Thursday, August 28, 2014

Four principles for climate policy design

350 Seattle has just sent in its recommendations for Washington state climate policy to Governor Jay Inslee and his climate policy task force.  Cascadia Planet offers these recommendations as a model not only for Washington, but also as a set of four principles to guide climate policy design in general – P.M.

From 350 Seattle to Governor Jay Inslee and the Carbon Emissions Reduction Taskforce: Our thanks and our recommendations

Dear Governor Inslee and Task Force Members:
350 Seattle is a grassroots organization working for climate justice by educating people and engaging them in the movement for a livable planet. We applaud your commitment to designing an effective climate and carbon policy for Washington State.  We are grateful for actions that move Washington State off fossil fuels and towards a highly efficient economy run on clean energy sources.
As you know, the impacts of carbon pollution on our state are already severe, from record wildfires to shellfish industry distress.  Like you, we recognize the urgency of reducing carbon pollution as quickly as possible.  Though Washington represents only a small portion of global emissions, it is incumbent upon us to act where we can and set an example for other states, our nation, and our world.  Your climate policy design work is extremely important.
In the spirit of joining to ensure a climate legacy for our children and coming generations, we offer the following recommendations:

Regardless of the type of carbon-pricing system, ensure that it is strong enough to make a difference quickly.
Examples of ways to do this include:
     Limiting the role of carbon offsets. The governor has recommended that emitters be able to cover no more than 10% of their carbon reduction requirements with offsets.  We agree that it is important to limit offsets, to provide the greatest possible incentives for direct emissions reductions.  For this reason we urge that the target be set lower.  California limits offsets to 8%, and the Northeast’s Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) limits offsets to 3.3%. We believe Washington State should set a limit closer to RGGI and suggest that no more than 4% of obligations be covered by offsets.
     Including language about enforcement, and making sure there are adequate resources for enforcement. Unfortunately, we all know that some emitters may try to slip by without cutting their emissions as required. However, if all emitters know that their actions will be monitored, they will respond, and in fact will probably look for innovative ways to cut emissions.
     Putting a price on a high share of emissions from the start. We recognize that it can make a big difference to businesses if they have a ramping-up period to help them adapt to carbon pricing. At the same time, ramping down emissions is urgently demanded by our current situation. If a cap-and-trade system is chosen, we believe the initial level of auctioned permits should be well over the 15% suggested by the governor. Similarly, if a carbon-tax system is chosen, the system should cover most types of emissions sources right from the start, and not offer exemptions for significant sectors of fossil fuel energy use.

Consider ways to accelerate Washington carbon reductions, in line with climate science.
Climate science pioneer James Hansen and his team have calculated the carbon reduction trajectory needed to return the atmosphere’s carbon dioxide concentrations to 350 parts per million (ppm) by 2100; this is the level at which planetary energy balance is restored and the planet stops accumulating solar heat (it is also the reason for our organization’s name). It is therefore essential to reach this goal.  That requires emissions reductions on the order of 6% annually plus significant increases in biological carbon storage. The Hansen study is available at this site:
Washington’s current non-binding targets, set in 2008 legislation, are a return to 1990 emissions levels by 2020, a 25% reduction by 2035, and 50% by 2050. For Washington to achieve carbon reductions in line with global targets set by Hansen et al, our goals need to  be approximately  a 30% reduction by 2020, 70% by 2035, and 90% by 2050. We recognize the tremendous challenges involved in meeting those targets globally, let alone by a single state.  Nonetheless, we ask the Governor to consider ways to accelerate carbon reductions beyond the 2008 targets, particularly in early years when deep emissions cuts are most crucial.
The Governor has instructed the CERT to design policy around the 2008 targets. In line with the Governor’s order to Department of Ecology to “review the state’s greenhouse gas emission limits and recommend updates” we urge the Governor to consider proposing higher binding targets to the legislature. Another option would make the current targets binding, but set stretch goals to be achieved by complementary policies and investment of carbon revenues in specific emissions reductions strategies.  In any event, climate legislation and rulemaking processes should be crafted to allow for tighter carbon caps in response to emerging science and the understanding of carbon reduction opportunities.
It is abundantly clear from the science  that not taking strong early action may lead to climate tipping points and changes with centuries-long impacts. We should all recall the collapse of the summer Arctic icepack in 2007, decades ahead of projections. Our planet is capable of delivering dangerous surprises, so we must act on the side of caution. We need to take bold action sooner rather than later.

As much as possible, use carbon revenues for investments in carbon reduction.
We recognize that carbon pricing will increase energy costs; to instill a sense of fairness and increase public support, we need to reduce the impact on low-to-middle-income people by rebating a portion of carbon revenues. Apart from this, carbon revenues should be invested as much as possible in carbon-reducing activities.  We believe that the following investments have greatest potential to reduce carbon emissions. 
        Low-cost financing for building energy retrofits that fully capture efficiency opportunities.
        Elimination of all coal- and gas-generated electricity used in Washington, replaced with renewable energy and improved energy efficiency.
        Increased incentives for rapid transition to electrified transportation in all sectors where feasible, including light-duty vehicles and railroads.
        Reduction of the need to drive by upgrading transit and other options to the automobile, and building affordable housing close to job centers.

