Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Copehagen Rocks for Capitalism

Yes, We Can Copenhagen!

“I love the smell of carbon dioxide in the morning. It smells like…victory.”

Have you wondered what’s going on in Copenhagen? Are the usual suspects hopelessly protesting and government officials pining for some global accord that will only protect the Maldives and Banglasesh? What’s it all about, Alfie?

It’s about capitalism. Oh, remember that nasty thing that supposedly was killed by the greed of investment bankers, real estate brokers, hedge fund managers and mortgage companies?

Yes, that thing. It’s still alive and kicking, infused with the vigor of climate change steroids. One argument is that climate change treaties and regulations will snuff economic growth wherever it’s implemented. The other side will tell you that no, climate change is good for business. Let’s start with the killjoy side.

Climate Change Will Depress Economic Growth. Well, yes, it will cost industry more to reduce carbon dioxide production. That’s bad news for coal-fired power plants, steel, cement and transportation, among many others. But it’s not a zero-sum game. More growth will be created in the Eco-Tech sector, that is, industries that clean up dirty enterprises like diesel engines or coke ovens. Ultimately, a clean-tech national policy creates jobs. For every job making solar panels, there are 8 to 10 jobs produced for workers who install them. So mandating clean energy is going to spin off capital investment and jobs on a scale we haven’t seen since the Internet boom (which is still going on by the way).

Climate Change Will Boost Economic Growth. I’m backing this horse. Once you create a market for something, capital flows to it like rain. The Obama Administration has committed$11 billion to modernize the US electrical grid. That will enable electrons generated by wind power in the Plains and solar energy from the Southwest to go to population centers. Another $8 billion in loan guarantess and tax credits are going into clean technologies. That could generate some $60 billion in investment, according the The New York Times. For every innovation in a solar cell or wind tower, jobs and opportunities are created.

Of course, the climate change agenda will be stuck on commitments to carbon reduction. Nobody really knows what is possible because we’ve never sat down at a table with everyone from China to Bolivia to hammer out such a massive agreement. I’m not saying it shouldn’t be done; it should be broken down into pieces.

1) Carbon should be taxed directly. The proceeds should go into Eco-Tech trust funds to build up clean technology infrastructures. Part of that money should go into re-training grants for displaced workers and into elementary and secondary education. This isn’t just about reducing global warming. We have to warm up everyone’s brains to the possibilities and rewards of reducing all of the garbage going into the air, water and earth.

2) Every nation needs a national renewable energy portfolio standard. I think Al Gore’s US goal is 20% from renewable energy by 2020. It’s ambitious, but doable if all levels of government from the Department of Energy to local school boards are required to reduce carbon dioxide production.

3) Every country needs green buildings and transportation. Most of the carbon dioxide generated comes from these two sectors. Implement green national building and zoning codes. Stop building developments away from public transportation and creating “spurbs” or sprawling urban areas only reachable by highways. Revise zoing codes for mixed-use development and higher-density housing. Start a massive campaign to convert buses, trains, ships and trucks to non-diesel engines — or at least clean up the emissions from those engines.

Climate change is good for business! Once the major commercial powers realize this, global climate change reforms will be as simple as eating a Danish pastry. Well, maybe not, but at least it will be a sweeter business proposition.

For more ideas, see my book The Cul-de-Sac Syndrome: Turning Around the Unsustainable American Dream (www.culdesacsyndrome.com)

No comments: