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Curbing CO2 in Transportation Takes Will and Strategy

March 8, 2010

Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs reports that reducing transportation’s greenhouse gas emissions is a bigger challenge than is generally thought.  

The key take-aways here are that strong actions are needed in order to make an impact, and those actions can be designed to be effective without causing the economy to gag and halt.  This is good news, although strong political will is still needed to make a difference. 

In Belfer’s scenarios, measured increases in the CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards aren’t going to get the results needed very quickly, and subsidies for electric or hybrid vehicles are very expensive and relatively inefficient and ineffective over the near term.

A general finding in the several scenarios investigated is that an aggressive climate change policy does not necessarily bring the economy to its knees.  Even in the high-fuels tax, high-carbon price scenarios, the loss in annual GDP are less than 1 percent, relative to business as usual, and growth is still projected at 2 to 3.7%.  This presumes taxes are partially rebated back to taxpayers.

Not surprisingly,  increasing the cost of transportation fuels via taxes appear to lead to the greatest reductions in oil consumption and CO2 emissions, although it works best in partnership with other policies, such as higher CAFE standards. 

Imposing an economy-wide carbon price of $30 to $60 per ton alone doesn’t appear to impact the transportation sector appreciably.   In this scenario most of the emissions reductions would occur in the electric utilities – especially those that use a lot of coal.   While reducing power’s CO2’s emissions is important too, and both initiatives would have positive health impacts due to reduced particulates emissions, heath aspects weren’t addressed in this transportation study.  It is going to take impacting fuel costs directly to create a change in transportation behaviors.

From a business strategy perspective, efforts to increase traditional trucking fuel efficiencies should be continued and accelerated.  It’s only a matter of time until there is some meaningful legislation or taxing policy in this area.

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March 2, 2010

Progress seems always uneven:  One step forward and two steps back, two steps forward and one step back.  So long as the steps forward outnumber the steps back, progress is made.  Complexity occurs when the timeline for making a certain amount of progress is uncertain or unknown.

I’ve just finished listening to Walmart Canada’s Green Business Summit on the Internet, which occured just prior to the Olympics.  The theme was The Business Case for Sustainability.  Prior to the meeting, 11 companies had pledged to undertake a sustainability project this year – indicating they had identified business cases, proven value propositions –  and they were joined by about a dozen more at the meeting.  Those are steps forward.

Reading this morning New York Times’ article about thousands of the nation’s largest water polluters now considered outside of the reach of the Clean Water Act – because of the  ambiguity created by a recent Supreme Court decision on which waterways are actually protected by that law –  represented a great leap backwards.  There are whole watersheds that feed into the public’s drinking water supply that are now not protected…potentially affecting 117 million Americans. 

Then I caught up on my Fast Company reading, including the February issue, in which Walmart described their intention to have products labelled in a way that rates the health, safety and environmental impact of 50,000 consumer products by 2013.  Along with that is a tool called Earthster, an open platform that will pool existing databases and models to help companies innovate more quickly and cheaply.  Clearly a step forward.

Perhaps Walmart’s work will influence the American Farm Bureau Federation, one of the members of the Waters Advocacy Coalition, which has long fought legislation supporting the Clean Water Act. 

Clean water is finite, and it’s much easier to prevent water contamination than to clean it up.   This potentially affects the health of more than one in three Americans.

Our world does follow laws of biology, chemistry and physics.  We will be affected.  As Dr. David Suzuki noted at Vancouver, ultimately Mother Nature calls the shots.

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February 26, 2010

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