Toward a New Energy Economy: Part 2 Tough Questions, Tough Answers


To lead America into a post-carbon economy, President Obama and the 111th Congress will have to revolutionize the biggest and most heavily lobbied of the government’s programs. That means taking on the armies of the status quo, who have money and inertia on their side.

It’s a battle that must be fought and won. Today, our public policy is riddled with crisis-inducing, self-defeating contradictions. The next Congress will have to resolve some tough questions that past Congresses avoided. For example:

1. What action will Congress take to prove to the world that the United States is serious about addressing climate action?

This isn’t only an issue of perception. Unless the U.S. goes to Copenhagen at the end of 2009 with a strong domestic program to cut greenhouse gas emissions, it will have little influence at the international negotiating table.

Half-hearted legislation won’t do. Barack Obama’s election has fueled hopes in the European Union and the developing world that the United States – the nation most responsible for the emissions in the atmosphere today -- will lead the global climate effort.

The approach endorsed by Obama and by members of Congress is a “market-based” cap and auction program. Congress would put a cap on U.S. emissions. The federal government would auction “emission allowances” to polluters, who would be allowed to buy and sell the allowances to one another.

But the latest scuttlebutt in Washington is that Congress probably will not pass a cap-and-auction bill next year. The reasons: There is no agreement on the architecture of a program; a carbon cap will increase the price of fossil fuels and politicians won’t vote for that in the middle of a recession; and lawmakers are concerned that if they approve a carbon-trading system before the rest of the world does, the U.S. program won’t fit and will have to be legislated all over again.

But some observers predict that if the United States doesn’t approve cap-and-auction before, there’s little prospect that other nations will agree on one in Copenhagen. Thomas Becker, Denmark’s chief climate negotiator, warns that no action by the U.S. Congress could derail international progress and result in years of more inaction.

So, if not cap-and-auction, then what will Congress do? Continued...

Detailed Actions to Restore America’s Global Leadership on Global Warming


Restoring America's leadership on global warming is no easy task. US leadership has been lost over a sustained period as the current Administration has failed to make progress on global warming. (Sadly this is time we don't have.) So, becoming a leader isn't something that can be done overnight, but it will need to start from day one. President-elect Obama has already signaled that he will Restore American Leadership on Global Warming. So, what more does he have to do?

Well, a coalition of groups -- including the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) -- has just released a detailed plan Transition to Green which outlines actions for the new Administration and Congress on environmental issues. This plan covers a strategy for global warming (under the "crosscutting issues" header) and detailed recommendations for each of the key agencies that deal with environmental issues (including international global warming issues under the header "Department of State" and "Department of the Treasury").

So, what are the main actions that the Administration and Congress can take to restore American leadership on global warming as the world works to get international agreement in Copenhagen, Denmark (December 2009)? Here are our recommendations.

The US needs to demonstrate action by setting mandatory limits on global warming pollution through new legislation and implementation of existing laws. This would include working with Congress to pass legislation in 2009 that establishes a mandatory limit that reduces US global warming pollution consistent with keeping further warming below 2° F, including ambitious domestic reduction targets for 2020 and 2050, other policies to make additional reductions at home and abroad, and a prompt science-based review to accelerate reductions if necessary.

Work with other nations to reach a new climate treaty that keeps further warming below 2° F at the Copenhagen climate summit at the end of 2009. US leadership in moving legislation to cap emissions is an important first step, but the US will also need to work with other countries to establish an equitable U.N. climate treaty. A main focus will need to be working with key developing countries -- such as China, Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, South Korea, and South Africa -- on emissions reductions. But they'll also need to work with other developed countries (e.g., the EU, Canada, Japan, and Russia) on emissions reduction targets and with the most vulnerable developing countries on adaptation. These bilateral efforts could be integrated into the "G20" dialogue which recently focused on the global financial crisis and should feed into the international negotiations. The U.S. will need to interject its proposals into the debate and outline its positions on key elements very quickly as the negotiations are ongoing. Continued...


Toward a New Energy Economy: Part 1 Action in 100 Days


There is no lack of ideas for what President Obama and the 111th Congress should do to address three of the most pressing issues they will face when they take office in January – global climate change, the energy crisis, and economic transformation. It may be winter in Washington, D.C., but it’s springtime in national politics. Policy agendas are blooming like cherry blossoms.

