Carlos Rymer

Sustainability, Life, and More…

Archive for the tag “Climate Change”

Just Lead on Climate Change and They Will Follow

It is 2012, and international negotiations on climate change are still at an impasse largely because the world’s two largest economies and emitters (the United States and China) are demanding greater commitment from each other. Domestically, the United States is deeply gridlocked in politics over other issues to the point where climate change is no longer a priority to Congress. Meanwhile, China is moving ahead in securing dominance in the clean energy market. Previously, I argued that if the 2012 U.S. elections aren’t positive in terms of getting enough elected officials who understand the gravity of the issue, we may as well just turn to handing over the clean energy market entirely to the fossil fuel industry in its current form through specific economic incentives. Now, I want to answer the question of whether that’s truly necessary. Does the fate of the climate truly rest on the United States alone?

While it is largely believed that without the U.S. the international community cannot truly address climate change, current economic conditions point to the fact that this may not be entirely true. Yes, the U.S. is still the world’s second largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions, and yes China is reluctant to commit to serious greenhouse gas emission reductions without a fair commitment from the U.S. Yet everything points to the fact that regardless of climate change as an issue, clean energy, energy efficiency, sustainable transportation, and everything else that can help address climate change are engines of economic growth that cannot and are not being ignored. This is why President Barack Obama so often claims that the nation “that leads on clean energy” will “win the future.” It’s no longer about whether this needs to be done; it’s becoming an issue of who is doing it the best and the fastest.

The U.S., while still uncommitted to tough greenhouse gas reductions, is leading in investments in clean energy just as other nations like Germany and China are gearing up to claim market share. Just as recently as 2010, China led the world in clean energy investments. The U.S., thanks to the Obama administration, has also seen investments rise to the point where it surpassed China in 2011. Pressure is clearly building to prevent clean energy jobs from being created elsewhere. It’s arguable that if other nations keep pushing, the U.S. would have no choice other than to follow through on making hard commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions. It is this fact that gives fuel to the argument that the U.S. isn’t necessarily the decision-maker on climate change.

China, along with other countries, are arguably poised to lead the clean energy market. The challenge would be to not just lead in clean energy, but to make hard commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to send a signal to their markets and the world that they are ready to claim a large share of a market that promises jobs and energy security. If China and other countries suddenly became manufacturing centers that supplied the their own markets and the rest of the world for a host of technologies ranging from solar, wind, geothermal, and even carbon capture, political pressure would lead the U.S. to do what it isn’t doing yet to ensure it doesn’t slip through the cracks in this 21st century opportunity to “win the future.”

It is up to China and other countries to leave behind the argument that they need a strong commitment from the U.S. to begin making hard commitments. If the U.S. decides to stay on technologies of the 20th century, that only helps them in winning the future and eventually making the U.S. a market for instead of a supplier of new technologies. There is in fact a way forward without U.S. gridlock, and it is up for grabs. Some countries are already aware, but they need to move faster and more aggressively if they want to truly claim the front seat of this wave of innovation and growth.

“Unworkable” Climate Treaty Not An Option

With all the news about President Obama’s deal to reduce this year’s federal budget by $38 billion and his proposal to reduce total deficits by $4 trillion over the next 12 years, it is easy to bypass the Administration’s promise to finally act boldly on climate change and help the U.S. unleash a wave of innovation in clean energy, smarter transportation, and energy efficiency. The budget deal alone signals that the U.S. will reduce its investments in clean energy, high-speed rail, and energy efficiency at a time when countries like China and Germany are moving ahead at full speed to capture a market that will be worth trillions of dollars in the next several years.

Today, the Obama Administration’s commitment became even clearer when Todd Stern, the Administration’s climate envoy to the United Nations climate negotiations, declared that a climate treaty was “unworkable.” In Stern’s own words, “it’s [not] necessary that there be [an] internationally binding emission caps as long as you’ve got national laws and regulations. What I am saying is it’s not doable.” In effect, Stern is stating the Obama Administration’s position is that to move forward on climate change, countries will have to simply do whatever they can on their own. This clearly shows the level of urgency the Obama administration has placed on climate change, basically declaring that solving climate change is a luxury rather than a real global emergency similar to nuclear proliferation.

