USA Today

This morning I had the privilege of spending some time in the company of Bill Becker, Executive Director of the Presidential Climate Action Project.

I was invited along by Alex Grayson of Empower Community — a project that works to enable communities to set up renewable energy schemes. (So, if you’re reading this and want to raise £1m or so to set up a wind farm or micro-hydro project, you know who to contact!)

Anyway, last year Bill and his team succeeded in making sure that climate and the environment were key discussion topics in the  campaigns for the election of the 44th President of the USA. Since then they have been helping Obama to shape both his policy, and his team for implementing that policy.

Bill will be stepping down at the end of April, to take on a new role: convincing the people and communities of the Appalachian Mountains to stop mining for coal and do something less destructive instead. (When I say ‘mining’ I mean blowing the tops off the mountains and then scraping out the coal…)

They will have to stop doing that soon anyway, because Obama understands the need to take care of the air that we breathe (see below).

And Bill was very excited about the idea of creating positive visions, and has asked to be sent a copy of the Transition Handbook.

Notes (from various speakers):

Community groups are the new superpower.

Need to build resilient infrastructure (transport, energy, water,…) that can cope with the worst that climate change will throw at us.

Much of the infrastructure in the US is in need of updating anyway.

There is now consensus in the US that climate change is real. The only question is what to do about it.

Energy security is inextricably tied to climate change. Americans realise that $1 trillion dollars have left the country to pay for oil alone.

So far Obama is living up to his campaign promises. He sees change as coming from a combination of personal responsibility and regulatory regime. (If people and individual US States don’t take the required action then the Federal government will require them to do so.)

The target is to have 25% of all energy from renewable sources by 2020. California under Schwarzenegger is aiming to have 33% from renewable sources by that date. (Under Bush that would have been blocked as ‘illegal’.)

The situation we are in today is the result of billions of decisions taken by individuals. Creating the solution will come by the same route: millions of people taking billions of decisions. So communities and individuals are just as much part of the solution as government mandate is.

The US is doing a lot, but its targets do not reach as far as the targets set by the EU.

The key is to show how to have a better life on the other side of this. And to show that the cost of doing nothing is so much greater than the cost of doing something.

We need another Churchill or Roosevelt, to insist that we grow our own vegetables, insulate our houses, install solar panels, buy war bonds — that we all do our bit together.

Scientists are now saying that a 2.4 degree climate change is inevitable, even with the CO2 we have in the atmosphere today. (With no more emissions.) Two degrees is recognised as the ‘safe’ limit. Hurricane Katrina and the other extreme weather we have seen so far have been caused by a temperature rise of only 0.8 degrees. Imagine what three times that (2.4 degrees) or more will be like.

We need a clear vision of a green economy: higher quality of life with less damage to the environment. We need that in the same way that GM’s “futurama” exhibit at the 1939-40 New York World’s Fair showed an uknown vision of a car-filled world.
For the audience of the time it was science fiction. But it defined the path which we then followed.

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