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80 by 2050 … An inadequate minimum … And the wrong thing to discuss

June 2nd, 2010 · No Comments

Looking 40 years out is difficult for most of us and developing effective policy taking 40 years in the future seriously is difficult for most political institutions.  Manana … demain … tomorrow … later … putting off action is natural for us procrastinators. (Note: roughly 20 percent of Americans self-identify as “chronic procrastinators and it seems that 95+% of Americans regularly procrastinate.)

Procrastinators tend to live for today rather than for tomorrow. It’s short-term gain for long-term pain.”

When it comes to climate mitigation, American culture is in that perfect procrastination storm.

We live in a political culture which, increasingly, speaks of “consumers” rather than ‘citizens’ or ‘voters’ or ‘constituents’ or ‘people’.

We live in a news zone where the health of the economy is defined by the stock ticker (and, well, long term, the quarterly profit report) rather than citizens’ health and satisfaction, long-term prospects, ability to provide meaningful employment for today’s and tomorrow’s citizens (oops … ‘consumers).

We live … in a society that has spent much of the past 30 years partying with ‘short-term gain’ while thrusting problems aside, after all, there is always manana

Again, look at that definition:

Procrastinators tend to live for today rather than for tomorrow. It’s short-term gain for long-term pain.”

At least 20 percent of my fellow citizens (oops, “consumers”) are chronic procrastinators and 95+% of us (U.S.) regularly take actions that fit the bill.

The way that climate mitigation is discussed goes directly against that ‘consumer’ and ‘stock ticker’ culture.

The generalized discussion of working to deal with our climate challenge reverses that equation, stating that it is ‘short-term pain for long-term gain’.  And, there are of course lots of qualifiers that get added to this equation.  Those deceptively fighting against climate action will (falsely) claim that it is massive short-term pain while asserting (again, falsely) that there will be no long-term gain. And, those supporting climate mitigation efforts weaken the equation by overstating the costs and understating the likely gains — including not discussing the massively important value of avoided costs.

The reality is quite different: well designed and well-executed climate mitigation strategies offer quite serious potential to satisfy both the procrastinator and the planner among us (and within us all) by delivering short-term and long-term gain, while helping to avoid (or, sigh, at least reduce) mid-term and (more so) long-term pain.

Let’s review, for a moment, what are the core principles for sensible climate mitigation. At their core, just six words:

  • Scientifically Sound
  • Polluters Pay
  • Social Equity

Climate mitigation efforts should not worsen the national (and global) social inequity challenges. Without question (and without exception) polluters should be paying for dumping their pollution into the air that our children breath and the water that they drink.  And, the climate mitigation programs should be in constant dialogue with the scientific community — taking steps cognizant of where the best judgments lie about what is necessary to avoid catastrophic climate chaos.

As to the last, one of the shorthands for the U.S.  target has been — for a long time — 80 percent by 2050. This refers to cutting U.S. emissions 80% from 1990 emissions levels by 2050 as part of a global strategy to keep total atmospheric CO2 concentrations below 450 parts per million (ppm). This target, described too often by skeptics and action procrastinators as some form of incredibly naive and overly ambitious target, actually represents a somewhat dated and inadequate minimum target to provide humanity a 50 percent chance of facing catastrophic climate change impacts.  Thus, that  80% by 2050 isn’t a target, it is an inadequate minimum.

But, that inadequate “scientifically sound” minimum is being discussed and described by far too many in a way that strikes directly against the procrastinator(s) within us (the U.S.) — as highly uncertain long-term gain resulting from certain short-term pain.

Sigh …

Again …

This is a false framing and a false reality …

If done right, climate mitigation efforts offer quite serious potential for short-term gain via, for example, “Clean Energy Jobs” putting in insulation, fostering local / community gardens, making our swimming pools more energy efficient, helping laundry mats install solar hot water systems, creating greenways for bicycles, and … There are millions of jobs begging to be filled if the right policies are put into place. And, those jobs can be created and filled quickly for the 10s of millions of Americans looking for employment.

And, those climate mitigation efforts will strengthen the economy not just in the near, but in the mid and longer terms. It will also strengthen national security by reducing oil import dependency and reducing the extent to which climate change drives demands for military forces.  It will also improve our health by reducing fossil fuel pollution impacts. It will … quite simply, “promote the general welfare” of American citizens … born and unborn.

Calling for 80% by 2050 is not just inadequate (the best science seems to be migrating from a 450 ppm to a 350 ppm target), not just confusing (what is this all about), not just misleading (focusing us on ‘tomorrow’ rather than what we can do today), but is fundamentally at odds with the procrastinator within each of us and the procrastinators among us.

Focusing on that longer-term issue weakens, in our procrastinator-dominated culture, the ability to begin taking the actions that will pay off for today and tomorrow.

We can not just meet, but exceed, that “80 by 2050” target with a discussion and policy that has quite tangible near term targets, quite tangible near term actions, and quite tangible near-term results. The Five Percent Solution speaks to that near-term while delivering in the near, mid, and long term on economic and environmental terms.

The Five Percent Solution

Very simply, The Five Percent Solution calls on the United States to embrace quite achievable and straightforward objectives for each and every year …:

  • Cut oil use five percent.
  • Cut coal-fired electricity by five percent of 2010 levels.

To be clear, these seemingly radical targets are clearly achievable and would boost the economy.

Via the 5% solution, by 2030 the United States will:

  • End, 100%, oil imports.
  • End, 100%, the burning of coal for electricity
  • Reduce climate emissions by 60+ percent from 1990 levels
  • Improve the US trade balance by five percent of gross domestic product (due to eliminating oil imports)
  • Cut health care impacts from fossil fuel use by 50%
  • Improve productivity, per decade, by at least 5% above ‘business as usual’
  • Cut unemployment below 5% by 2015 and maintain unemployment levels below 5% through 2030.

And … well … additional benefits.

Taking The Five Percent Solution path will put millions of Americans back to work, quickly, while providing benefits rapidly in reducing fossil-fuel pollution impacts on our health and … and … and, moving to The Five Percent Solution would, with each passing day, make another Deepwater Horizon less likely.

Recognize the Procrastinator Among US

Let us recognize and embrace the procrastinator among us in developing of climate mitigation strategies.  Investment in tomorrow is difficult. Doing climate policy and action right, in a principled way, can provide a path to tackling tomorrow’s challenges even while providing satisfaction (benefits) today.  The Five Percent Solution addresses both the procrastinator and planner among us.

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Tags: climate change · environmental · Global Warming · politics