For example, last week alone,
Washington D.C. was introduced to three comprehensive plans to address economy, energy and climate. Two were issued by the Center for American Progress, headed by John Podesta, co-chair of President-elect Obama’s transition team, including an excellent strategy for green recovery by Bracken Hendricks and Benjamin Goldstein.

The other was the Presidential Climate Action Plan (PCAP) released during a standing-room only briefing on Capitol Hill, after two years of gestation at the University of Colorado. PCAP contains more than 180 proposals for President Obama and the next Congress, across 18 topics, ranging from natural resource stewardship to public health and from farm policy to zero-carbon buildings and transportation systems. All were designed for action during President Obama’s honeymoon period – the six months in which a new president traditionally sets the tone of his administration, between inauguration and the August congressional recess.

Published electronically with hyperlinks to the material behind the ideas, PCAP is the result of 22 months of work involving more than 200 people. Its proposals come from some of the nation’s leading experts on climate and energy policy, from original research, from members of the project’s prestigious national advisory committee and from present and former federal employees who understand the inside workings of government and whose desire to do something about climate has been pent up for the past eight years.

Among the several white papers and studies PCAP commissioned is a keep-it-simple plan for capping and trading carbon emissions, proposed by Yale economist Dr. Robert Repetto, and recommendations from international experts – including Alden Meyer at the Union of Concerned Scientists and Daphne Wysham of the Institute for Policy Studies -- on what the president should do to make the United States an honest partner in international negotiations over climate action.

PCAP also includes policy roadmaps from the
Alliance to Save Energy for changing America’s building practices and from the Center for Neighborhood Technology on retooling America’s transportation policies. It offers a detailed plan for reducing emissions from the world’s largest single energy user, the U.S. government. Continued...

President-elect Obama Signals He Will Restore American Leadership on Global Warming


At a global warming summit convened today in California, President-elect Obama signaled that he will make addressing global warming the high priority it deserves. In the video statement telecast (here) to summit attendees from around the US and the world he stated:

"Few challenges facing America -- and the world -- are more urgent than combating climate change...My presidency will mark a new chapter in America's leadership on climate change..."

As NRDC President Frances Beinecke stated in response:

"President-elect Obama's vow to begin 'a new chapter in America's leadership on climate change' demonstrates both his leadership and the priority he places on attacking this threat to our environment, our economy and our energy security. His call for federal cap legislation as his second major policy announcement sends a signal to the country and the world that the U. S. will act promptly to combat this triple threat. This shows that President-Elect Obama understands that the fastest, best way to turn our economy around, create jobs and solve the climate crisis is to spur investment in our clean energy future."

And with the next international climate negotiation set to occur in Poland in just under two weeks, he also signaled that he will restore America's leadership in international global warming negotiations. Continued...


Cost of Forest Loss Exceeds Current Banking Crisis


An EU study has concluded the economic impact of world forest loss exceeds the current banking crisis. The study by economists, which quantified the vital services the worlds' forests provide (absorbing carbon dioxide, cleaning water...), places the cost of the disappearing forests between $2 and $5 trillion per year.
The global economy is losing more money from the disappearance of forests than through the current banking crisis, according to an EU-commissioned study... study leader Pavan Sukhdev emphasised that the cost of natural decline dwarfs losses on the financial markets.

"It's not only greater but it's also continuous, it's been happening every year, year after year," he told BBC News. "So whereas Wall Street by various calculations has to date lost, within the financial sector, $1-$1.5 trillion, the reality is that at today's rate we are losing natural capital at least between $2-$5 trillion every year."

The report cites the advantages forests provide as basically free and points out that, without them, the services will either have to be provided through costly technology or through the increasing cost and consequences of growing climate change (which will fall disproportionally upon the world's poor).

"Times have changed," Sukhdev explained, "almost three years ago, even two years ago, their [governments and business] eyes would glaze over. Today, when I say this, they listen."

Several countries have begun efforts toward forest conservation. Ecuador has gone so far as to enact laws that proclaim their trees and water have specific rights to life. Continued...


Life Isn't Fair but Media Should Be


A couple of years ago the autos that were parked overnight in the streets of New York City were having their car radios heisted by agile crooks. Car owners were then removing their radios from their dashboards overnight and posting hand written signs in their windows announcing "No car radio" in the hope that they would avoid a broken window.