If it were true that we could solve climate change and avoid the trillions in costs it will bring by the end of the century by simply allowing countries to draw up their own plans (by the way, this is not very different from what the Bush administration proposed in their “voluntary scheme”), then it would also be true that we did not need the New START or any other non-proliferation treaties because countries could draw up their own plans voluntarily and address the issue the best way they could (regardless of how long it would take them or how much they could do).

This approach is well-known to be a recipe for failure, and if as a society we believe that risking failure to act boldly on climate change is an acceptable result, then we are accepting endangering future generations’ livelihoods and creating conditions that will be catastrophically damaging to the global environment and economy. I agree that circumstance is causing the Obama administration to put a lot of important issues aside, but how can anybody who understands climate change agree that a President who has so frequently called for bold action now sends his climate envoy to negotiations saying that a treaty is not and will not be possible?

If Obama was really committed, he would come out and set the record straight to let the world know that a treaty is not only still possible, but that it is in fact a requirement to ensuring that we will not give future generations a planet that is so damaged that it can no longer support productive economies. What we saw today from Todd Stern is just another sign that Obama is now less willing to stand strongly for anything, much less employ his political capital to get things done. I hope the President knows what he’s doing and won’t end up being ashamed of not acting when he could years down the road.

Are We Already Practically Cooked?

These days, it feels as if the climate debate has entirely fallen off the agenda (even Obama is not allowed to say “climate” anymore). So much has the debate shifted that it feels like we’re already practically cooked, waiting for the climate to warm up to levels that will simply reorganize Earth in a way that won’t be very comforting for anybody. We have gone from the days of Texas mega wind farm Ads on TV and the constant mention of climate and energy in the presidential campaign to a time where climate change is no longer in the agenda of U.S. politics. Obviously, this has thrown people off even as a global movement to address climate change has grown to record levels.

At the same time, we have experienced early warnings of the catastrophic effects severe climate change will bring to society. From floods of biblical proportions in Pakistan, Brazil, and Australia to massive snowstorms in the U.S. and Europe to record low winter sea ice extent in January, we are coming to grips with the reality of climate change. It is becoming all too clear that climate change is already affecting us directly in many ways, from rising food prices causing social instability to massive property losses due to increasingly frequent extreme weather events.

Given these realities, can we say that we are practically cooked? An optimist will rightly say we have to keep hoping, while a pessimist would say there’s nothing we can do. Yet the reality is very different from both of these views. While it may look hopeless, the fact is that a revolution is cooking. The world is realizing that clean energy technologies are not just good because they help fight climate change, but also because they provide real market stability, jobs, and hard currency. In spite of real economic problems, both advanced and emerging nations are joining a race that is set to intensify this decade. And if you’ve heard the trade debate lately, it has a lot to do with just that.

Nations are betting that whoever is the best at developing high-end clean energy products will win precious advantage this decade. That is why emerging nations like China are throwing a lot of money at clean energy and why the Obama administration opened an investigation into the matter, why Secretary Steven Chu wants the cost of solar energy to drop 75% by the end of the decade and Vice President Biden announced over $50 billion for new and improved high-speed rail lines, and why investments by major corporate players are now focusing a lot more on innovations that will change how we move around and use energy. From surging wind and solar manufacturing in China to the big bets automakers are making on EVs and plug-in hybrids, the race is clearly on.

