In 2019, I became a grandfather. I've worked in sustainability for years, and I am so proud of my daughter and son-in-law for raising my granddaughter in a solar-powered home and driving her in an electric car.
One of her favorite treats is Plum Organics’ Super Puffs, which her grandfather introduced to TriplePundit readers about 10 years ago. I still hold in my heart Plum Organics’ trademarked vision statement of “pure from the start” as a hope I have for my granddaughter and all babies.
But we end 2019 with this reality: Our hopes for our children are caught between the ability of sustainable products like electric cars, solar power and organic foods to deliver a healthy and prosperous future and the control over government policies held by carbon-centric companies protecting their market share. Here are some of the most crucial factors affecting our children's future—and what we can do about them.
In 2019, the majority of U.S. children face health risk from air pollution. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does an annual report on children's health statistics. This report finds that 62 percent of our children live in counties with a measured air pollutant concentration above the levels of one or more National Ambient Air Quality Standards.
To make things worse: Lobbying expenditures by carbon-centric companies are 10 times greater than the lobbying expenditures of nonprofit environmental groups. The success that carbon-centric companies have had in lobbying our government to roll back pollution regulations is a major reason why pollution still threatens our children’s health.
The Donald Trump administration proposed eliminating the private medical data the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) uses to design regulations. This medical data is the underlying science used by the EPA in crafting regulations that have reduced elevated blood lead levels in children aged 1 to 5 years from almost 26 percent between 1988 and 1994 to less than 1 percent today.
2019 recorded the highest levels of CO2 atmospheric concentrations in human history. The harsh reality is that my granddaughter’s world will be hotter than mine. Her future will be shaped by weather extremes that will reduce food supplies, job opportunities and human health.
When I began writing about climate change in 2007, the world needed to reduce its annual greenhouse gas emissions by 0.7 percent each year to achieve the Paris Accord goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by the end of this century.
Today, the world would have to begin reducing emissions by 2.7 percent annually to reach this goal, but the reality is that the world is still increasing its global warming emissions.
Economics is a major driver in world emissions. Globally, our governments continue to subsidize petroleum, natural gas and coal. They continue to under-regulate pollution compared to its damaging costs. The result is that carbon-centric technologies look cheaper than clean technologies. This price distortion results in consumers being misled into buying products that generate greenhouse gases and pollution at a cost to be paid by the very babies we love so much.
The good news is that 2019 demonstrated how sustainable technologies can cost less and deliver more solutions.
Case in point: The competitive pricing of the Tesla Model 3 in the luxury car market—plus superior performance and zero emissions—is generating more car sales than Mercedes and BMW, combined.
Solar power is now the least costly source of electricity generation in several markets worldwide. In a milestone deal, Los Angeles’ municipal electric utility signed a 400-megawatt contract to buy electricity from a combined solar and battery electric generating system for 3.3 cents per kilowatt hour—which proved to be cheaper than a natural gas fueled peak generation system.
Beyond Meat, the tech company producing meatless burgers, went public in 2019. And healthy, sustainable food produced with a lower emissions footprint is now on the menus of our fast-food restaurants.
California’s economy, anchored on renewable energy and energy efficiency, grew to become the fifth largest in the world while also reducing its GHG emissions.
Optimistically, my granddaughter may look back at her birth year as the year when U.S. consumers began buying into the idea of a sustainable economy.
But realizing a sustainable economy’s fullest potential will only happen when consumers see a product’s health and environmental costs included in its price. It will only happen when we stop providing tax subsidies for fossil fuels.
If this happens, our children will have an exciting future where what they buy will deliver on both value and human health. The question is: Will we make it happen?
Bill Roth is a cleantech business pioneer having led teams that developed the first hydrogen fueled Prius and a utility scale, non-thermal solar power plant. Using his CEO and senior officer experiences, Roth has coached hundreds of CEOs and business owners on how to develop and implement projects that win customers and cut costs while reducing environmental impacts. As a professional economist, Roth has written numerous books including his best selling The Secret Green Sauce (available on Amazon) that profiles proven sustainable best practices in pricing, marketing and operations. His most recent book, The Boomer Generation Diet (available on Amazon) profiles his humorous personal story on how he used sustainable best practices to lose 40 pounds and still enjoy Happy Hour!