I'm getting ready to re-enter the fray. I recently agreed to take on a job in the City of Philadelphia that I can't provide details on, but it's not soon enough apparently. Leaders in Washington and state governments all over the country are doing their best to turn solving the climate change problem into another example of oafish, mercenary, short-sighted, buffoonery. Check out the rather direct posting at the Center for American Progress today, "Facing Reality."
I'm fighting mad. You should be too. Personally, I've been on the sidelines way too long and I'm itching to get back in the game. Yesterday, I listened to the news that President Obama is authorizing $54 billion in loan guarantees for the nuclear power industry. Now, I'm not going to argue against nuclear power per se, but what I'm still waiting for is a strategic plan, a truly intelligent approach, to tackling global warming once and for all. And we're not seeing it. The approach that's being taken all throughout the country is scatter shot and smorgasbord and shows a remarkable lack of wisdom on both sides of the aisle.
The logic for this rather unorganized set of solutions is that we have to let The Market decide what technologies are going to work. However, the reason we have a planet with rising average temperatures and changing climatic conditions is that we've let The Market decide. It's failed us here. Everyone knows that. The idea of cap and trade (definitely pay attention to this link and what happens with cap and trade this week; things are getting very weird) is a compromise. Everyone knows this too. The only way the market can solve this problem (technology choices that move away from fossil fuels), is with a so-called carbon tax -- or set of fees that force the market to quantify the environmental cost of burning fossil fuels and emitting other greenhouse gases into our atmosphere. There's no way around this. If we don't get a carbon tax, we won't see climate change go away...that is, unless we develop a plan that strategically addresses all the big issues.
I'm not going to do that here. And it's so frustrating trying to argue for a carbon tax, since there are no testicles to be found in state and federal government buildings anymore.
What I am going to say is that we need to start off with two very simple investment strategies as a nation. One would be directed at energy efficiency and conservation. The other at re-tooling our industrial system to use recycled material and to capture all urban organic waste (yard debris, food scraps, wood, etc.) for conversion to soil and compost. Both of these strategies can take us a long way towards slowing greenhouse gas emissions. Both can save businesses and homeowners money in the long-term (although trash companies and utilities will suffer). And both are profound economic development opportunities that create real, lasting jobs.
Instead we get massive investments in high capital, low labor technologies like nuclear plants, biomass energy systems, and landfill gas recovery. These investments may be necessary, but they aren't going to have a real impact for years -- probably decades. We need solutions that work now. Recycling and energy efficiency measures are proven and can start working immediately -- regardless of the lunacy in the District of Columbia and out in state capitals.