Humankind possesses the ability to alter the planet like any natural force; the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change and global warming have ironically been released into the atmosphere as a by-product of our attempt to improve life. Now that the problem has been universally identified, solutions must be decided and implemented within the federal, state, and local levels of government. Unfortunately, those beliefs that “if-everyone” made small changes to reduce emissions it could amount to a big difference is incorrect because as David MacKay put it, “ it deflects people’s attention towards 25 million minnows instead of 25 million sharks.” The “sharks” that represent the climate change struggle must be kept at bay and reduced through various interconnected adaptation and mitigation measures that are readily available.
Paint it Green
One way for the U.S. to design the best legally binding policies to reduce emissions is to use China as a model because not only are they the biggest emitter, but China is also making its developing industries become more efficient, thus reducing carbon emissions per unit of GDP. In addition to learning from China’s approach, the U.S. federal government should implement an emission tax, which Congress believes is the most efficient incentive based policy option for reducing CO2 emissions. This tax will motivate companies to reduce emissions provided that it is less expensive than paying the emission tax. Also, the tax should naturally increase the demand for more emission research, which will spur innovation, business, and global benefits. Despite that the tax is only an adaptive approach to curbing emissions, it will reduce emissions and force the country to redirect its focus away from using fossil fuels as an energy source, and toward using renewable energy and more sustainable energy practices. Another important dimension the U.S. government needs to focus on is the budgeting for renewable energy research and implementation to make alternative energies cost-competitive with fossil fuels, while simultaneously weaning the country off of fossil fuels. In 2010, $409 billion was spent globally on fossil fuel subsidies while renewables only received $66 billion. Since the federal government acts as the nations purse, it must deviate money from its fossil fuel portfolios, as well as from other extraneous expenditures such as the $6.8 billion that goes to federal prisons annually. The added funds for renewables from the emission tax, fossil fuel portfolio, and other expenditures can then be allocated toward renewable research, and to state subsidies to install large-scale renewable energy plants such as PV farms, concentrating solar power towers, parabolic troughs, biofuel plants, wind turbine fields, and ocean current turbines.
California Carrying the Torch
In addition to the federal government’s taxes and policies to reduce emissions, each state must also take up the cause to further accelerate a reduction in GHG emissions through policies and working with its local governments. California is the prime example of this because its state legislature passed the Assembly Bill 32: Global Warming Solutions Act in 2006, which came out prior to any similar law being passed in Congress. This bill facilitates a legal 30% reduction in California’s CO2 equivalent emissions from its business-as-usual annual emissions of 596 million metric tons of CO2 equivalents down to 427 by 2020. Then after 2020, the bill also seeks to continue reducing emissions up to 80% by 2050. AB-32 can achieve these ambitious reduction goals using data on where California emits the most GHG’s in order to know where the most scaling back is required in addition to implementing market strategies and renewable energy sources. Every other state can and should emulate this bill platform to aid in its own emission reductions because it reduces the largest emissions, and thus acts as the largest mitigating factor of state-by-state climate change.
Wiring In Unlike Never Before
So where does Silicon Valley and the rest of the tech industry fit into this vision? Conveniently, one doesn’t have to be designing the hard-wired technology that makes solar panels and wind turbines function to contribute to bettering environmental technology. Instead, our role is to design programming and applications that can make things run more efficiently, and on less energy while also promoting environmental stewardship in others through our products. We must be the voice that gets heard by the rest of the World that calls for large scale environmental restructuring of our industries, consumer habits, and product focus. We create and market the present, and future through our innovations.
Design the World
There is no ultimate answer to solving climate change because there are any number of technologies and governmental responses that could bring about a feasible solution. However, bureaucracy on all levels is slow to respond. Being at the forefront of the technology sector, it is imperative that we lead the development, policy, and economic planning to produce the result mankind needs; a sustainable life without fossil fuels. Regardless of whether aspiring entrepreneurs design products and build companies with an environmental focus or not, their business practices should strive to conserve energy and reduce emissions. Doing this is not simply trendy or a part of public image; it sets the stage for other aspiring companies, and emphasizes the importance of learning from the past mistakes in tech and other industries which have put our planet in jeopardy. We are forward thinkers and inventors so let’s invent a high-tech future without the smoldering heat and suffocating smog.