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A clean climate must be a consumer commodity

Daniel Kammen, Class of 1935 Distinguished Professor of Energy | September 28, 2014

The United Nations Climate Summit  last week in New York was yet another venue for important scientific releases highlighting the now well-established scientific consensus about both the economic and social severity of inaction on global warming. Equally thoughtful and numerous will be the proposals to move nations to a common ground on a framework for action.

These efforts are critically needed. Without greater attention to individual consumers, however, we are likely to continue to make a mistake that has gone on for decades. Simply put, we need to take a fresh look at how to engage a national movement around the very real benefits of a secure climate for humanity.

The path to a broadly negotiated climate protection accord is one that political scientists have warned us against. Rarely do complex, broadly negotiated accords achieve significant advances. Instead, thoughtful efforts to clarify the individual benefits that stem from collective action have, time and again, proven to be more effective.

To significantly advance the climate protection effort, we need look no further than the changes in the medical and biotechnology industries. An effort to double the National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget began as a movement among Senate Republicans in 1999 and garnered increasing bipartisan Congressional support in the 105th Congress. The effort created a climate supportive of the move to dramatically increase federal support, which was approved in 2003. A very simple premise underlay this effort: everyone values good health, and this investment holds the promise to directly benefit every American.

Additional examples abound. The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) was created by a successful ballot initiative (Proposition 71 in 2004) to make stem-cell research a state priority. The initiative created a $5 billion taxpayer-funded entity, intended to advance public health by developing cures and treatments for diabetes, cancer, paralysis, and other illnesses.

To be sure, both the NIH and CIRM efforts had and have their critics, but they underscore the benefits of direct individual benefits of collective action.

Energy efficient lightbulbs

High-efficiency lightbulbs

Climate change is at least, and arguably, even more critical a collective issue, but to date the advocates of action on global warming have been unable to capture the sentiment that supported political and financial action on health solutions.

Gone are the days when investments in clean energy may feel good, but neither “pencil out” or provide better services than the dirty energy systems they replace. Today, we have ample avenues to clarify the public benefits of climate protection, and to act on initiatives that will bring these benefits to U. S. citizens and to the global community.

First, consumer products now exist that demonstrate the value of energy efficiency and clean energy. Light-emitting diode (LED) flashlights and headlights for cars are not just more efficient than incandescent lights, but provide superior performance at lower cost. In developing nations, stand-alone lighting products with a small solar-panel powering an array of LED lights, often accompanied by outlets for cell phone charging and even highly-efficient flat screen televisions are now the hub of the most dramatic increase in energy access we have seen in four decades. The Sustainable Energy for All initiative started by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has adopted this technology platform as part of an effort to provide universal energy access by 2030 – a goal that brings quality of life and climate protection together in a fundamental, empowering, initiative.

Research on carbon footprints by my laboratory and many others present a very clear conclusion: reducing carbon emissions saves money. Numerous companies now offer roof-top solar leases that reduce utility bills immediately.

At the state and national level, efforts to divest municipal, university, corporate and church financial portfolios illustrate the opportunities to take immediate steps that reduce financial risk and send clear political messages. With much of the unburned fossil fuels needing to stay that way from a climate perspective, these efforts are an opportunity for meaningful change.

Proposals to direct revenues from regional carbon emissions markets, such as in California, offer the chance to send back to individuals funds they invest in carbon and money saving opportunities.

All of these actions directly benefit the individual bottom line, making climate protection a by-product of smart consumerism. We do need a global agreement on climate, but we won’t succeed without making clear the immediate, personal benefits, of sustainable energy and climate plans.

We must open a new dialog about the benefits of “going green” so that future climate events — the Climate Conference of the Parties (COP) meetings in December in Lima and then in Paris in December 2015 among others — have new and substantive avenues to advance the dialog.  There are important lessons in the history of health innovations that the climate science community would do well to examine.

Daniel M. Kammen is a professor at UC Berkeley, where he directs the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory. He served as the World Bank’s Chief Technical Specialist for Renewable Energy, and today he serves the U. S. Department of State as Fellow of the Energy and Climate Partnership to the Americas.

