The U.S. has more to do, but it’s already done more than you might think
September 25, 2014 12:00 AM
By Dan Becker and James Gerstenzang
President Barack Obama said at the United Nations Tuesday that the United States has begun to tackle global warming, can take more action and, with China, has a special responsibility to do so. Right, right and right.
If you thought the United States had little to show in the fight against global warming, think again. The measures being undertaken by federal, state and local governments may surprise you — and will carry us several real steps forward as we pursue our responsibility to cut carbon dioxide emissions.
To make a real difference, they must be adopted across the nation.
There’s money — and energy — to be saved.
The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy projects that we can net $2.6 trillion in savings by 2040 by fully implementing current and pending federal rules limiting emissions from cars and power plants and encouraging energy efficiency in appliances and in homes. The rules would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 34 billion metric tons. That’s like turning off everything that uses fossil fuels — power plants, cars, trucks, airplanes, to name just the biggest — for more than six of the next 26 years.
We’ll set a crucial example for the rest of the world, demonstrating a U.S. commitment as diplomats move from speeches at the United Nations to negotiations to reach a meaningful climate change treaty by the end of 2015.
We’ll set that example, save money and save energy — in individual homes, giant corporations, college campuses and across government — with everything from LED light bulbs to more-efficient automobiles, using carbon-cutting technology that is available today.
By enacting stringent auto-mileage and emissions standards, the United States already is on track to keep 6 billion tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and produce a new-car fleet that averages 54.5 miles per gallon in 2025. It is the biggest single step any nation has taken against global warming — if automakers comply.
The president has instructed aides to draft plans cutting coal use in power plants. The rules must be more stringent than those under consideration, though, making cuts of similar strength to the car rules.
State and local governments and citizens should take advantage of the money-saving, energy-saving technology in the newest cars, furnaces and air conditioners — all fruits of federal efficiency standards. Governments should replace most of the gas guzzlers in their fleets with hybrid and electric cars. In buildings, they should modernize lighting, heating and cooling units with more efficient systems, and install better insulation and solar panels.
Renewable energy — solar panels on warehouse roofs and wind turbines on farms, for example — is cost-effective. Industry must take advantage of it and avoid tar-sands oil and other highly polluting, carbon-intensive fuels.
Public officials and the private sector should take advantage of smart financing provisions that make it possible to pay for long-term improvements to many buildings with the money the improvements save. Naugatuck, Connecticut, at no cost to the local treasury, installed new school boilers, air conditioning controls and efficient lighting, among other improvements, in a $12 million upgrade. The money that instead would have paid the old higher energy bills paid for the work.
Universities and pension funds should shed investments in fossil fuel to send a message and create financial incentives for energy companies to switch to renewable fuels.
Three leading lights of finance — former New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, former Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. and Tom Steyer, a retired hedge fund founder — document in their report, “Risky Business,” that fighting global warming makes sense, too, on a large economic scale.
They note the “significant and diverse economic risks” that climate change poses to the United States and say, “Damage from storms, flooding and heat waves are already costing local economies billions of dollars.”
The United States poisoned the atmosphere more than any other country and still pollutes more than any nation but China. With our technology and resources, we must live up to our responsibility and lead the world in tackling global warming. Doing so, we will save something far more valuable than the money we now waste on energy.
Dan Becker directs the Safe Climate Campaign. James Gerstenzang, the campaign’s editorial director, formerly covered the environment and the White House for the Los Angeles Times.
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