Commemorating the centennial of Pres. Theodore Roosevelt’s 1908 Conference of Governors, present day governors and representatives from 18 states, Washington and other national governments including Canada, the Czech Republic and Mexico set out to review state programs aimed at combating climate change, develop a strategy for future action and advocate greater federal-state and public-private collaboration and cooperation as Yale hosted the Yale Conference of Governors April 17-18.
Capping Friday’s keystone address, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger humorously yet pointedly zoomed in on the tremendous scale and complexities involved in making the transition to a low carbon, more environmentally sustainable society. Along the way he highlighted some of the antagonistic, at times seemingly absurd, stances taken by opposing interest groups and stressed the need for greater cooperation.
“So, as one of my environmental friends and advisors said that ‚Äòthere is no silver bullets [sic.], only silver buckshot.’ We need to find creative ways to overcome those obstacles. There’s no two ways about it. Neither business nor environmentalists nor Republicans nor Democrats can be set in their ways. I suggest then relax, exhale … [EXHALES]…Just exhale and relax and let things move forward,” he stated.
Governors Declaration on Climate Change
Representatives of 18 states representing more than half the U.S. population and more than half of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions – equivalent to that of the France, Germany, Italy and the U.K. combined – committed themselves to combating climate change by signing the Governors Declaration on Climate Change during the keystone address and closing gathering on April 18.
The Declaration revolves around three points: building on the experiences of states to date; recognizing the need for mandatory federal regulation and state level implementation and hence state governors committing themselves to ensuring federal-state partnerships; and the importance of identifying and establishing the right mix of incentives across the private sector and for individuals.
Yale is practicing what it’s preaches. The university has committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions 43% below its 2005 baseline by 2020. Carbon emissions have been reduced 17% in the program’s first two years and plans are being enacted to cut emissions an additional 17% in three years. Moreover, the university expects to realize its objectives at a cost of less than 1% of operating expenses, perhaps as low as ¬Ω one percent, noted Daniel C. Esty, who leads Yale’s Center for Environmental Law and Policy.
IPCCC Chair Addresses the Congregation
IPCCC chairman and director general of India’s Energy and Resources Institute Rajendra Pachauri noted the urgency of addressing climate change on a global basis given scientists’ best estimate of a further 1.8 – 4 degree Celsius rise in average global temperature this century.
Countering critics, Pachauri stressed that enacting mitigation measures can have a wide range of fundamental benefits – economically and in terms of international security as well as environmentally and in terms of human health and quality of life. “All of this, once you add it together, might actually give you negative costs. That means society may actually benefit by taking these measures…So, the myth that there would be a loss of jobs and economic output needs to be exploded, and indeed our numbers clearly explode that.”
Pachauri added what could be interpreted as a cautionary statement for U.S. government representatives and policy makers. “In this respect may I say that even companies that have the wisdom to see that the world is going to move towards the low carbon future, and are therefore investing in technologies that are low in carbon intensity are going to be winners. Those who lag behind will certainly be losers.
“And this argument also applies to countries – those countries which are prepared to take the leadership and therefore all the businesses and industry located in those countries will turn out to be winners, and those who are left behind will obviously lose vestige, global influence, and perhaps even market opportunities in the world of the future.”
Rare, Unseen Squirrel vs. Solar Power Plant in the Mojave
Gov. Schwarzenegger provided anecdotal evidence of the divisions and difficulties associated with enacting climate change and greenhouse gas emission reduction initiatives: San Diego Gas & Electric’s effort to replace a coal-fired generation plant in Imperial Valley by developing solar/geothermal fields. Following is an excerpt of the Governor’s speech from a transcript.
“Now, this gets very complicated, I tell you. For example, our Department of Fish and Game is slowing approval of a solar facility in Victorville. It’s because of an endangered squirrel — an endangered squirrel which has never been seen on that land where they’re supposed to
build the solar plants. But if such a squirrel were around, this is the kind of area that it would like, they say.
Apparently, California’s Fish & Game department wants the power company to buy three acres of land for every acre of land used for the solar power plant in order to provide a safe haven for the squirrels.
“So, a squirrel that may not exist is holding up environmental progress on a large and more pressing fight against global warming. What we have here is a case of environmental regulations holding up environmental progress. I don’t know whether this is ironic or absurd, but, I mean, if we cannot put solar power plants in the Mohave Desert, I don’t know where
the hell we can put it, I tell you honestly.
“So, the point that I’m making is it’s not just businesses that have slowed things down. It’s not just Republicans that have slowed things down. It’s also Democrats and it’s also environmental activists sometimes that slow things down. And even in my own agency that I’m supposed to be the head of and the boss of, I found out is slowing things down.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is the real world. We have to make some tradeoffs. I think both the environmental activists and their opponents cannot let perfect become the enemy of possible because the fact of the matter is nothing is perfect.
“Solar still needs transmission lines. Battery electric cars still need chemicals in the batteries and electricity to recharge them. Hydrogen cars still need a fuel currently made largely from natural gas. Nuclear power which is very clean but still has waste that must be stored somewhere, biofuels from corn based ethanol and palm oil still needs to be controlled so we don’t have deforestation all over the world.”