Friday, October 5, 2007

How to be an Armchair Activist (aka SuperMom!)

Today, I'd like to take the opportunity to talk to all of you about becoming a more active citizen. Here's the problem. Global Warming is here, and we must deal with it, mitigate it, and adapt to it. But, we can't do it alone. Each of us must take the small and large daily steps to minimize our own contribution. We have talked about a lot of these steps here, and we'll continue to do that each week. But, it must be said that individual action will not stop global warming.

Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced. As much as I'd like to think that everyone is just going to jump in and do their part, we don't have enough time to even educate everyone about this problem, never mind teach them how to respond. So, greenhouse gas emissions reductions must be MANDITORY. At the end of the day, emitting greenhouse gases must become expensive if all people and businesses are going to stop doing so. This has to happen in each city, state, and nation. Right now the US and China are neck and neck as global leaders of polluting emissions, and those of us in the US are far higher emitters per capita. To begin to attack this problem, all of us must support policies that will bring us closer to mandatory reductions. And, as the Artic ice (aka "the canary in the coal mine") is telling us loudly and clearly this week, these emissions reductions must begin now.

Here's how to help shape policy right now:

1. Know your legislators. Go to my website and click on the "Congress and State" link. Find out who your legislators are and call them or read their websites to find out what their positions are on climate change issues. Get to know them, call them, attend their events. No matter which party they belong to, they are just people, and will often listen to the squeakiest wheels, and those who financially support their campaigns.

2. Be supportive of good policies, and actively fight poor ones. From everything that I have learned about climate change policy, there are a few good ones that stand out:
Mandatory Caps on Greenhouse Gas Emissions: This idea can allow nations and the global business community to use innovation to lower their emissions to the mandatory level. If they can innovate beyond the mandatory level, they can sell "carbon credits" on the open market to those companies that cannot reach their mandatory limit, who will be forced to buy credits. Cap and Trade programs work best if the caps are mandatory, economy-wide, strong and scientifically based, steadily lowered over time, and if the initial credits are auctioned off rather than simply given away to the most polluting firms by the government. Look for those key factors when expression support or opposition to "Cap and Trade" policies
Higher Fuel Economy Standards: Not only must we express our opinions to Congress and other legislators, but we must speak directly to leaders of companies, especially those that are large and global. Large, global companies have the financial power to lobby legislators to write laws that will make it easier for them to do business. For example, all of the major automakers, including Toyota (maker of the Prius), are actively lobbying Congress right now to weaken the fuel economy standards in the coming energy bill. They claim that meeting the proposed standards will be impossible from an engineering perspective. However, that is simply not true since the standard in question, 35mpg for cars and trucks, is already in place in Europe and Japan, and will be achieved in China in 2009. (See graph on page 9 of this report.) The main problem is that Americans prefer larger cars, so it becomes an economic issue for those companies who want to make those large cars that we prefer to drive. Well, as citizens, we can choose smaller cars, or companies can be forced to innovate in order to create larger cars that still meet the standards using plug-in hybrid technology and other new technologies. When we make these standards mandatory we encourage and reward important innovations that will otherwise not be rewarded by the current market in which environmental issues are primarily seen as externalities.
A Tax or Fee on Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Most economists agree that this is the fastest, most effective, and simplest way to move us into a post-fossil fuel economy. Right now it seems to be politically unpopular. But, that is quickly changing. Jump on the bandwagon for a Carbon Tax, and we'll very quickly reward innovation and tax behaviors that will lead to the destruction of our children's futures. For more about the economics of the Carbon Tax, visit this website. And, don't worry, it's not going to "wreck the economy." The more quickly we learn that lowering greenhouse gas emissions does not have to destroy our economic prosperity, the more quickly we will push to save our habitat.

3. Sign up for Automatic Alerts. It's tough enough to remember when one kid has soccer practice and the other has a doctor's appointment, never mind keeping up with your local, state and national legislative sessions. Let the hard core activists do the work for you, and just throw your voice in the fray at times that are most important to getting things done. Go to my website, and click on the links under "Action Non-Profit Groups." Sign up with these groups, and they will send action alerts right to your email box when important legislation in your area needs a push from you. Also, look for local and regional groups that are working to keep the air and water clean, the parks green, and the children healthy in your neighborhood.

It's that simple. Three steps to save the world for your kids! Don't you feel like SuperMom today!

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