying fatally undermined them. Building standards have saved huge amounts of energy in Germany and Denmark.
Public investment is essential too. We need new trains, and new bus lines. We need electricity storage facilities, and long distance lines to connect geographically diverse power sources to minimize the size and cost of those storage facilities. To make best use of these, renewable generation will require planning. We need public private partnerships to deploy electric cars, and public subsidies to install charging stations in street parking.
There is plenty of money to pay for this — nearly a trillion-a-year military budget, trillions more in tax breaks for the rich. Repeal of fossil-fuel subsidies and the levying of Tobin taxes on currency speculation could generate hundreds of billions more.
CARE (Cap & Auction, Rebate Everything)
We must regulate total fossil-fuel use. Set a limit on how much fuel we will allow big carbon to mine, drill, import, or refine in any one year. Issue permits adding up to that limit, and auction those permits off to the highest bidder. (Set a minimum price to avoid bidding conspiracies and reduce volatility.) Fuel sellers pass along permit fees in fuel prices, raising energy costs. As permits expire, we replace them with fewer new permits which expire in their turn. This continues until few or zero permits are issued and all or most fossil fuel use ends.
Increased energy costs will impact poor, working people and the middle classes much more than it will impact the rich. The best way to balance this out is to take all the revenues from auctioning permits, and rebate them monthly to each person in the U.S. Under such a system, about 80 percent of us will approximately break even (plus or minus a bit) or come out ahead — receiving about the same or more in monthly payments as higher prices cost us. The poorest of the poor will come out significantly ahead. Since the rich and powerful have had more influence on energy decisions than the majority of us, it is only fair that as much as possible of the changes needed occur at their expense.
GROUPHUG (Greens Reach Out, Unity with Progressives Helps Us Grow)
Global warming is unlikely to be a high-enough priority with the public to win the scale of changes required to fight it. But global warming issues overlap well enough with the progressive agenda that we can win as part of an alliance that fights on many issues, not just environmental ones.
Opposition to the Iraq war is a top priority among the public, and that war by itself is responsible for a high percentage of the military budget. New, fair rules that make life better and public investment to encourage faster change contradicts conservative ideology, but you can find support among progressives if you make a good case. Clean energy has a lot to offer progressives: a massive green jobs program, better health thanks to less-toxic pollution, and good secondary support and reinforcement for many progressive causes.
Right now, the progressive movement is comparatively weak. And many progressives are like Markos (founder of the Daily Kos site): they are partisan Democrats first, and progressives second. We need a “net-roots-like” alliance that puts a progressive agenda above party politics, that forms a loose network around issues, and that is anti-war and favors the working class and middle classes over the rich — even during election years. Climate action activists need to be part of such a network. Groups headed in this direction include The Apollo Alliance, Climate Justice Now!, and the Environmental Justice and Climate Change Initiative.