My personal bet is that this race is set to intensify in dramatic ways, with investments surging over the next few years and game-changing innovations driving a shift away from fossil fuels and energy waste. While the question of whether this will be enough to slow and reverse climate change remains, it is clear that we aren’t practically cooked yet. In addition to this race, we will need to find ways to actually remove carbon from the atmosphere or adapt to a significantly warmer world, and my hope is that the fruits of this global race will create enough capacity for us to figure out how to do that in a way that is beneficial and does not change global ecological stability. In five years, we will know whether in fact we won’t be cooked by a fast warming planet in the future. Stay tuned for those news.

Revista Refugios: El Green Team

Comparto una pieza en la revista Refugios en Republica Dominicana sobre la situacion critica en la cual se encuentra el medio ambiente (y por ende la sociedad) y los esfuerzos que se llevan a cabo por la sociedad civil en busqueda de un mejor futuro.

Can Obama Succeed On Clean Energy?

Today, Senators John Kerry and Joe Lieberman, joined by a strong coalition of business groups and NGOs, unveiled “comprehensive” climate change and clean energy legislation and emphasized their confidence in getting it passed during the current Congress. Immediately afterwards, President Obama applauded the Senators for introducing legislation that would spur clean energy innovation and ensure the U.S. meets its climate change pledge to the international community under the Copenhagen Accord. Regardless of how anybody may feel about this (i.e. too late, too weak), it is a major milestone. We’ve marked off the checklist for everything that needs to be done to pass a climate bill, except getting the Senate to pass one. Now, it is up to President Obama to fight hard to get climate change and clean energy legislation passed. Can he do it?

Ever since he signed health care legislation over a month ago, President Obama has been wavering among a host of issues ranging from climate change legislation to wall street reform to nuclear proliferation. Unfortunately, he hasn’t decided to choose or two of these priorities and go with them as aggressively as he did with health care reform. What’s worse, he’s failing to live up to one of his core principles he repeatedly mentioned throughout his campaign for health care reform, and that is that his choice to act wouldn’t be influenced by “politics or the polls,” but instead by what “is the right thing to do.” With the upcoming Congressional elections, it seems that President Obama is being influenced more by the polls than “the right thing to do” as he has chosen not to fight aggressively for anything. A great example is his rather short period of campaigning for wall street reform, which lasted a couple of weeks to be left to Congress again.

If President Obama wants to succeed on climate change and clean energy legislation, he will have to push it as hard as he pushed health care reform. So far, President Obama hasn’t dedicated any town hall meetings or domestic visits to climate change and clean energy legislation. He’s only spoken about it during a few times during his weekly addresses and when he announced lifting the ban on offshore drilling in many areas. A quick search through the White House website for health care yields 616 entries as of today, while for energy and the environment there are 64 (that’s roughly 10%). Clearly, if President Obama wants to succeed on climate change and clean energy legislation, he’ll have to campaign more aggressively for it to tip the political balance towards getting the necessary votes in the Senate to pass the strongest bill possible.

Furthermore, he will have to come up with the kind of language that will resonate with people across the country. When he campaigned for health care reform, he spoke of insurance industry abuses, unreasonable premium hikes, and a ballooning federal deficit, all of which were key messages that resonated with people across the country. However, when President Obama speaks of climate change and clean energy, he talks about innovation, leadership, and job creation, failing to emphasize the loss of jobs to other countries, the impacts of floods, droughts, and rising temperatures that are not uncommon across the country, and the damage that fossil fuels incur on the environment, health, and the pockets of U.S. citizens. It is  important to emphasize how climate change and clean energy legislation will spur new industries and create new jobs, but it is also important to emphasize how action will benefit citizens directly, just as he did with health care.

This is perhaps the best time to get it right. The BP oil spill and the coal mine disasters have exemplified our need to eliminate our dependence on fossil fuels altogether, while our continued loss of clean energy manufacturing jobs to other countries will continue to make it harder to fight the high unemployment rate. We all witnessed how President Obama mustered public support to pressure Congress to act on health care. There is no doubt it can happen again for climate change and clean energy legislation, but it will require President Obama to “do the right thing,” step up to the plate, and campaign aggressively for legislation before campaigning for the Congressional elections erases all chances to get anything done this year. This one is just as up to the Senate as it is to President Obama.

