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To Best Address Climate Change, Sustainability Must Influence Policy

Words by 3p Contributor
Leadership & Transparency
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By Andrew Heikkila

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey’s August 2017 landfall in Texas, it’s all but impossible to ignore that climate change is real and represents a devastating future for people around the world. While EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt stated that now is not the time to talk about climate change, TriplePundit contributor Susan Glickman argues that now is exactly the time to talk about climate change.

“What’s insensitive is not talking about the links between warmer surface-water temperatures and more-intense weather events,” she writes. “What’s insensitive is dismantling the Clean Power Plan that was put in place to reduce climate-changing carbon pollution. What’s insensitive is unraveling the environmental protections we all rely on so allies in the oil and gas industry can continue to pollute for free and have consumers pick up the tab.”

Not only that, Glickman reminds, but we’ve know about this problem for over 50 years. In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson addressed Congress to deliver a warning concerning climate change:

"Air pollution is no longer confined to isolated places," said Johnson less than three weeks after his 1965 inauguration. "This generation has altered the composition of the atmosphere on a global scale through radioactive materials and a steady increase in carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels."

Green is growing, but is it growing fast enough?

The good news is that not everybody has their heads in the sand. Even though Donald Trump has announced that the U.S. would be withdrawing from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, the private sector is making their own moves. Trump’s renege announcement came last June, but, as TriplePundit writer Tina Casey puts it, “back then the conventional wisdom was that the world would simply move along without him. Since then there have been many indications that the conventional wisdom was actually right.”

Evidence can be found everywhere that people prefer green initiatives that the Trump administration has disregarded. The solar industry is booming, adding at least 35,000 new in the industry since 2011 and currently employing at least 209,000 panel installers, designers, engineers, sales associates, managers, and others in the U.S. alone. By comparison, the oil and gas industry eliminated more than 17,000 jobs in 2015 alone.

While these initiatives are absolutely necessary, the question is whether or not they’re enough? Heather Clancy, Editorial Director for GreenBiz, thinks that without tapping into policy and restructuring the political landscape, “the march of progress on sustainable business practices — especially toward adopting clean, renewable energy — will slow to a crawl.”

Despite the private sector’s advancements, the people most in need of clean initiatives aren’t finding them accessible.

“While many corporate energy buyers are understandably excited about the various financing options, programs and tax incentives at their disposal to acquire solar and wind power that matches their electricity loads, it's far more difficult to get individual consumers who find it difficult to pay their power bills each month excited about energy efficiency or clean power,” writes Clancy. “The poorest 20 percent of the U.S. population pays 10 percent or more of their entire household income on energy, at least in part because they haven't been able to invest in efficiency measures such as power-sipping appliances.”

This disparity is what has allowed companies like ExxonMobil to paint the sustainability movement as an elitist, whimsical group, disconnected from the hardship and economic realities of those living under or near the poverty line. To level with these populations, private companies and their sustainability teams will have to become more involved in local, state, and federal policy matters to advance progress on clean energy initiatives in a way that includes members from every rung of the social ladder.

Clancy uses Google as an example for how this investment in policy evolution can pay off, mentioning that the company was “at the heart of an effort in North Carolina to craft the renewable energy tariff program that has allowed several large buyers to invest in projects in that state.”

“When Google wanted to begin a $600 million expansion to its Lenoir data center, it pushed Duke Energy to develop something called a ‘Green Source Rider,’” reports NC State University. “It was the first time a program had been requested by a consumer that allows a company to buy electricity that’s produced from renewable sources. It may cost a little more, but Google hopes this strategy will blaze a trail for other electricity customers.”

Google, unfortunately, is the outlier. Very few companies are willing to spend nearly as much as Google has in attempts to influence and reshape policy that makes clean energy more economically accessible to all. ExxonMobil, however, is no stranger to influencing policy — they spent $11.8 million on lobbying expenditures in 2016 alone.

The reality is that this money speaks, and it’s been speaking loudly for the last 50 years at least. Until sustainability groups take the initiative to influence and shape policy, companies like ExxonMobil will continue to do it themselves, come hell, hurricanes, or high water.

Image credit: Flickr / Texas National Guard

3p Contributor

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