This week I am reporting to you live from the National Council for Science and the Environment’s annual conference in Washington DC. The conference’s theme this year is “Energy and Climate Change.” This is my first time at this conference and I was invigorated by the speakers’ focus on real world problems from the local to global scale. It was a very different feeling than an academic society conference, where mention of applied research and policy is often hard to find. The meeting was also somewhat interdisciplinary: lots of engineers (maybe more so this year because of the energy theme), folks from many federal agencies (including NOAA, NASA, USDA, and USGS); academics; people who work for NGO’s; business leaders (e.g. a Toyota VP); and a few policy makers.
- is factual, reliable, rigorous science
- provides impact areas to focus on
- and tells people what we can do right now at the individual and community levels.
“We the scientists have a big responsibility toward countries that do not have our capacity, a responsibility to make sure that we know what we’re saying. Do we really know how climate change will affect Rwanda? We cannot afford for them [Rwanda] to address the wrong things.”
Furthermore, when scientists highlight the “co-benefits” of renewable energy (a form of climate change adaptation and mitigation)—such as improved public health, economic growth*, national security, literacy, and reduced fertility rates—this new lexicon reaches people in a way that cuts across the polarizing politics of climate change action. By re-framing the discussion away from simply preventing air pollution and toward broad societal goals, we can make climate action a win-win-win for all.
I marked economic growth with a * above because not everyone agrees that economic growth is a good thing or should be part of a plan for a sustainable future. Indeed I heard this conflict of opinion among folks at the conference, and I imagine it’s not a new dichotomy for most AGua’s readers (see this previous post). Basically, ecologists and others argue that the earth’s natural resources are finite so an economy that relies on growth for sustenance will deplete all those resources and fail. While a capitalist argues that economic growth is the life-blood of a successful society; a capitalist would probably also argue that technology will save us from natural resource depletion. To which an ecologist (okay, I) would retort, “Technology does not come from thin air, it is made of plastics (petroleum), rare earth metals, and the labor of third world mines and sweat shops.” At this meeting, the pro-growth messaging was most often coming from the stage, from figures with more to gain politically by ascribing to a pro-growth economy (and more to lose by promoting no-growth) and the no-growth voices were in the audience. Growth-growth-growth was an underlying theme of EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy’s address to us. She is an exciting speaker with a lot of good ideas and clearly sees the politicking necessary to try to keep the EPA’s regulation of carbon emissions from stationary sources afloat. In order to get businesses on board with the regulations she needs to emphasize the growth opportunities from a green economy (finance, technology, clean energy sector jobs, etc.). Indeed the potential growth of the financial sector from a carbon market is what has put many large companies in favor of a carbon market. Under the carbon emissions regulations, each state has the freedom to design its own plan for getting the emissions cuts required. It is thought that many states will create some sort of carbon marketplace were carbon emissions and credits can be bought and sold. But, many people are concerned that this regulation will disappear under a Republican administration if they win in 2016. I wonder if the international pressure for the US to keep up the carbon emission reductions we have promised to China (and hopefully at the COP in Paris this winter) could help keep the regulations afloat in the future. Especially if China and/or other nations leverage President Obama’s commitment to reductions against a new president aiming to cut that policy. [The EPA can regulate carbon under the Clean Air Act as clarified by the Supreme Court in 2007, thus it does not require an act of Congress. However, the EPA is an executive agency, meaning the president has a strong hand in its actions.]