Reasons for optimism as the U.S.
readies for Paris climate negotiations
by Allen Best
Bill Becker was equal parts worried and cheerful when he spoke to the Jefferson County chapter of the Colorado Renewable Energy Society chapter in Golden on Aug. 29.
He’s the project manager for the Powering Forward Plan being produced by the Center for the New Energy Economy, the Colorado State University-based think tank led by former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter. He confided that he’s in the process of writing a book, and shared elements of what will be the book.
Too little is getting done to reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases, and Washington D.C., the nexus for the nation and the world, is dysfunctional.
“The world is waiting for us to lead, and the rest of the world won’t do anything if we don’t,” he said.
Right now, he and others are looking at the international meeting on climate change scheduled for December 2014 in Paris.
But he sees climate change returning as an issue of public concern in the United States after several years in which people’s attention was diverted by the economy.
One piece of evidence for his optimism is a poll conducted earlier this year by the Center for Local, State and Urban Policy at the University of Michigan.
A revenue-neutral carbon tax, in which all tax revenue would be returned to the public as a rebate check, got 56 percent support. But even higher support, 60 percent, was found for a carbon tax in which revenues are used to fund research and development for renewable energy programs.
Just 38 percent of respondents supported a carbon tax if the money was used to reduce the federal budget deficit. There was also strong opposition to a carbon tax if the revenue is left unspecified.
“We need to press for a carbon tax,” said Becker, describing it as the single most impactful policy mechanism.
The political alignments Becker described see moderate Republicans now shifting to favor stronger action. He cited the support of both Henry Paulson and George Shultz. Paulson served in the cabinet of President George W. Bush, while Shultz worked for both Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.
Becker sees people crossing party lines to support clean energy –with the exception of the Tea Party faction of the Republican Party.
He also said that people committed to change must differentiate between those in what he calls the “denial industry” and those who are skeptics. They have various fears: of change, of conflict, of the Untied States becoming a socialistic state.
“We need to understand where they are coming from and speak to them in the place where they’re coming from,” he said.
People tend to operate in tribes, and they hew to the tribal knowledge, he said. It’s important to understand those tribal values and assumptions.
He also talked about the importance of state and local governments in producing change. Renewable Portfolio Standards, or RPSs, have been powerful in helping push renewable energy and retiring coal-fired power plants. Building codes, land-use zoning and public utility commissions, all at the state or local level, are also important in ratcheting down greenhouse gas emissions.
But ways to finance home and other building energy efficiencies must be stepped up, he said. “We need to get banks to do loans for energy efficiency,” he said.
He ended his talk on an upbeat note. In this time of political dissidence, is there common ground? Look for it, he advises, and he thinks it can be found.