October 24th: A Model for the Buildup of People Power

350 (2)Last Saturday (October 24, 2009) was the International Day of Climate Action. Over a year in the making, it was without any doubt “the largest political action in human history,” in the words of 350.org’s founder, Bill McKibben. Over 5,200 actions in 181 countries showed world leaders that people everywhere have made a bold commitment to accept serious action that will mobilize society to eliminate its greenhouse gas emissions and help the planet’s biophysical systems absorb the most carbon dioxide possible. This massive demonstration of the number 350 reached every corner of the planet, placing that same number all over the press, the Internet, and especially in the movement’s own website: 350.org.

This day will definitely have a huge impact on the climate change negotiations that will take place next December in Copenhagen. It will either accelerate the seemingly slow pace of the negotiating process, make the commitments by controversial countries stronger, or both. But more than anything, this day of action represents something bigger for society. It represents the power of people to take an idea, spread it across society in a short period of time, and make of it something that can’t be ignored by world leaders. It shows that visionary, forward-looking movements can be sort of contagious in the sense that they can spread like fire and inspire millions of people very quickly. And that’s exactly what 350.org did.

A year ago, in the face of total hopelessness because of the global economic recession, who would have thought that a year later the world would come together as one people to call for bold action on climate change in line with the latest science? With the world economy still hurting for billions of people, 350 was able to spread quickly enough to reach a tipping point where it had enough of a trendy feeling to just kick into fast gear and literally get into the minds of millions of people.

I think there were a few things that made this international effort very successful. First of all, it had an amazing team of young people dedicated to fighting climate change and taking risks to spread this number to every region of the world. This is the team that got the target of “80% by 2050” into the current climate change bills passing through Congress. Back in 2007 and then in 2008, this impressive team of young people (largely students/alumni from Middlebury College led by renowned author Bill McKibben) organized Step It Up and Step It Up 2, which mobilized thousands of events across the U.S. to change public opinion and make “80% by 2050” mainstream. So the first ingredient really was the amazing people behind the idea of putting 350 everywhere on the world’s map.

Second, it was literally the name of the campaign. Think about it? 350. It’s simple, very easy to get no matter where in the world you are, and therefore has a big potential to spread like wildfire. Scientifically, it’s also a very clear target that separates future catastrophe from future hope. People quickly understand that above 350ppm, sea level could rise uncontrollably, hurricanes could devastate the tropics, and infectious diseases could spread rapidly. Below it, we’re pretty much safe from all the above and more. In 2007, the IPCC couldn’t do what 350.org did, even though they had the most authoritative piece of scientific proof at the time. It just wasn’t as catchy and virulent as the number 350 itself is.

Lastly, the world was already reaching a tipping point on this issue. Years and years of debate and constant news without any action to match what was being learned forced people to say “enough.” Support for bold climate change action was so widespread that people really were ready to tell their leaders they needed to act boldly. And 350.org was exactly that opportunity at the right time. People’s conscious joined 350.org’s team and virulent message to tell world leaders that Copenhagen better be the place where they got serious about climate change. I have no doubt that’s exactly what’s going to happen after this inspiring day. Looking at the amazing pictures floating across the web, especially on 350.org, it’s hard to not feel very hopeful about where the world will go on this issue. This won’t be done so much more because of the science as because of the power of people to influence change.

The Obama Administration Needs To Hear and Then Say 350!

CCC_CoverLToday, I visited the White House’s blog to check up on what the administration is doing. Perhaps the most interesting entry for the day was one by John P. Holdren, the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy for the Obama Administration, better known as the “science czar.”

Mr. Holdren’s entry was on the “latest” science and what it tells us we should do to avert climate catastrophe – i.e. 1-meter-plus sea-level rise, off-the-records tropical storms and weather events, extreme drought, loss of biodiversity, and all the impacts these will have on human society (leading to violence, instability, and economic depression) – and ensure a prosperous future for our generation and those to come.

