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February 12, 2013 9:43 AM Selling Action On Climate Change

By Ed Kilgore

While intense opposition from “coal counties” strategically situated in battleground states had a lot to do with the president muting any discussion of climate change during the 2012 campaign, there’s something more going on that could inhibit the administration’s rhetoric in this area, says the New York Times’ David Leonhardt: the standard “green jobs” rationale doesn’t seem to be working:

Green jobs have long had a whiff of exaggeration to them. The alternative-energy sector may ultimately employ millions of people. But raising the cost of the energy that households and businesses use every day — a necessary effect of helping the climate — is not exactly a recipe for an economic boom.

Unsurprisingly, in his State of the Union Address the president seems likely to talk less about green jobs and more about climate change itself, as exhibited in the violent weather patterns of recent years.

But even if Obama finds his rhetoric groove on why action on climate change is essential, he still has to choose a strategy for doing something about it. And with a cap-and-trade system being permanently blocked in Congress barring a return to big Democratic majorities, and regulatory mandates certain to produce psychotic shrieking and big lawsuits, it would be nice to have another arrow in the quiver for forward momentum on climate change.

At Ten Miles Square today, Sanjay Kapoor suggests a comprehensive effort to used the purchasing power of the federal government to reduce the carbon emissions that go into products and services we all pay for. What makes this an unusually interesting idea is that it has already been pioneered in the private sector by a company conservatives will be loath to attack: Walmart:

In 2005, Walmart under then-CEO Lee Scott started to see sustainability for the business potential that it had. Its first step was to look into its own operations for ways to eliminate unnecessary energy use. It found plenty. For instance, it reduced the amount of packaging on a toy truck made in China, saving 4,000 trees, 497 fewer cargo containers to be shipped from China and a million gallons of fuel - $2.4 million in savings. It changed the shape of their milk jugs so that 224 gallons of milk could be stored in a cooler that previously stored 80 gallons - and it was able to reduce the price of the milk it sold by over 15 percent. These and many and other improvements have helped the company save money -more than $231 million last year from just waste reduction and recycling, and another $150 million expected in FY 2013.
Then, recognizing that less than 10 percent of the carbon emissions associated with the products it sells lies within its own operations, Walmart took the next logical step: it invited its over 60,000 suppliers to reduce their carbon footprints. It did so by asking its suppliers, starting with the largest, to fill out a questionnaire developed by the nonprofit Carbon Disclosure Project to disclose their carbon emissions. Some suppliers suspected that the effort was just another costly compliance burden. But the main aim of collecting the information was for the companies themselves to look at their operations with fresh eyes and to see what Walmart saw: that carbon is money and cutting carbon saves money.

As Kapoor points out, the Obama administration has already moved in this direction by requiring federal agencies to pay attention to their own carbon footprint. Extending this effort to contractors could have a significant ripple effect throughout the economy, and would not produce the kind of backlash and bad publicity of a flat mandate on the private sector. If all else fails, which it often has on this subject, it’s certainly worth a try.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

Comments

  • c u n d gulag on February 12, 2013 10:04 AM:

    Yes, any measure of effort is better than doing nothing about global warming/weirding.

    But, unless the whole world starts making this a massive priority, and we lead, the efforts you listed above, Ed, will be like the passengers in 1st Class on the Titanic throwing some knick-knacks out of their porthole windows, while the passengers below catch them, and bring them into their area.

    The ship still be sinkin'!!!

  • SecularAnimist on February 12, 2013 10:44 AM:

    David Leonhardt wrote: "Green jobs have long had a whiff of exaggeration to them. The alternative-energy sector may ultimately employ millions of people."

    That comment has the stench of dishonesty to it. There are ALREADY millions of people employed in "green jobs".

    According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2010 "green goods and services" provided more than 3 million jobs, "with almost a third of all jobs supporting the badly hit construction and manufacturing sector".

    And according to the Brookings Institution, "green jobs outpaced the job growth in the greater economy by a factor of 2 to 1 during the peak of the recession (2008-2010), and pay an average of $7,000 more than other jobs across the greater economy".

    David Leonhardt wrote: "But raising the cost of the energy that households and businesses use every day — a necessary effect of helping the climate — is not exactly a recipe for an economic boom."

    More dishonesty. Wind and solar LOWER the "cost of the energy that households and businesses use every day", not increase it, and America's rapidly growing wind and solar industries are indeed a "recipe for an economic boom".

    A study by the Union of Concerned Scientists found that "a national standard that requires all electric utilities to increase usage of renewable electricity to at least 25 percent by 2025 would create jobs, lower energy bills, and reduce harmful pollution ... 297,000 jobs would be created, $263.4 billion in new capital investment would occur with an additional $11.5 billion going to local communities from new property taxes, and consumers would save $64.3 billion in lower electricity and natural gas bills by 2025."

    Leonhardt is just propagating the fossil fuel industry's dishonest F.U.D. (fear, uncertainty and doubt) against the competition -- one of the oldest corporate propaganda tricks in the book.

  • boatboy_srq on February 12, 2013 10:48 AM:

    Part of the problem is the Teahad's fascination with conspicuous consumption. The Elect™ aren't concerned with the damage done so long as it appears they have mammon to burn. Conservation, once a hallmark of conservative thought, has gone right out the tailpipe: "my SUV offsets your hybrid" is one of the driving mantras of this crowd.

