What Is to Be Done?

Environmentalists respond

Ross Gelbspan

– Author, The Heat Is On and Boiling Point, www.heatisonline.org

What is needed is a new Kyoto Protocol that reflects the urgency and magnitude of the challenge: a rapid global transition to noncarbon energy sources in the next 30 years. One approach might involve three elements: In industrial countries, withdraw the roughly $250 billion a year in subsidies for coal and oil, and put those same subsidies behind clean-energy sources. Create a fund, estimated at about $300 billion a year, to transfer clean energy to developing countries. All developing countries would love to go solar, but most can't afford it. The fund could be financed by a tax on international air travel, carbon taxes in the north, or a tiny tax of a quarter-penny per dollar on international currency transactions. Develop a regulatory mechanism that would require every country, starting at its current baseline, to increase its fossil-fuel efficiency by 5% per year. That means every country would produce the same amount next year with 5% less carbon fuel or produce 5% more with the same amount of carbon fuel. Since few economies grow at 5% for very long, emissions reductions would outpace long-term economic growth (for details, see "Solutions" at www.heatisonline.org.)

To incorporate these mechanisms would generate millions of new jobs, especially in developing countries. It would begin to turn impoverished nations into trading partners. It would jump-start the renewable-energy industry into being a central driving engine of growth for the global economy.

Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger

– Co-authors, Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility

Kyoto failed for reasons having nothing to do with the absence of U.S. involvement. The developed nations that ratified the agreement saw their emissions go up, not down, by 4% between 2000 and 2004. Even if Kyoto was perfectly implemented, the emissions reduced would be one-seventh the amount of the emissions China alone will produce over the next three decades.

Kyoto was based on the wrong models of past efforts to regulate pollution. A better model is the creation of the European Union after World War II through shared investments in coal and steel. A post-Kyoto effort should bring down the price of clean energy as quickly as possible through massive public-private investments into technology innovation and infrastructure. Together, the U.S., Europe, and Japan should invest $100 billion-$200 billion per year, which could stimulate $60 billion-$120 billion in private capital. This commitment would bring down the price of clean energy while strengthening economic ties between these countries. To achieve this politically, the next president must sell the agenda as the only way to free ourselves from oil while establishing American leadership and creating jobs in the fast-growing and high tech clean-energy markets.

Aaron Lehmer

– Program manager, Green-Collar Jobs Campaign, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, www.ellabakercenter.org

Since the Kyoto Protocol was first introduced in 1997, consciousness has exploded around the urgent need to tackle the global climate crisis. At the Ella Baker Center, we've forged partnerships with groups serving low-income communities and green businesses that are moving away from the pollution-based economy of the past and toward a clean-energy economy. In collaboration with the city of Oakland and the Apollo Alliance, we initiated the Oakland Green Jobs Corps to train low-income residents to weatherize our buildings, switch out inefficient technologies, and install the solar panels and wind farms that we'll need to power our future.

We can and must fight both poverty and pollution at the same time by preparing those who have been left out of previous economic booms for promising careers in the emerging green economy. The task at hand is enormous and urgent: The twin threats of climate change and oil dependence demand that we must take bold action now to move our communities away from fossil fuels and toward renewable-energy solutions.

We know that this will require millions of people rolling up their sleeves to literally transform the way we work, live, and play. This means that billions of dollars of new investment in our cities will be needed. This is a historic opportunity to both protect our climate and also uplift our communities, providing dignified, green opportunities for all.

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