According to Mr. Holdren, the latest science says that we need to keep the global average temperature from increasing 2 degrees Celsius in order to prevent carbon sinks from becoming carbon sources, which would eventually heat up the planet up to 10 degrees Celsius. Now, in order to keep temperature below that threshold, Mr. Holdren uses the IPCC‘s 2007 assessment to indicate that the world’s greenhouse gas emissions must peak by 2020 and then shrink 50% of current levels by 2050.

Now, it must be acknowledged that this position is a breakthrough. A few years ago, the United States would not even consider something like this, and today we are affirming that we must go down that path. In addition, in the first several months of the Obama administration, the United States is engaging with China, the European Union, Latin America, and other players to build technological partnerships that will lead to breakthroughs and technology transfers. This is all in addition to the biggest investment in U.S. history in clean energy and energy efficiency, as Mr. Holdren rightly points out.

However, the position that global emissions must shrink 50% below current levels by 2050 is not made with the latest science. Instead, it is made using outdated science, as the IPCC uses data up to 2005 only. Since then, science has made many breakthroughs, and much of the new findings about climate change has been released in a report by the United Nations Environment Programme. The 2009 Climate Change Science Compendium says that under the path outlined by Mr. Holdren, the global average temperature will rise by more than 3 degrees Celsius this century, which would effectively do nothing to stave off climate catastrophe.

Fortunately, there are those out there who get where we need to go. We can no longer afford to follow the IPPC’s Fourth Assessment Report. We must follow the most recent, cutting-edge science that tells us that atmospheric carbon dioxide must remain below 350 parts per million to avoid rapid climate change. An international movement is brewing up and calling exactly for that goal, but it needs to reach the Obama administration very soon.

I envision people, especially young people, going to events organized by the Obama administration (whether it be for Obama, Bide, Clinton, or anybody else) and asking why the administration refuses to look at the most recent science rather than the science up to 2005. I envision 350 making it to Obama events in one way or another and forcing him to no longer ignore the fact that the most recent science calls for even more aggressive action, and that we have to go to Copenhagen knowing this and ready to negotiate how we will put in place a treaty that will get us to 350ppm of carbon dioxide this century. Fortunately, that’s what the International Day on Climate Action will hope to do…

Global Warming To Eliminate Tourism in the Caribbean

Hispaniola-con-6m-subida-del-marOriginally published in It’s Getting Hot In Here.

Over the years, many island nations have fought hard to be heard in the international arena about the effects that global warming is already having on them. Some islands have already been lost in the Pacific, and the forecast is that many more will go in the coming decades, especially if nothing is done to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions globally. Now, in the Caribbean, the picture is looking bleak as well. Today, the top newspaper in the Dominican Republic reported that global warming will eliminate tourism by 2050 under business-as-usual.

The Caribbean islands, for the exception of Cuba and Haiti, are largely dependent on tourism. Coastal development for the purpose of tourism is growing in the region at a high rate despite a recent regional decline in tourism. In the Caribbean, tourism accounts for 15% of the gross domestic product, with higher rates in many islands, and over 2.4 million jobs (about 16%). It has also pushed populations towards the coasts. For example, in the Dominican Republic, over 50% of the population lives near coasts where a 6-m sea-level rise would plunge them into the sea.

Recently, the Dominican government received a report detailing that, under their estimates, sea-level will rise by 6 meters under business-as-usual by 2050, eliminating the tourism industry and sending the country into complete chaos. The same would happen around the Caribbean. The fast development the region is seeing may be completely obliterated by global warming, and the same case goes for much of the rest of the developing world. The outcome would be to put billions of people in situations of poverty, hunger, and violence.

