The first step in international action
DR: If you were emperor for a day — or just president of the U.S. — what would your international approach be?
TT: No. 1 is to lead by example. When Tony Blair came can sat down with Arnold and I before the summit, he took us aside and said, "Look, what you are doing in California so crucial." When he hosted the G8 in 2005 — whoever’s the president of the G8 can pick two topics, and he picked Africa and global warming. On global warming, he added the G8 plus 5, the five emerging economies: China, India, South Africa, Mexico, and Brazil. They have no obligations under Kyoto until 2012, if then. The number one thing they kept saying is, "why should we bother when the United States isn’t even doing anything?" Blair said, "I was able to say to them, wait a minute, the United States is doing something, it’s just not at the federal level. It’s California." He said, "what you guys are doing is so crucial, but I can only say ‘look at California’ for so long. At some point they’re going to say, ‘the United States is more than California.’ I’m imploring you to get other states to do what California has done."
Arnold looked at me and laughed and said, "how much did you pay him to say that?" Because Arnold and I had been cooking up this notion of Johnny Appleseeding California’s plan just a month earlier — for me to leave government and start going around and helping other states to do this. Blair looked at us like we were on crack. We had to explain, "We understand your point, and we’re trying to build a de facto national climate plan one state at a time."
DR: It’s sad that he leveraged his reputation and national treasure for a relationship with Bush, and is tacitly admitting he has no leverage to show for it.
TT: The second thing is, look, we’re a country that has spent 200 years giving foreign aid for all kinds of auspicious purposes. Now we’re spending hundreds of billions of dollars sending our army around the world to defend our oil. Why couldn’t we take a fraction of those resources and go to these countries and say, "we’ll help you. You want to stop building coal-fired power plants, you want to at least build IGCC and figure out ways of sequestering carbon? We’re experimenting with it in our own country; we’ll give you money to help experiment with it in your country. We’ll build a trading system where companies here that want to comply can buy carbon credits by shutting down a coal-fired plant in China and replacing it with something that’s more energy efficient and sustainable. We’ll figure out market-based incentives and direct gifts to help you help yourselves."
By the way, when we talk about the United States as 5 percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of its CO2 emissions … I think we’re 50 percent of the world’s CO2 emissions. Why is it that China is building 1,000 megawatts of coal-fired power plants a week? It’s to make factories to make plastic flamingos to sell in Wal-Mart. [ed. note: They’re no longer selling the flamingos. Sigh.] Every plastic flamingo they make over there is twice the amount of CO2 that would otherwise be generated if that product were created closer to home, and not put on a ship and sent across the Pacific with even more greenhouse gas emissions and pollutants.
On top of that, we’re exporting our culture to them. The new, emerging middle class we’re creating with all the consumer goods we’re buying in China and India — the number one kind of car that’s selling in those countries is SUVs. Who is it that’s selling them over there? It’s GM. GM is over there selling SUVs called the Great Wall, which looks like a Hummer. We’re exporting this culture in our movies and our TV and our advertising, with our car companies saying it’s not enough to just have a car, you emerging Chinese family man. Go out and have an SUV just like your American counterpart.
When you take all of that collectively, I think we are directly or indirectly responsible for at least 50 percent of the world’s emissions. It’s incumbent upon us to lead by example and then help others do better.
DR: What did we get out of Iraq that would compare to a trillion dollars in foreign aid to help India or China develop clean energy resources?
TT: There’s a company working with Lockheed and Boeing, on a technology that’s been around for a very long time, fairly well understood, where you collect solar energy in outer space, using solar panels like the kind that powered the space station, and beam the energy to earth by way of microwaves — very mild microwaves that don’t hurt anything on their way down — to a receiving station and through a centralized grid.
The technology exists. It’s not crazy. The only reason it hasn’t been commercialized is, it’s too expensive. It would cost by most estimates 20, 30, 40 cents a kilowatt hour to get the launch into space, to get the several football fields of solar panels, and to send down that electricity and receive it on the other end — compared to two cents, three cents a kilowatt hour for coal. Take that trillion dollars and say, look, our health, global warming, averting a great depression, is worth spending a little money now. Rather than cheap, coal-fired energy, let’s subsidize that kind of an industry and help China and India be the first to leapfrog into those kinds of facilities.