By Boyd Cohen, Ph.D. CO2 IMPACT
As an American living in Canada I have been watching U.S. policy on clean energy from across the border for the past decade. As an entrepreneur in the carbon market space, I also have a vested interest in seeing U.S. Federal policy advance with respect to promoting a low carbon economy and of course adopting a national cap and trade policy. While I believe Obama had the intentions from the beginning to make more progress in this arena, he has had his own share of policy blunders and lost control of the House along the way.
Yes, Obama made some great claims in the recent state of the union address regarding the elimination of subsidies to the fossil fuel industry and the promotion of clean energy economy. He of course continues to promote the adoption of high-speed rail as well. However, the truth is, this administration has achieved very little with respect to moving the needle at the federal level toward a transition to a low carbon economy.
If someone had told me before Obama took office that Walmart and China would be light years ahead of the U.S. on policy and action in the low carbon economy in the year 2011 I would have laughed. But if you look at the reality on the ground, there is no denying it.
Much has been written lately about Walmart’s commitment to energy efficiency and in fact Walmart won the 2009 Corporate Energy Efficiency Award from the Aspen Institute. Walmart hasn’t stopped there either. They have a goal of reducing their GHG emissions from their stores and distribution centers by 20% by 2012 and furthermore they have long-term goals of being supplied by 100% renewable energy and achieve zero waste. The Obama administration has not managed to even get their watered down goal of 17% reduction in GHGs by 2020 (over 2005) into law even though Europe is already committed to a minimum of 20% reduction (over 1990 levels). Walmart is not doing this because they have become environmentalists but rather because it is good for business. This is what Hunter Lovins and I refer to as climate capitalism.
Not to be outdone, China, yes that Asian country with more than 1.3 billion people known for, among other things, highly polluted cities, is WAY ahead of the U.S. when it comes to embracing climate capitalism too. Once again the reasons have little to do with a newfound environmental ethic. Rather it is due to a recognition that countries that make the transition to the low carbon economy sooner are better positioned for long-term economic success. Backed by significant government support, Chinese companies have moved way ahead of their U.S. counterparts in the production and export of solar technology. A recent Pew report found that China invested $34 bn in clean energy in 2009 almost twice the amount the U.S. invested in that same period.
And even Arnold is way ahead
Yes, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Hummer loving, ex-Governor of California achieved way more in his term than has Obama on the topic of clean energy and the low carbon future. California has the most robust policy in North America with respect to its global warming regulation known as AB-32. The Governator and many others in the state even managed to thwart a Texas-sized oil backed revolt on their cap and trade legislation.
Besides the many missteps from the Obama Administration the past few years, the U.S. has been mired in a ridiculous debate about the legitimacy of climate science that has become way too politicized. This is not about politics. It is about profits, the future, and of course reducing our collective impact on global warming. And even if you don’t care or “believe” in global warming, there are enough other reasons to stop fighting and just get on the climate capitalism bandwagon-starting with the almighty dollar, avoided dependence on foreign oil, global security, and JOBS!
President Obama, it’s not too late to fulfill your campaign promises and help the U.S. gain the traction it has lost. And yes, we can even learn from Walmart, China and Arnold too.
Boyd Cohen is the CEO of CO2 IMPACT, a carbon origination company based in Vancouver, Canada and Bogota, Colombia. Boyd is also the co-author of the forthcoming book, Climate Capitalism: Capitalism in the Age of Climate Change.
This series will use the hashtag #climatcaptlsm