Posts Tagged ‘Greensburg’

Creating a Climate for Change in 2010

January 2, 2010

The year 2009 ended on an uncertain note regarding climate change. The conclusion of the recent climate summit in Copenhagen produced an accord that fell well below the expectations that the year began with, although it saved the event from complete failure and set the stage for possible advances in the near future. As 2010 dawns the way forward for achieving concrete solutions is unclear. What is needed is a shift in the myopic focus on mitigating climate change to developing a comprehensive U.S. energy and climate strategy that entails environmental sustainability and energy resilience.

The chaos that seemed to reign during much of the proceedings in Denmark has convinced many observers such as Thomas Friedman that the current approach is not working. The Copenhagen Accord reached between countries including the U.S., China, India, and Brazil, although derided by many because it is non-binding, saved the summit from a collapse on the scale of the Seattle world trade talks in 1999. This achievement cannot be underrated, seeing as the WTO and the movement towards multilateral trade have yet to fully recover from the Seattle debacle. Shortly after the agreement was reached, President Obama spoke of the vital role of technological innovation in moving forward.

Maybe some of those combating climate change will finally have the revelation that the largest emitters of carbon are the fastest growing economies, who are all vying for global economic supremacy. Reframing the movement as creating new global markets for cleaner technologies will get these economies to compete against each other to create and adopt carbon-reducing innovations. Recasting the issue will be essential to building public support for changing energy habits, which is really what it all comes down to.   

It is no small irony that the Copenhagen climate conference ended as Washington, DC braced for a major snow storm. Many in the region paid little attention to the details of the accord as they dug out of over a foot of snow. This is the time of year when many Americans sarcastically ask “What happened to global warming?” while struggling though freezing temperatures. In order to achieve a real breakthrough, advocates must recognize the conditions that the average person/family faces and how that will color their views on the issue. This is most evident when it comes to the economy in the wake of the economic collapse that has affected everyone. For the foreseeable future, when the average American hears of “green” they will be thinking of money.

Most Americans have difficulty fathoming how a two degree increase in global temperatures will spell calamity or the urgency of reducing the parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from 385 ppm to 350 ppm. Instead of relying so much on complex and abstract scientific calculations and disaster scenarios that strike many as melodramatic, climate activists should speak to the concepts that Americans value and understand the most, such as innovation, entrepreneurship, competition, and resilience.

With the fate of cap and trade legislation in Washington appearing bleak at this point, looking beyond the beltway will provide clues as to how to get Americans behind energy reforms. Emerging “smart grids” in Boulder, Colorado and Austin, Texas underscore how innovative technologies will vastly improve energy efficiency and facilitate greater use of renewable energy while empowering consumers and actively engaging them. The people of Greensburg, Kansas have demonstrated their resilience by not only rebuilding their town after it was devastated by a tornado in 2007, but pledging to make it a “green” town by building structures to LEED standards and using wind power. Fostering innovation and entrepreneurship to create a modern, cleaner, and more resilient energy regime that enhances U.S. security and economic competitiveness are ideas that Americans instinctively are attracted to.

Perhaps the difficulties at Copenhagen will convince more advocates that a new approach is needed.