Some of the reactions that the Goal Green post “Plastic: The Gift That Keeps On Giving” have been concerned with is how we can proceed from this problem. I want to address some of the ways we, on an individual scale, can begin to offset our carbon emissions. Among many other things, we must educate ourselves and we must elect to federal levels, those politicians that have truly given logical consideration to the issue. In this post, I will write about one that seems not to have done so. In future posts, I would like to evaluate other candidates, and suggest more ways to have a part in conserving the environment.
Last month, President Bush, at the G8 Summit, decided that the U.S. would not partake in Europe’s quest to halve global carbon dioxide emissions by 2050 until other major polluters, like China, would agree to do the same. As I’ve written about before, developing countries like India and China cannot afford to curb emissions as much as the U.S. and other Western nations can. In fact, China is doing a lot that the U.S. is not. Bush’s approach will prove to be strategically ineffective.
The President has decided that for the good of American industry, we cannot afford to cut emissions while growing economies, those that pose a threat to our own GDP, are able to exploit cheaper, dirtier methods of production. This reasoning is wrong on a number of fronts. First, we can analyze how civilians interact with the economy to further understand how big oil and other industries function. As populations across America are becoming wearier of the true effects of our carbon emissions, they are pursuing and demanding greener lifestyles. At the forefront of this shift are the citizens of California. This is not only the state with the highest GSP (Gross State Product), but it also holds the most progressive environmental policy.
For instance, California has adopted a low-carbon fuel standard in which it will require oil companies to cut the carbon content of their gasoline. What does this mean for the oil industry? When producing oil to be sold in the United States, special standards are to be set for the oil being sold in California, not to mention other, runner-up green states, with different standards. Companies are subjected to halt bulk production in order to cater to smaller, state, standards. As the vice-president of public affairs at Exxon Mobil, Ken Cohen was recently quoted as saying by The Economist newspaper, “we need a uniform and predictable system[…] it needs to be a federal system.”
Aside from the fact that the very corporate entities that President Bush is trying to protect are asking him for a national policy, Bush is also failing to realize the potential benefits of the U.S. being a leader in the greening of big business. America’s highest potential lies in innovation. The signs of this are very clear to us. While the country has created and led innovation in automobiles, the industry is now being overtaken by other countries. Meanwhile, America is successful in computing, where Silicon Valley, a hub of software and dot-com innovation, has proven to be one of the most successful American-born industries. So as oil prices are again reaching record highs and European countries, among others, are looking for a way out, why not provide them with one by subsidizing research in the field and requiring large corporations to cut emissions by innovating?
Finally, if Mr. Bush’s true intentions lie in the greater scheme of forcing developing countries and already big polluters like China and India into adopting an energy policy of their own, he is still very much mistaken. It is evident that emerging countries are yet emerging. As such, they cannot allow themselves to set regulations as strict as the Western world. Just like America developed in the late 19th century and early 20th (without much regulation); these countries will not set any policy that can match the first-world. The key point of this argument is America mustn’t lag behind these developing countries; it should push its companies to provide the world with an alternative. Other countries will undoubtedly be happier with a greener energy solution and independence from ties to the unstable Middle East.
In these three points: American companies are asking for a federal policy to restrict emissions, the U.S. can be a leader in the alternative energy industry, and the developing world will not agree to greener standards before the U.S. does, I believe I have identified Bush’s decision for the G8 summit as a big mistake.
The future, however, is a little brighter, as virtually every candidate for the 2008 U.S. Presidential Election seems to favor some sort of green national policy. What we can and should do (for those that are citizens of this country) is to study our options and decide for ourselves whose environmental plan seems most feasible, effective, and thought through. I am convinced that this will be the mark of someone who will truly be dedicated to running this country right in the next four years.
I will soon provide a detailed analysis of each candidate’s environmental policy on this site. Aside from voting, there are other, smaller ways to offset our carbon footprint on the Earth, I am currently formulating a list of such methods and will share them with you soon.
Please share your opinions on this article with me and other readers by either submitting a comment or e-mailing me directly at Arthur.Getman@gmail.com.
In his article last week in the New York Times Magazine on the greening of geopolitics in America, Thomas Friedman brought up a very important point on the battle between “Mother Nature and Father Greed.” While the United States may shift to a greener energy policy as awareness grows and political power shifts towards a more liberal agenda, the effects may be relatively insignificant. The problem with this is that the West is more inclined to ponder the effects of global warming because it can afford to do so. Countries like China will continue growing their per capita energy usage, but will still have millions of people living on a very meager salary; the government will not spend money on systems of energy production that minimize CO2 output. As world consumption swings from the hands of the technologically advanced Western powers and into the grasp of the poorer, underdeveloped masses of the East, the West may start to see its own advances in conservation as somewhat inconsequential. This tipping in influence however, should not blind our own efforts.
In the U.S., Wal-Mart has just introduced compact fluorescent bulbs, which use ¼ the energy of regular bulbs and last 10 times as long. The company has a reach of 100 million customers; if everyone bought just one bulb, they would be indirectly cutting CO2 emissions by 45 billion pounds (not to mention saving $3 billion in the process).<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[i]<!–[endif]–> Since the company will be saving money, this is a logical move for Eastern companies who hold a similar influence in their respective countries. However, the East has even more reforms to offer.
The People’s Government decided, in 1978, to reform their economy by encouraging the privatization of businesses and fostering education. This is indisputably the reason for China’s growth, with per capita income nearly quadrupling in the past 15 years.<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[ii]<!–[endif]–> With the reforms also came the liberalization of performance quotas, where industries and companies were allowed to set there own quotas as they are the most knowledgeable on their respective products and markets. Even so, the government still maintains control over other social policies, not excluding the natural environment. Seeing the result of pollution first-hand in the levels of smog in Shanghai and Beijing, the government has recently voiced its concern.
The results were evident in April of this year at the Shanghai auto show. Chinese automakers unveiled prototypes for fuel cell cars, gasoline-electric hybrid cars and electric battery cars. Meanwhile, our own staggering giant, GM, among others European companies, is cooperating with Chinese firms in order to develop hybrid cars to the government’s liking. The government of China has also raised its consumption tax on gasoline inefficient cars (i.e. American trucks) to as much as 20%, while cutting it to 1% for those with high mpg figures.<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[iii]
While these figures are ahead of the U.S.’s own policies, this kind of initiative is only apparent in China’s transportation industry. In order to further steer China, India, and other developing behemoths in the right (green) direction, our own policies have to be ahead of theirs. While the world’s consumption and growth figures may be weighed down increasingly more by the East, China and India still look to Western consumption standards, practices, and desires. To this effect, Western governments have to raise the standards of their country’s companies, thereby providing a model for the rest of the world’s production objectives. So far, Europe has set the pace in the world, while the U.S. has consistently been a laggard (in this form of innovation). This is the real problem; our reforms are too slow. America has seen the lowest performance in its automotive industry this decade. While we cannot attribute this all to the lack of better federal regulations, we can certainly see that perhaps a libertarian approach to CO2 emissions is, as the world has proven, a stale idea.
<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[i]<!–[endif]–> Glenn Prickett of Conservation International, a Wal-Mart advisor, quoted in “The Power of Green,” New York Times Magazine, April 15, 2007, section 6.
<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[ii]<!–[endif]–> The International Monetary Fund
<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[iii]<!–[endif]–> International Herald Tribune