Reduce atmospheric CO2 levels by investing in biocarbon.
Most projects to build up biological carbon storage for climate goals have been in the offsetting framework. But these projects only neutralize a current carbon emission. Achieving climate stability requires reduction of pre-existing atmospheric carbon concentrations, already at 400 ppm. Though technological modes are being developed to soak CO2 from the atmosphere, plant photosynthesis is currently the only economically feasible way to do this. Hansen’s team estimates that 100 billion tons of atmospheric carbon must be absorbed  and stored as biocarbon this century to reach the target of 350 ppm by 2100.
Washington State has magnificent natural assets that can store large amounts of biocarbon, including our forests, farms, and wetlands. We need to invest carbon revenues in carbon-mitigating land use management. Here are some examples of possible high-value biocarbon investments:
     Extending harvest rotations on Department of Natural Resources forest lands
     Purchasing private forest lands to add to state working forests and reserves
     Buying conservation easements on private forest lands
     Providing incentives for farmers to shift to soil-building practices such as no-till cultivation
     Supporting the capacity of Washington State University and conservation districts to provide technical assistance for implementing soil-building practices
     Providing additional funding for wetlands restoration.
These measures can also provide the additional benefit of building resilience in the face of climate impacts. Healthy forest stands retain moisture, thus working against drought stress, as well as floods and slides caused by heavy rainfall.  Soil rich in organic carbon reduces crop losses by retaining moisture, improving fertility, and building resistance to pests and disease. Wetlands buffer against storm surges and floods.

Washington State is a climate leader. By setting a high bar for carbon reduction goals, limiting offsets, and investing in actions to reduce carbon emissions and atmospheric carbon concentrations, we can set the pace for other states and the nation as a whole.

350 Seattle asks you to consider our recommendations as you design climate policy and legislative proposals. We are leaving our children with a terrible legacy. Please do absolutely all you can to give them a fighting chance by designing and proposing the strongest possible climate and carbon policy for Washington State.  Leadership on this issue is the best legacy you can possibly leave.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Mapping clean technology regions: For clean tech leadership, culture counts

This is a supplement to my three-part series on Colin Woodard's American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of America.   Here I correlate Woodard's map of the "American Nations" with Clean Edge's 2014 U.S. Clean Tech Leadership Index.

Clean Edge is one of the absolute leaders in tracking the clean technology industry. The Portland-based firm maps state and metropolitan clean technology industry leaders.  Clean Edge bases its rankings on metrics including patents granted, capital availability, green building representation, policy leadership, hybrid vehicle ownership and renewable energy adoption. It should come as no surprise that there is a high degree of overlap between regions that are leaders in clean technology innovation and global warming policy.

Let's start with the "American Nations" themselves, depicted in the map below.  They are described in this post.  Four "American Nations" - Yankeedom, New Netherland, Left Coast and El Norte - are regions where support for action to stem global warming is high. More on regional geography of climate politics in this post.  

Then let's look at the state leaders. The darker the color the more advanced their leadership.   Notice the leading states all overlap with the four climate-friendly “nations.” The top states, California and Massachusetts, are either entirely or largely with those nations.

The map of clean technology state policy leaders also shows a high correlation between the four "nations," and overall state leaders.  All 10 of the deepest green states heavily overlap the four climate leading regions. The connection is clear. Policy drives much of clean technology development now, and climate-friendly politics drive clean tech policy.  

Metropolitan clean tech leaders are also highly correlated with the four climate-friendly "nations."  The concentration of leaders on the coasts is a stand-out.  There are several outliers among the top 10.  DC, part of Tidewater, is the nation's capital and a center of technology funding.  Denver, in Far West, is a center of federal clean tech R&D, resulting in many spin-offs.  Austin is the exceptional city in Texas in many ways, though Houston and Dallas are not far out of the top 10, another legacy of long-term federal R&D spending.  

The correlation of Woodard’s and Clean Edge’s maps makes it crystal clear – Regions leading the way to address climate change are also taking an early lead in what will become a complex of the 21st century’s largest industries, clean technology.  Regional culture drives politics, and culture drives policy, which gives new industries a leg up to marketplace success. Woodard’s four climate-friendly regions stand to benefit greatly over coming decades by forwarding the clean technology solutions.  In clean tech leadership, regional culture counts.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Living Cascadia

I came to Cascadia in 1977, though I didn’t call it that then.  The Cascadia idea was still emerging.  Bates McKee’s 1972 tome on regional geology, Cascadia: The Geologic Evolution of the Pacific Northwest, was the source of the idea for many.  A unique land nested on the Pacific Rim, place of volcanoes and mountain chains, great rivers and deep, verdant forests. 

