The Task of Environmental Leadership
Amid the ever rising, discordant, disconnected, coursing invasion of voices and information and interpretations competing to engage our consciousness 24-7, it’s ever more difficult to achieve perspective.
Are we surprised that people retreat to various explanatory ideologies to impose some order… or perhaps, a surcease, a rationalization for disengagement?….
Our evolving environmental consciousness exemplifies the challenge of achieving understanding in our highly connected age.
Earth Day week is an apt moment to make note of some of the spectacular changes underway.
Undertake a thought experiment:
—What issues before us now will appear most consequential fifty years hence?
—What questions that appear to us to be settled, entirely beyond debate, will be viewed as erroneous in the future?
—What issues are taboo, kept from discussion, that will be viewed as central, in the longer view?
What follows are a series of observations and questions intended to stir thought–and spur action.
United States Greenhouse Gas Emissions Decline
While the politicians preen and dither, the United States has cut carbon dioxide emissions by 13 percent since 2007.
This unprecedented drop is primarily the result of market forces and the increased substitution of natural gas for coal. The latter is made possible by the fracking boom.
Surely no greater evidence is needed for the power of the market–and the potential efficacy of a well designed carbon tax.
Renewable Energy Milestones
The boom in traditional energy, combined with the inept policies exemplified by the Solyndra debacle, has prompted many to dismiss the prospects for renewables.
Not so fast….
In fact, there are major, positive milestones:
—The U. S. Energy Information Administration reports that renewable energy production now tops nuclear power.
— Solar energy is approaching price parity with traditional fuels. This holds the promise of ending reliance on subsidies. As an intermittent source–at least for the present, without advances in energy storage technologies–solar energy must be provided in concert with traditional sources in most cases.
Among the sectors facing imminent financial disruption: the coal industry, and the utility sector. Political leadership is required for these transitions.
In addition, it’s clear that traditional, centralized energy sources are vulnerable to catastrophic events. The magnitude of the Fukushima nuclear disaster continues to be revealed. One thing is certain: the longstanding, pro-nuclear assumptions of the Japanese government have been displaced.
The resurgence in awareness of the risks of terrorism brings to the fore the vulnerabilities of the grid. Many individuals as well as businesses are likely to continue to seek off-grid solutions.
The future of renewable energy may not be seen as a straight line. Yet the direction is clear.
Corporate Environmental Commitments Continue
No day is without news of American corporate commitments and achievements in environmental and energy issues. Sustainability has become a core strategic issue, reflected and regularized in management.
Concern about green-washing is justified. Ronald Reagan’s credo—Trust but Verify—is apt.
That said, in an age of transparency, when rising generations bring an unquestioned commitment to environmental stewardship, the trends are positive.
Of course, none of this just happened. It’s the result of years of government actions that brought traditional corporate behavior into alignment with evolving public demands for environmental protection. Enforcement and information disclosure (the latter coming into its own with the Community Right-to-Know Act of 1986, reaching full flower with the Information Age) have been so important that their significance is liable to be overlooked.
To a great extent, the current flowering of corporate and NGO arrangements can be seen as actualizing the vision of policy makers of a generation ago.
A question: can the USA break through the political leadership inertia of the past two decades, and deploy government effectively to help create new, 21st century leadership on environment and energy issues?
21st Century Environmental Leadership | Part II