There are good reasons why people in the developing world should have high hopes. One reason is that, aside from what governments are doing (whether it be block negotiations or push for tough measures), industries are rushing towards making a profit out of solving the climate, and that’s a great thing. Companies like Ausra, eSolar, Solel, Nanosolar, Google, Honda, GE, Vestas, Aracruz, and many others are working hard to make renewable energy, transportation, and products cheap, feasible, and appropriate for smart, sustainable development. We are already seeing every major industry making significant investments in the solutions we need. Of course, this doesn’t mean we don’t need governments to step in. We especially need huge subsidies to shut down coal plants globally and replace fossil fuels with renewables.

Another good reason is that people are standing up everywhere. We are seeing people getting together to deploy solutions, taking action to shut down fossil fuel projects, and even elect leaders who will do something about global warming. The fact that climate criminals in Washington are hindering progress should be no reason for us to lose hope. Within a few years, we may be seeing ourselves agreeing that the entire world can be carbon neutral within two decades – and that’s where we need to get ourselves for the sake of uncertainty, urgency, and the billions of people who will have to suffer as a result of something they didn’t do. The good thing is, as I show in this recently released report, that we can do it while booming economies and improving the quality of life of everybody. Let’s do it!

Transportation in a Climate Neutral World

Originally published in It’s Getting Hot In Here.

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So we all want the world to be climate neutral, right? Yea, some people spit out numbers like 50% and 80%, but in the end we just want to get rid of fossil fuels for good. Those that claim that fossil fuels are going to be an important part of the energy mix for the world in the future are either ignorant, are not aware of what global warming is already doing, or are simply obsessed with fossil fuels. Sorry if it annoys anybody, but this is true. So, assuming we want a climate neutral world (with no net greenhouse gases coming from humans) or perhaps a climate positive world, we need to address sectors like electricity and transportation, among others. In the transportation sector, there has been a huge push for different fuels (biofuels) and for increased fuel mileage. Unfortunately, proponents of these seem to also be obsessed with fossil fuels and, particularly, cars.

Let’s start with biofuels. Ethanol and biodiesel are the big ones today. Ethanol from corn, sugar cane, and cellulose (which is far away into the future anyways), and biodiesel from vegetable oil from any source. Ethanol from corn is simply an extremely bad choice. First of all, there isn’t even consensus on whether corn ethanol is energy positive. The numbers range from slightly energy positive to slightly energy negative. The energy positive folks are simply supported more widely because people want to jump into the lucrative corn ethanol bandwagon. If positive, the small gains are extremely small and are largely outweighed by the fact that we’re depleting more farmland to do this. At the same time, it’s taking a huge amount of corn agriculture and shooting up prices like crazy, which may be good for the big food companies, but bad for people in Mexico and elsewhere. So those people investing in corn ethanol are investing in something that will come to an end. At best, they’ll cash out of the boom, but many will be left severely hurt.

Sugarcane ethanol is a different deal. It is clearly energy positive. It is helping create lots of jobs in Brazil (though it enslaves and removes others). Brazil is vying to become the Middle East for ethanol. The country requires that all gasoline is blended with 25% ethanol, and 40% of the gasoline-type fuel is ethanol. They are also exporting a lot of ethanol. The businesses doing this are making returns on their investments of up to 40%. And now, they’re looking into how to get into the U.S. market without the 50 cent tax that is currently imposed on ethanol imports. The Caribbean, of course, is a key player.

But what folks don’t say is that ethanol only meets about 8% of all fuels in Brazil. That’s right, only 8%. Diesel use is huge in Brazil. Regardless of this, it is a great thing to export for Brazil. It is also better than fossil-derived fuel. And the claim that it is taking away rainforest is not well founded, as sugarcane is only about 4-6% of total agricultural land in Brazil. Before blaming sugarcane, soybeans have to be blamed. But ethanol does not deal with the real problem, and that is mobility. We don’t just want to get rid of fossil fuels. We want to end the car obsession that is sprawling cities everywhere. Brazil, for example, continues to sprawl because of cars. Regardless of what fuel we use, the solution at hand should be ending high car use and making sustainable mobility mainstream. Sustainable city development is therefore a key to reducing emissions. Sprawled out cities increase emissions, regardless of whether people use an electric car or not.

