The Senate's announcement last week that the plans for energy and climate change legislation have been shelved is
about our elected officials' lack of vision to picture America leading the world with a truly sustainable new model.
It's about our economic interest, but also national security. It's about how to get out of this economic downturn and thrive again. It's about a world in peril that we cannot pass to another generation without catastrophic consequences.
Instead, we spend too much time arguing with those who ask, "What if climate change doesn't exist?"
These people usually fall into three groups: those who believe green house gases are due to natural causes; those who hate regulation and government action; and those who try to invalidate science, building an argument on the estimated 10% uncertainty that's built into statistical models.
Even with uncertainties, the scientific evidence is clear and compelling; the climate is changing due to human activities. We know that the Earth's surface is warming from millions of temperature measurements, that sea levels are rising and that worldwide we are facing loss of snow and ice. We also know that human activities have driven carbon dioxide and other trapping gases to higher concentrations than any time in history.
Consider for a moment MIT's Integrated Global Systems Model, which tracks and predicts climate change from 1861 to 2100, that indicates that if we stick with business as usual, temperatures by 2100 will hit levels far beyond anything humans have experienced, or the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment produced by 1,300 experts that concluded that the ability of the Earth's ecosystem to absorb our impacts is rapidly diminishing.
Another big problem is that China surpassed the U.S. as the world's largest energy user. If the emerging world continues the consumption patterns America had in the 20th century, the implications in energy and climate are staggering. Just picture all 1.3 billion people in China turning their plasma TVs on at the same time. OK, they don't all have plasmas, but what about turning an incandescent bulb on at the same time?
How many megawatts are needed to support the demand? After all, everyone in this world has the right for a better life.
The problem is how to have economic growth in the new millennium in a world with limited natural resources. This is why we have to become the world leader in clean-energy technologies and efficiencies, to tip the world in a new direction.
Congressional Budget Office experts said last week that a climate and energy bill now stalled in the Senate will reduce the federal deficit by about $19 billion over the next decade. This is good news if you are for cutting the deficit and fiscal responsibility. But with the Senate slinking away from any effort to control climate change, now what? Can states move under existing laws to achieve some greenhouse gas reductions?
The World Resource Institute (WRI) report just came out attempting to answer that. The short answer is no. With the current laws governing greenhouse gas pollutants, we cannot achieve a 17% reduction over 2005 levels by 2020 set at the International Climate Conference in Copenhagen.
The WRI said that the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation using its regulatory power over fuel efficiency could make major strides in reducing carbon dioxide pollution, but new legislation is needed to put a price on the emission of dirty fuels.
Businesses also need long-term certainty and clear rules to build the clean energy economy of the future. The absence of a clear policy creates uncertainty, which delays investment. According to the PEW Institute, indicate that with the right policy in place, investment in residential and commercial buildings and appliance efficiency in the U.S. could reach a cumulative total of $160 billion by 2030.
Clean energy is an emerging global business that presents opportunities. Between 2004 and 2007 global investments in renewable doubled, according to the German Environment Ministry. The global market is going to reach an estimated $1.58 trillion from 2010 to 2020.
It is clear that just coasting along these issues and doing the same thing is not an option any longer. A new approach is needed. We need to work with the three Es of sustainability to protect the "environment" by the use of non-renewable sources, and using renewable at a rate that can be sustained. We need to develop an economy that is vital and dynamic and integrated with environmental goals, and while achieving these two goals, equity is going to be serve as all aspects of society are benefited.
This is about doing the right thing beyond laws and regulations, and for the next generation to be able to pursue their dreams.
GUSTAVO GRAD is a Laguna Beach resident and certified sustainable building advisor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.