After listening to Rush Limbaugh one day I put a sign in my old Volvo reading "No hate radio
." So my car was spared by some right wing thief. Somehow this form of thievery lost its luster, and the clever crooks found more lucrative forms of boosting; flat screen TVs, Prada handbags, Florida elections, hedge funds and sub prime mortgages. But the idea of no hate radio still appeals to me - or at least balancing the preponderance of conservative hate radio with other voices.

I know that hate speech is protected as free speech by our Constitution. And no, I don't advocate imposing love radio (a yawn inducing notion) on the world but creating a forceful pl
ain-talking progressive radio, one that should have a place on our radio airways and television. No, not another Air America which floats about the ether, lost to anyone who tries to find it, but an effective, pervasive, easy to find voice for progressive views.

The truth is that hate speech can often be funnier than reasoned talk. And it has a long tradition in our democracy going back to the Founding Fathers, Andrew Jackson, and Lincoln with their savagely mocking, duel fighting and libel tossing opponents. Hate sells. Always has. Sadly, it always will. The trouble with its use during the McCain/Palin campaign was that it teetered on encouraging serious hate action by the desperate Republican candidates by demonizing our now President elect Obama as a secret traitor, and we all know what they'd like to do to traitors.

Rush Limbaugh, Oxycodone's own Oliver Hardy, has been bringing joy and gladness to the Repubs for years by pounding on liberals relentlessly, and his rewards for doing so have been enormous. I say let him go on ranting and rolling. Let him have his ditto-heads, his mansions, his forbidden little pills and his fat cigars. Let him mock a critically ill actor, Michael J. Fox, let him rave on against the reality of AIDS, let him declare war on the environment, not for me to stop him. And that goes for his fellow right winger Sean Hannity as well in that Hannity/Comes show where Hannity, the fast talking radical right guy with the gift for gab outshines the dim bulb that is his nerdy liberal opponent, Alan Colmes. A Foxy set up if I ever saw one. I must admit that I was troubled by the debates in this election which excluded Nader who was desperately running on the Egotist Party ticket, and Libertarian Bob Bar from at least one of the debates. I felt that their absence diluted the debates and diminished the discourse.

All of this is just a preamble to my view that we must restore the old Fairness Doctrine.


Struggling for Obama's Soul


Now that we know Barack Obama will become the 44th President of the United States, we can turn to the next critical question of national leadership: In this historic moment, how bold will President Obama be?

It was Candidate Obama who introduced the theme of change to the 2008 campaign, and it proved so powerful among voters that the other leading candidates quickly adopted it. It’s a cliché for candidates to run against the status quo in Washington, no matter how long they’ve been there. But in 2008, Obama seems to grasp that “change” has a much deeper meaning.

The 21st century is presenting us with new problems that politics as usual can not solve. Pollution, once local and fixable, is permanently damaging the planet’s life-support systems. The world is running out of affordable oil at the same time energy demand is skyrocketing. Because nations don’t yet know how to lift their people out of poverty without fossil fuels, economic development has become a zero-sum game that leads to resource wars. And speaking of wars, the most powerful military force in history has found again that it cannot be assured of winning them, even against enemies with relatively primitive weapons.

Candidate Obama was specific about what he intends to do on many of these issues. His campaign posted positions on the economy, education, energy, ethics, foreign policy, health care, homeland security, the war in Iraq, taxes, veterans, civil rights, national defense, social security and issues of particular concern to women, to name just a few of the planks in his platform. The campaign promised that President Obama would use “innovative approaches to challenge the status quo and get results” on solving “seemingly intractable problems”.

Those seemingly intractable problems aren’t for the faint of heart, or the politically cautious, or for elected leaders who allow themselves to be shackled by their parties. We can expect a struggle for Barack Obama’s soul between those who believe he must be a courageous, charismatic and transformative leader of epochal stature and those who believe he must govern from the center. Continued...

Restoring America’s Leadership in International Global Warming Negotiations


We now have a new leader in the US that understands global warming and recognizes that it requires leadership both at home and abroad. Addressing this challenge (and opportunity) will be a key task of both President-elect Barack Obama (and his Administration) and Congress. And, they'll have to get their act together fast as the world agreed in Bali to establish a post-2012 international global warming pact by the end of 2009 in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Before I go into some details, I want to remind you that as a non-partisan organization, NRDC does not endorse candidates. But now that Barack Obama has been declared the winner, we can begin to look at the environmental implications of the voters' decisions. So I want to highlight the repercussions for efforts to get an international post-2012 agreement to address global warming.

