Saturday, June 27, 2009

Solution or Compromise?

By Mark J. Lukes
Photo © Stefan Christmann

“If the earth were your body, you would be able to feel the many places where it is suffering. Every day, children and adults die because of the pollution of air and water. These things are related.”

- Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddhist Monk

The House just passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act which sets a target (based on 2005 levels) of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 17% by 2020 and 80%+ by 2050. Like all legislation passed in recent times, there was a lot of give and take, a lot of controversy, and what we got was a watered down version of what environmentalists wanted.

So should we be happy with a small victory or disappointed that the Act may have only minimal effects on reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2020? Even if the Senate passes the bill, we still have a lot of work ahead in encouraging all other developed countries to follow suit. If you’re like me, you get frustrated with the pace of progress when it comes to an issue like climate change. As I said in my last blog entry, we are out of time. We have to act now.

Unfortunately, we are dealing in the real world of American politics which dictates compromise and taking baby steps. If we try to make dramatic changes all at once, we may end up passing nothing. If we pass compromise legislation that does little to address the immediacy of the problem, it may be too late by 2050 to turn things around.

So what do you think we need to do? Compromise and take whatever we can get because it certainly is better than what would happen if we ask for too much change too quickly? Or aggressively push for the kind of legislation that will put our country on a path to more quickly address the serious problem of climate change? Should we take baby steps or giant steps? Vote in the poll on the right.

Friday, June 12, 2009

I Find it Kinda Sad

By Mark J. Lukes

I was listening to a news interview the other day about President Obama’s plan for cleaner, more efficient cars. Under the changes, by 2016, passenger cars would have to reach 39 mpg and light trucks 30 mpg. Manufacturers would also be required to hit individual mileage targets.

Obama said the proposal would save 1.8 billion barrels of oil over the lifetime of the vehicles sold in the next five years, akin to removing 177 million cars from the roads over the next 6 1/2 years. In that period, he said, the savings in oil burned to fuel American cars, trucks and buses would amount to last year's combined U.S. imports from Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Libya and Nigeria. Seems like a pretty good plan, right?

Back to the news interview… the person being interviewed (remember, I turned 60 so I’m allowed to forget names) said that while the plan is all good and fine when gas prices are high, will the American car buyers "be willing to give up" their less fuel efficient SUVs and trucks if the prices stay lower? And a flood of thoughts popped into my mind. Like, doesn’t this guy understand that we need to eliminate our dependency on foreign fuel? And that the item most of us own that causes the most harm to the environment is our fuel powered car/suv/truck? All this guy was worrying about seemed to be whether the consumer “would be willing” to buy fuel efficient vehicles. The statement should actually have been a question like, "So, how do we convince the consumer that buying fuel efficient vehicles is a good choice, regardless of gas prices?"

If we would have continued with plans for energy self-sufficiency introduced in the late 70s during the Carter administration, we likely wouldn’t be having dialogues like this. Climate change would still be an issue, but one that we were already a long way towards “solving”. We would be solar and wind powered. And we would have energy efficient vehicles.

It’s time that we actually “told” the consumer that they need to make the right choice - the intelligent choice. Not the self-serving choice to buy a Humvee or an over-sized SUV. And this is where I find it kinda sad. This "self-serving" choice really serves no one - not even the one making the choice. Even if we ignore what’s happening to the environment and our health today, we can't ignore the effect of our choices on the generations to follow. Will all of the choices you’re making today be ones you'd be proud to tell your grandchildren about? It's time for the right answer to be Yes.

One more thing I find kinda sad - the people who would be most likely to read this post aren't the ones who need to read it.