Comment to “A clean climate must be a consumer commodity

  1. Dr. Kammen: Greetings, A Clean Climate Must be a Consumer Commodity is right. Meaning, unless it becomes a consumers commodity by making the consumer realize the application-importance of such commodity, and how its benefits pertain each and every human being on the face of the planet, Climate Summits can come and go once a year by highlighting scientific consensus on the economy and global warming until all the forest in Amazon is gone and the last square inch of ice left on North Pole, waiting, helpless.

    When a global crisis such as Global Warming does not become an individual’s responsibility and a personal task, proposals for frameworks of how it ought to be, they tend to fade away shortly after a Summit is over because moving nations on action to get results is worst than asking someone to go see the dentist. Now, multiply this notion to an X amount of people in a populated country and see what the results are going to be when humans are creatures of habits.

    The condition of Global Warming as it stands right now and as we speak, requires frameworks on drastic changes. And when the vast majority of people habitually waiting on someone else to take action; have a task accomplished, the job can be delayed and long-drawn-out to doomsday.

    Yes, the politicians are taking the right steps to solve Global Warming crisis by addressing stats and scientific perspectives, but the pace can be improved to a superior status when individuals see that this is a common hauling effort to clean the air by contributing small things like; recycling, saving on water excess, avoid using more electric power than necessary, be conscious of extra driving, can add to a substantial amount of pollution decreases on a global scale rather waiting on industries to do the job alone.

    Well, now, the question arises where do we start convincing people to take action for this common effort? A good answer would be education. And what we know about culture is the fact that it is based on the foundation of education. Therefore, when education on taking self responsibility becomes a cultural knowledge, we can adapt and obtain principles taught and values learned for everyday life. John Kennedy once said: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” This is a principle which falls on an individual to see the degree of self responsibility, do what is right for you, don’t depend on others.

    Dr. David Zilberman says: “God helps those who help themselves.” This is a principle of inner-core-values and a spirited-vigorous tool to use at any given time when humans see it existing within them. Then, tables can turn around and humanity can see expected changes, absolutely and unconditionally.

    Historically, negotiating an agreement can become a political bargain-talk-issue between disagreements on discrepancies and negation divergences, since most politicians are known to endure. The path to achieve negotiation agreements; especially a climate protection agreement, in order to be more effective, it is necessary to have a project plan with attached results to it. Meaning, a package set with confirmed results based on projects completion and with deadlines.

    True, budget plays a major role on every project. Tough, the question on how much would it cost to advance the climate protection; deriving from NIH budget and other institutions budgets as well, should had taken priority beyond other priorities and not have it bouncing around for four years in order to raise federal support, when such investment can sustain the good health for all Americans, in addition to the clean air we breathe.

    There’s no doubt that climate change as it stands right now is a critical issue and a top priority of all financial and political issues regarding health solutions.

    When investments in clean energy are encouraged by becoming known for providing better air quality and better services to all industries, shifting over from old habitual energy systems, the replacement for alternative energy would have an absolute improvement to ecosystem, the major problem for all humanity.

    There are two facts that go hand-in-hand. A) We know what the problem is and how to resolve it. B) We have the sufficient budgets to simplify the complicated air quality problems.

    Therefore, the benefits of climate protection will steer a new direction as to pass-on the benefits not only to the American people but to the global community as well.

    Where and how do we begin? Well, good question. At the state and national level it would be a good step forward to start building those foundations. Federal budgets investing in schools and universities “encouraging” UC Venture-Capital Fund by faculty-student-led Ventures, as announced on Sep. 16, 2014, on: would certainly become a great economic force on cleantech and a great effort for an opportunity to a meaningful climate improvement. Talking about budgets, this is a “vigorous budget” that comes with $250Million tag to UC!

    California, a leading state in pollution reduction and a leader in Green Energy can, and without doubt, lead the way on savings for individuals by designing send-back-fund plans to folks investing in Alternative Energy.

    Quite true, isn’t it? What’s the bottom line? Well, the first thing smart consumerism will look at is the bottom line. And without bringing on the table plans on forecast results of successes on personal benefits, global agreements and sustainable energy plans are doomed to fail.

    Keep-up the good work.

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