    Recall that during the last gas price spike, when "Drill Baby Drill" was the chant of the Reichwing, the objective wasn't to save money by being more sensible about consumption but to make consumption cheap again. This wasn't about being sensible about wastage - it was about making wastage affordable, so we could all fool ourselves that we might be among The Elect™, too.

    CAFE standards, more efficient vehicles, etc have all fallen victim to this worldview, where the Chosen of Gawd™ have carte blanche to all the globe's resources because their faith tells them so. The Iraq fiasco was supported in no small part because creating a friendly OPEC power would guarantee cheap oil for as long as anyone in the business could forecast (i.e. for the next several business cycles); "liberating" the country and quashing terrorism were much further down the priority scale. The days of the late 60s through mid-80s, when then-fuel-efficient Japanese cars were making a big dent in Detroit's sales and fuel prices were spiking, are distant memory, and the common sense of those days is long gone: the modern Teahadist train of thought is "Who wants to ride in a little tincan when Big Gubmint should be flexing its muscle to get us cheap gas? We deserve our big, gas-guzzling behemoths, and it's our Gawd-given right, enshrined in the Constitution, to keep driving them."

    Business may be more interested in the Bottom Line than the Party Line, as Walmart is (finally) showing. But the rank-and-file Teahadists are too sold on the Blessedness of Ownership, and too programmed against the Sensibility of Thrift, to move without some larger cataclysm to drive them. People are stocking up on incandescent light bulbs (the ones that are being phased out) and the like just to spite the more sensible among us. Until some FundiEvangelical bigwig starts preaching the New Gospel of Responsible Consumption, this is unlikely to change. And until the rank-and-file are persuaded to go along - lower energy bills notwithstanding - then this argument will continue to be about who is Saving versus who is "Saved."

  • Mimikatz on February 12, 2013 11:14 AM:

    Leonhardt's main point is that the best argument for doing something about climate change is that not doing anything will cost far, far more in the long run because unchecked climate change will severely damage if not destroy the economy. He was not making an argument for doing nothing, much less pimping for fossil fuel companies. He was calling for a straightforward program to deal with climate change for it's own sake rather than initiatives disguised as a jobs program.

    And as for us not being able to solve the problem alone, right now we are providing the rest of the world with a big excuse to do nothing. When we finally face reality and start dealing with climate change seriously, the rest of the world's efforts will get a big boost, and coordinated action will be possible.

    People under 55 have much more to fear from climate change than from the deficit. People 40 and under-who can expect to live to 2050-will have unprecedented problems as the infrastructure deteriorates and food and water become major problems, along with the extreme weather. And the gods help today's children, because we certainly aren't.

  • AndThenThere'sThat on February 12, 2013 1:00 PM:

    "We deserve our big, gas-guzzling behemoths, and it's our Gawd-given right, enshrined in the Constitution, to keep driving them."-boatboy_srq

    Agree with all you say, but I'd tweek the above statement, because yesterday's "gas-guzzling behemoths" have been replaced with today's gas-guzzling muscle cars. Hummers and Expeditions are so 2007. Today it's the revamped Camaro and Mustang, which I see everyfreakingwhere I drive.

  • SecularAnimist on February 12, 2013 1:03 PM:

    Mimikatz wrote: "He was calling for a straightforward program to deal with climate change for it's own sake rather than initiatives disguised as a jobs program."

    Obviously we need to "deal with climate change for it's own sake" and it is certainly true that so far, the Obama administration has failed to clearly and consistently present that imperative to the American people. I think we are all hoping to see that change.

    However, it is ALSO true that dealing with climate change IS a "jobs program" -- contrary to Leonhardt's assertion that green jobs are no more than a "whiff of exaggeration", the reality (see my links above) is that green construction, renewable energy and efficiency are already employing millions of people, with strong growth even during the worst of the recession, and even stronger growth today. That is ALSO an important message for Obama to deliver.

    And it is ALSO true that dealing with climate change specifically by deploying wind and solar electricity generation does NOT, as Leonhardt claims, burden "households and businesses" with higher energy costs -- it REDUCES consumers' energy bills by BILLIONS of dollars and has other major economic benefits. In fact, renewable energy IS the "recipe for an economic boom" that the USA needs, and Obama should deliver that message too.

    Whereas, Leonhardt's message is basically the one that the fossil fuel corporations want Americans to hear: that dealing with climate change will be painful, costly, economically damaging, destroy jobs, drive up electric bills, blah blah blah. None of which is true.

  • lou on February 12, 2013 1:39 PM:

    The Walmart story ... I can imagine its 60,000 suppliers pulling numbers out of their asses to fill out that carbon footprint questionnaire.

    And I just have to question the numbers about saving on packaging on the toy truck, or rather the demand created in the US for all that crap to begin with. How much less of a carbon footprint would be created if local craftsmen in the US were making toys from local, sustainably supplied materials? Or if we just quelled the incessant demand for such stuff to begin with in our consumptive way of living?

    The basic problem confronting us is our failure to craft an economy that is not driven by the imperative for growth. All of the efforts we make to increase the energy efficiencies of our system are being trumped by growth and the continuing net increase in total energy consumption.

  • Al Gore on February 13, 2013 11:08 AM:

    "Part of the problem is the Teahad's fascination with conspicuous consumption. The Elect™ aren't concerned with the damage done so long as it appears they have mammon to burn. Conservation, once a hallmark of conservative thought, has gone right out the tailpipe: "my SUV offsets your hybrid" is one of the driving mantras of this crowd."

    Indeed. And my jet offsets your Volt.