Biodiesel is another one of those stories. First of all, biodiesel reduces emissions by about 70% in combustion. In the European Union, a lot of it comes from palm oil in Indonesia. The recent stories have all been the same. Palm oil is destroying Indonesian rainforests at the expense of “being green”. No biofuel that promotes car use can be called “green”, just like no car that is more efficient should be called “green”. Norway was right on making sure this was the case. Biodiesel is converting large tracts of rainforest into palm oil monocultures, sending countless species into threatened or extinct status. All of this to meet less than 5% of the EU’s fuel use. Biodiesel may be a good thing for some poor countries with depleted soils where drought-resistant plants like Jatropha can grow, but it’s only temporary because high car use cannot continue under a climate neutral world.

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Leaving biofuels behind, we enter the Prius world. Toyota came out with its very “successful” Prius, a hybrid vehicle that achieves very high fuel efficiency compared to other vehicles in the U.S. market. What nobody talks about is how much congestion or road costs increase when these new vehicles (any vehicle, really) is sold in the market. In New Jersey, where I’m from, congestion is an endless problem. We keep building more and more roads, and the cars just keep coming. Because of that, we are one of the most sprawled out states in the country, and soon enough, by 2015, we are set to have no more developable land. All because of cars!

If you go to any car-obsessed city, you’ll see something weird. Cars taking up more space in the city than people (outside of homes). It’s incredible; there are more parking spaces and parking lots than what you can imagine, and more are on the way. And all of this is because of cars. We are wasting so much city space that could be used for open space or business all because we can’t think of anything else to move ourselves other than cars. So, those of you who gave a “yes” vote to the piece in the Energy Bill that boosts CAFE standards are supporting congestion. If you support more fuel efficient cars as a solution (the hybridists and such), you are supporting unsustainable development, costly congestion, and high individualism. Bill McKibben and others have emphasized the fact that global warming will not be solved without a comeback of “community”. Cars don’t promote “community”. They promote sprawl and more sprawl and the waste of space and money. The U.S. bill for congestion is more than $200 billion a year! That’s enough money a year to change the world’s transportation system to one of new mobility!

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New mobility! That’s what we need. Instead of cars, why not spend on light rail and personal rapid transit (an overhead, modernized, on-demand rail system). Personal rapid transit (PRT), in particular, has the huge potential of eliminating congestion and making our cities way more livable. These systems are automated and on-demand, taking you from location to location within a large city at the fastest mobility rate possible. Theoretically, studies have confirmed that it saves time, money, and it is cheaper. The plus is that it uses electricity, not fuels! It can thus be electrified with solar, wind, whatever renewables we use to electrify the world. I say theoretically because PRTs have not been deployed, though a lot of R&D has gone on since the 80’s. The theoretical cost is about $10 million per mile, with prospects of much lower costs as economies of scale take effect. These systems need right of ways, and with a car- and road-obsessed society, right of ways are not easy to get. A couple of examples will come around in Europe, and there is work to hopefully get one for Ithaca, NY, Seattle, the Mall of America in MN, and other places. Nevertheless, PRT-type systems will need to be larger to accomodate people in a community setting and will need to deal with any of the real issues the theoretical models don’t take into account. In any case, on-demand mobility is promising.

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A climate neutral world can’t keep counting on cars. Cities without cars have so much more space for walking, biking, green space, more businesses, and a higher quality of life, not to mention the elimination of smog (one of the types of pollution recently blamed for 40% of all world deaths). People in the climate movement cannot keep talking about CAFE standards without talking as seriously and as much about light rail and PRTs. People need to start attacking cars and promoting the true, sustainable solutions to sprawl- and congestion-causing transportation. I don’t care if you’re from some lowly densely populated state and congestion is not a problem for you. It is a problem for the 50%+ people who live in cities. So don’t promote higher CAFE standards. Promote NEW MOBILITY!

