© Meril Darees & Manon Moulis/Polar Bears International
2/12/2019 8:33:36 PM
Blueprint for Climate Action
By Geoff York, Senior Director of Conservation
The recent U.N. report on climate change underscores the urgent need to take aggressive action on climate change. To those of us who care about the polar bear’s future—and our own—the task may seem daunting, but it’s important to remember that we have solutions that can be applied starting today.
A recent article in The Washington Post offers 11 policy ideas from a range of experts, providing a blueprint for action and climate hope. Here we offer brief recaps of each suggestion, with links to more detailed descriptions. (While the examples are all set in the U.S., the ideas work almost anywhere.) We hope you’ll join us to working to realize these changes—while also sharing these solutions with others:
When communities set a goal to reduce emissions, governments can figure out which solutions fit their needs and factor them into decision-making. Setting a goal also helps keep the topic front and center, encouraging residents, public officials, businesses, and others to work together on a plan. If your community hasn’t yet set a goal, encourage local leaders to set one.
Experts agree that setting a price on carbon is the swiftest, most equitable way to achieve a low-carbon future. Factoring in the true cost of carbon not only levels the playing field for renewable energy but also creates jobs and encourages innovation. If the U.S. were to adopt a carbon tax, it would allow the nation to exceed the goals of the Paris Agreement. Better still: revenues raised could be returned to citizens as dividends, as in the new Canadian plan.
As the earth gets hotter, more people are using air conditioners, which are fueled by potent greenhouse gases called hydrofluorocarbons. Some states like California now require super-efficient air conditioners. As a citizen, you can do your part by buying a climate-friendly air conditioner and encouraging your legislators to follow the example of states like California, New York, Maryland, and Connecticut in setting standards.
The largest source of emissions in the U.S. comes from moving people and goods around. Because our power grid is getting cleaner, switching to electric vehicles would speed up an energy transition. Federal tax credits, applied at the dealership, could help boost the use of electric vehicles, as could state and municipal incentives. In addition, governments could electrify their fleets and invest in charging stations.
More than a third of the 60 plants in the U.S. are losing money or scheduled to close within the next 10 years. Without them, emissions would rise by as much as 6 percent by 2035. To avoid this, governments should work to ensure these plants operate safely until they can be replaced by low-carbon alternatives.
Most Americans would prefer to live in a walkable community with transit service—a shift that would allow dramatic cuts in transportation emissions. Complete Streets policies provide guidance on building and redesigning streets to make them safer and more convenient for people to walk and bike more, take transit, and drive less. If your community doesn’t already follow this model, urge your city council or state legislators to pass legislation.
According to the U.N., if food waste were a country, it would rank third in greenhouse gas emissions. The U.S. and many states and communities have pledged to cut food waste in half by 2030. Some have mandatory food recycling and food waste bans. Avoiding unnecessary food production in the first place brings the biggest benefit, with an emphasis on waste prevention and donations.
Climate-smart farming practices store carbon in the soil instead of releasing it into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. The method also improves soil health and productivity, leading to greater crop yields. Legislation that provides tax incentives for climate-smart farming would reward sustainable farms and encourage their growth.
Concentrating livestock on feed lots in factory farm operations harms local air, water, and soil and produces potent greenhouse gas emissions. Legislation could place a moratorium on new factory farms and quit subsidizing them through farm bills. Incentives should instead be provided to farms that rely on sustainable grazing practices, thus encouraging the growth of grass-fed beef and dairy markets.
Local utilities in much of the U.S. function as monopolies regulated on a state level. The current system gives them little incentive to retire coal power plants in favor of renewable energy. Free markets encourage electricity generators to compete with each to provide energy at the lowest cost, leading to a strong shift to renewables. Texas, for example, which has the most open electric market in the nation, also generates the most wind power.
The Green New Deal is a broad and ambitious package of policies and investments would put millions of Americans to work while helping the country transition to a renewable future. While it would require a scale of government action not seen since the Great Depression and World War II, it would also make the U.S. the global leader in green technology, ensuring that advances made could be shared around the globe.