Thursday, May 14, 2009

Still Inconvenient?

Posted by Dave Rochlin at

In what is being considered a major reversal of years of government policy, the EPA recently acknowledged the need to regulate greenhouse gas emissions to combat global warming.

The EPA concluded that the continued growth in greenhouse gas emissions "endangers the public health and welfare of current and future generations." Two years ago, the Supreme Court ruled the EPA had the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. And now the EPA has the impetus.

The Clean Air Act was originally enacted in 1970 as part of a host of changes acknowledging that unregulated business practices were creating serious health and environmental issues. In the case of air pollution, leaded gas was the most pressing problem, and was continuing to grow despite knowledge of the harm caused by lead. Over time, the law was modified to take on other issues, such as CFC-induced ozone depletion, another environmental disaster which started as a simple business decision. So limiting the six primary greenhouse gasses is a no brainer right?

Maybe not. Our world runs on activities which produce GHGs – from growing food, to producing electricity, to filling up landfills. We have resisted efforts to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases for years, out of concern for the economy. Substitutes are proving to be a long time coming, which has us stuck trying to somehow both acknowledge and ignore the inconvenient truth that we are making permanent and unhealthy changes to our planet.

The latest example is the recent decision to uphold that the Endangered Species Act and GHG emissions should not be linked. The endangered species in question is polar bears, and the evidence is pretty unequivocal that their habitat is in decline thanks to global warming. Even Disney – in their latest movie Earth – makes the obvious connection. Refusal to act on GHG emissions to save Polar Bears has nothing to do with questions about cause and effect, and everything to do with the costs of moving to a relatively carbon free world. It would simply be too much of a shock to the system to act at the speed and level that the act would require. This is a devastating probable death sentence for a magnificent animal, and highlights the tension between pragmatism and speed in the fight against climate change.

While congress, industry, academia, and consumers debate how much change is needed how fast, we at ClimatePath continue to advocate for both speed AND pragmatism. We firmly believe that this notion of a “trade off “ is false. Want to cut your emissions in half? You can reduce your energy consumption by 25% simply by following the many conservation actions we have listed on our site. And by the way, this will probably save you $500-$1,000/year. If you take just 10% of that savings and put it against offset projects – such as the reforestation, energy efficiency, and alternative energy projects we feature – your carbon footprint will be half of what it was. Want to have a bigger impact? Convince 10 other people to do the same. We don’t have to wait while our institutions debate at what cost polar bears are worth saving.