Thursday, July 24, 2008

Solve resource depletion with a pollution penalty

The challenge for the future is 350 ppm of CO2. How do we get there?

CO2 is produced from consumption of fossil fuels. Consumption of fossil fuels need to be reduced to the absorbtive capacity of the biosphere. Resource depletion has lead to peak everything. The challenge is not only to live within the capacity of the biosphere but to provide resources for the needs of future generations.

However no government or mainstream newspaper is looking at the future and laying out a plan of how to get there. Many non profits have worked out the strategies like a shift to renewables. The Sierra Club has a plan with the American Solar Energy Society to get there with 2% reductions per year. Others talk about a massive shift to photovoltaics. The Urban Land Institute calls for using landuse tools to reduce the impact from transportation.

But problem solvers are having a difficult time getting traction in the mainstream. Cheney-Bush-think of problem solvers as a person virtue is still the mainstream as to how government is organized and subsidies dispersed. Why isn't this different from business as usual? Because Gore and McKibben have elevated the public conversation. Instead of being a bunch of crooks in govenment looking to hand public resources to their friends today we can see some of the carbon footprint that results from resource usage. This visibility inturn leads to a discussion of why Belmont signed a single stream garbage contract instead of more resource protective dual stream contract. Or why we want to raise fees on low flow users of the sewer system to pay for the infrastructure cost incurred because of high flow users. Now we can ask questions like a set aside fee for future infrastructure costs that can be tiered, i.e. a placeholder in the budget of how the fee will be used instead of the present practice of subsidizing high flow users.

The overall result is that government continues to toast the planet because that is where the big money is invested. Greenpeace and NRDC have called unsuccessfully for a moratorium on coal plant building currently responsible for more than 40% of green house gases, to no avail, as the price of energy continues to make the old way of investment with massive government subsidies and no pollution penalty viable; while now options like solar are either regulated into non competitiveness (with varying state regulations that coal or nuclear don't have to contend with) or have subsidies eliminated in the middle of growth years (like the sunsetting 30% federal investment tax credit.) Even nuclear, despite its public face of horror and death, remains competitive without solving its waste, cost, and implementable timetable issues in the face of massive write downs on insurance and power purchase agreements. Like GM the business model is do what you know until you run the company into the ground even when the future is staring you in the face.

How can we get to a pollution penalty? How can the virtue of resource conservation change to an economic incentive? Non profits would like to change the tide. Pope of the Sierra Club says "One of the reactions it's very easy to have when you read a report like this (ASES) is, it's too good to be true. If all these things were possible, why aren't they already being done? And the unfortunate answer to that question is they are not being done because we have massive examples of policy failure and market failure in our energy sector."

Pope cited a number of problems, like building codes that don't allow white, reflective roofs to reduce summertime cooling loads, grid regulations that limit solar and wind production, and builders who have no incentive to build energy efficient buildings because they don't have to pay the energy bills. Pope vowed that the Sierra Club would aggressively pursue solutions to these problems. He promised that "This is not a report that will be sitting on a shelf."

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