Tipping Points Call for a Climate Neutral World

Originally published in It’s Getting Hot In Here.

Suppose you’re a business major attending a great business school. Your chances of being wealthy are pretty high. Ten years later, you decide to live near a poor neighborhood, but your standard of living is high (i.e. you have more than what you need and you produce lots of wastes). There are no services to pick up waste, so you decide to dump it in the area where the poor people live. They, on the other hand, don’t produce as much waste, and probably can’t do more than complain because you’ve got the big bucks and you can get them into trouble if you wanted to. You try to calm them by explaining that there’s no harm and that they should go on their daily lives as usual. But eventually, some scientists get together and show this waste is killing these people, and morally it is clear to the judge that you’ve gotta clean up your act. Not only do you have to take out their stuff, but you gotta figure out where your waste is going (or you gotta stop producing it) and you gotta compensate them for their loss. Or did you think you were playing some game on X-Box where you do whatever the hell you wanted at no cost?

Today, a report was released concluding that world agriculture will drop by 16% by the year 2080. By then, our population will probably have grown by 30-50%. Most of the drop will be in developing nations, many of which will be developed by then, unless global warming says otherwise. This will mean absolute chaos.

Another report mentioned that dirty energy was affecting the health of 2 billion people worldwide. This doesn’t include those people whose health is being affected by simply thinking about the fact that we’re still heavily based on fossil fuels! And just today, the price of oil hit $80/barrel. Italy also came out with a report saying that they were warming faster than anywhere else, and that climate change would take off 30-50 of their GDP with business-as-usual. Then came a security report saying that global warming will be equivalent to a global nuclear war!

So, on one hand we’ve got rich nations that have dumped 75% of all greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, on another we’ve got billions of people being victims of waste the developed nations dumped on them, and on some other magical hand we have tons of evidence saying we’re guaranteed a flight to hell if we don’t do something serious.

We are at a tipping point. It is time to get rid of barriers to a complete elimination of fossil fuels. And it is time to get serious about this. There is one thing we really need, and that is to show this nation and the rest of the developed world that climate neutrality needs to be reached within 20 years and that making the world climate neutral will involve EQUITY. Equity because we’re that rich guy dumping the trash on those poor guys. If we are to achieve something that will extend our lives on this planet, it is the complete control of what happens at the post-Kyoto treaty. This international agreement needs to make sure this happens:

1) Binding commitment to a climate neutral world within 20 years, with no make-it-easy-for-the-rich junk like CDM, JI, or cap-and-trade on certain industries. The commitment needs a complete transformation of the electrical grid, the transportation system, etc.

2) The pumping of at least 3/4 of all the money developing nations will need to shut down their power plants, pay those plant owners and transform their transport system equitably, and get fully powered by renewables.

3) Pay for developing nations at least 75% of the expenses that will go into adapting to the crazy climate they’ll continue to have.

If the language isn’t the same everywhere, if the urgency about how serious this stuff is getting isn’t there, if people aren’t thinking beyond “leadership” and understanding equity, and if a movement isn’t calling for a climate neutral world, then we can say that the only tipping point we’ll see will be the one that will plunge us into climate hell.


If you still think this is radical, not feasible, not strategic, a different issue, situation, scale, or whatever else, put yourself in the position of the poor people who could do nothing or knew nothing about the waste the rich guy was dumping on them. If you’re a human, what you want is a complete elimination of what’s happening and compensation for what you lost, not just removal of a bit of trash. Reality is not what the politicians or the business people are telling us they can do; reality is what needs to happen if the world where the poor people and the rich guy live is truly just.

If it isn’t, then recognize that the Earth will roast us like chicken within our lifetime. If it isn’t, then why do we allow it? If it isn’t, then why don’t we make it? The only tipping point that will save us is a global commitment to climate neutrality and climate equality! The path: frame the message!

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