The task is tough...solving the greatest challenge of this century won't be easy. It will require true leadership, active engagement (and advocacy) from the American public, and a strong push from the President and Members of Congress. We will need to roll up our sleeves at home and restore America's leadership in international global warming negotiations. And, that task begins from day one (in fact it begins now).

So let's get started...

While not technically a part of his time in office, there is an important "check-point" in the international global warming negotiations -- Poland in December 2008 -- where the President-elect can convey a new message that: he will work to "restore America's leadership" on global warming. Essentially saying, the US will no longer be laggards, as the current Administration has been, and we will actively work to get an effective and equitable international global warming agreement.

And, he might just send that signal to the world before or at the meeting in Poland as he has now hinted in a YouTube Video where he said:

"We will definitely have a representative there."

And a few minutes later he went on to say:

"I may not go personally. I may send a representative, but we'll be represented."

He (and his representatives) likely won't provide any specific details on what exactly the US will do to address global warming as he'll need to work with Members of Congress to shape that approach. But, I'm sure a lot of people will be whispering in his ear (and his advisors) to make a clear statement to the world that "the US is back". A welcome relief from the past 7 years (and how many seconds?) of no leadership from the US. Continued...

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The 100 Day Action Plan to Save the Planet


On January 1st, 2007, the Presidential Climate Action Plan (PCAP), a project of the University of Colorado, Wirth Chair in Environmental and Community Development Policy, was launched to produce a 100 day action plan on climate change for the next President of the United States.

PCAP's final report, due out after the 2008 Presidential election, has been condensed into a new book: THE 100 DAY ACTION PLAN TO SAVE THE PLANET by PCAP Executive Director, William Becker.

From the forward:
The 44th President of the United States will take the oath of office on January 20, 2009. From that moment forward, he will have a relatively short honeymoon period during which he has the best chance of advancing his agenda. This book is an action plan for the new President to attack the problem of global climate change during his first 100 days in office.
Becker's book, written in engaging style, reworks the complex and scientifically detailed report into a readable format that helps to clarify the following priorities for the next administration:
1) Launching a "clean energy surge" and creating millions of high-quality jobs in green manufacturing, supply, technology, management, and support.

2) Providing incentives for green industries to create jobs in communities now dependent on coal and other fossil energy production.

2) Ending tens of billions of dollars in annual subsidies for fossil fuels and redirecting the money to develop and commercialize renewable energy technologies.

3) Requiring all federal facilities and fleets to reduce their carbon emissions.

4) Rewarding innovation and early adoption of renewable energy in the private sector.

5) Working constructively with other nations for global solutions to the climate crisis.
Becker emphasizes the need for the next president to seize bipartisan momentum and act to mitigate climate change within the first 100 days in office and is designed to provide a road map for ongoing changes needed in the months and years to come.

"When it comes to climate change and building a new economy," Becker relayed to me in a phone conversation last week, "there's no right, there's no left, there's only backward and forward and we need to go forward." Continued...


Changing Climate in China?


China just released a “white paper” on its “policies and actions on climate change” which outlines the challenges of climate change to China (e.g., both the impacts and the challenge posed by its reliance on coal), its strategies to address emissions, and the outline of its position for the negotiations to reach a post-2012 international global warming agreement in Copenhagen.

What actions developing countries undertake to address global warming pollution will be one of the central elements of the agreement to be reached in Copenhagen. And in the eyes of many policymakers this is largely (although not completely) a question of what is China going to do. So anytime that China says something on climate change all ears perk up. This used to be a rare occurrence, but China has increasingly made public statements on climate change (e.g., the release of their first National Climate Change Programme last year and President Hu Jintao’s speech to the nation’s top party leaders as my colleague David Doniger discussed).

So when Minister Xie Zhenhua of the National Development Reform Commission (the Ministry that directs climate change policy) spoke at a press conference and released a “white paper” on climate change, I was paying attention (as were others).

So, what did they say? In essence they laid out their three part vision for the international agreement (although this wasn’t explicitly how it was framed):

The first part of this vision is that:
"Developed countries should be responsible for their accumulative emissions and current high per-capita emissions, and take the lead in reducing emissions..." (as reported by the Associated Press).
…and their second element is that developed countries need to take the lead in:
"providing financial support and transferring technologies to developing countries."
Their final piece was a point they’ve made before but never in official government statements. Specifically that:
"The developing countries, while developing their economies and fighting poverty, should actively… reduce their emissions to the lowest degree..."