Great places need great storytellers and visionaries to help us know and see them.  My journey through this place has been informed by a great Cascadian visionary, David McCloskey.  David elucidated many of the original thoughts about Cascadia as a bioregion, what defines it as a unique place. He helped me shape my own thoughts about this place and my commitment to it.  A great mapmaker, David travelled the bioregion and felt out its boundaries.  I resonate with them. 

Now David is making new and more detailed maps of Cascadia.  Here is the latest from his Cascadia Institute site. 
“This new map shows a real place, not an abstract nor ideal space,"  David describes.  “The life of our bioregion has been obscured, split up by boundaries and separated into categories, the matrix dismembered. This map reveals something important that has long remained invisible—namely, the integrality of the bioregion we are calling 'Cascadia.' This map provides a portrait of home....”

“Every place, as with every person, has its own story to tell,” David writes. “For ‘A place is a story that happens many times,’ as the Oregon writer Kim Stafford reminds us.

“The power and beauty and tragedy of this place is palpable, its promise still to be fulfilled.  This place is a story unfolding on many levels.  The new story we seek to tell here is not simply the ‘re-telling’ of history, for most of it awaits discovery. 

“We are called to become explorers in our own lands, to rediscover an originary map of the world, so that we may find our way home.”

My Cascadian exploration has been just that, exploring across the landscape, finding my own way home. 

I grew up in the Northeast power corridor, the megalopolis that stretches from Boston to Washington, in the middle of it on the outskirts of Philadelphia.  It was a very East Coast existence.  I recall the 3 a.m. smell of a public men’s room in Manhattan on late teen excursions over to The City taking advantage of New York’s then loose-as-a-goose 18-year-old drinking age. (I wasn’t.)  I can still bring up vivid pictures of the headlight-illuminated snake of traffic streaming down the Pennsylvania Turnpike west of Philly, Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky” rocking in time on the radio.  Somehow it seemed the essential expression of postwar American life. 

I remember mom and dad taking us to the New York ’64 World’s Fair and the top of the Empire State Building, still the world’s tallest.  And living in DC going to Georgetown taking Bill Clinton’s favorite historian, Carroll Quigley.  I might have been a lifetime East Coaster.  But some muse drew me invariably West.  I wound up in LA where I took journalism at Cal State-Long Beach.  After graduation I was standing on a point overlooking the Pacific on a clear, starry night feeling a stiff wind blow in my face. Seemed like a north wind.  I felt called to the Northwest, not knowing much about it. 

I came with an imagery of the Pacific Northwest, a kind of “Five Easy Pieces” vision of a green land far away from most everything.  Somewhere in my mind were stuck educational comic book drawings of loggers and salmon, snow-capped peaks and big trees. 

Those were the days when I could still pack my belongings in my car.  In late 1977 I drove up I-5 and pulled into Seattle a few years after the post-Vietnam recession and that famous billboard, “Will the last person leaving Seattle please turn out the lights?”  The lights were beginning to come back on.  But it was still funky old Seattle.  Starbucks was a small, local coffee chain. Microsoft was a start-up run by two guys named Bill and Paul chasing software dreams in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Kurt Cobain was an abused 10-year old in Aberdeen-Hoquiam.  The “boxes in which the Space Needle came” were just beginning to pop up in the downtown skyline.  

Chasing a journalism job I was quickly drawn over the mountains to the farm teams of county weeklies and small dailies.  So unlike many transplants who move from some metropolis elsewhere to the Northwest urban equivalent, I actually experienced the country east of the mountains and am richer for it.  I got to cover everything from the Omak Stampede rodeo to Indian reservation mining struggles. 

But after three years I tired of mainstream journalism and moved to Portland to focus my real life pursuit, advocacy journalism and organizing.  It put me at the seedbed of things.  The early days of ancient forest activism.  The early stirrings of ideas that cities actually could be green and sustainable. The early version of this Cascadia Planet website in the mid-1990s, one of the world’s first explicitly bioregional sites.  And early efforts to shape a regional response to global warming, a pursuit I continue to this day back in Seattle.

It was a landscape from which all of this grew, a place so deep and stunning in its natural beauty it could grab my East Coast soul and transform it into something of its own.  I once heard Native American leader Winona LaDuke advise us immigrants to “go back to the place you are native or become native to the place.” I chose the latter, engaging in struggles and organizing projects to preserve its great nature and build a sustainable society on its landscape.  I continue to act on the idea that by acting in place, locally and regionally, we can build the new in the shell of the old and actually make a sustainable world. 

Cascadia has long been my inspiration, even before I knew it was called that.  It is a place that tells you there is a planet worth saving, a direct engagement with the Earth that moves the soul and spirit.  McCloskey’s seminal mapmaking has helped me see this place, and value it.  May it help you my fellow Cascadians see it as well, and move you to save this place and the beautiful planet in which it is embedded by seeding a truly sustainable society in the region.  It is what we have at hand to make a truly sustainable world.