One Step Against Climate Change

One Step Against Climate Change

What is the single most important step to take against climate change right now? Leading experts weigh in.


This series originally appeared on New Deal 2.0.
In honor of World Environment Day on June 5th, a day focused on action across the globe, New Deal 2.0 asked leading thinkers in climate change to describe what they see as the single most important step that can be taken right now. Here are some of their answers:


Meeting the Climate Change Challenge: Forging a New International Financial Architecture

Paul R. Epstein

Climate change will affect the lives and lifestyles of nearly every person who inhabits the planet. Today’s international institutions are incapable of managing such a complex and far-reaching problem. New funds, rules and institutions are needed to constitute the financial architecture needed to propel the clean energy transformation—the first necessary, though insufficient step toward sustainable development.

A large international fund is needed to provide the push and pull on the global economy. The International Energy Agency projects that $500 billion a year is needed for 20 years—a reasonable investment in our common future.

But its sources must be denationalized. Relying on nations—especially given the current contraction of economies in many nations—for contributions is not feasible. Among the sources available is a tax on intentional currency transactions—the Tobin Tax.

In addition, subsidies for fossil fuels (misaligned negative incentives) must be abandoned.

Rules and regulations
In order to direct funds toward healthy, sustainable development, new rules of trade and regulations are necessary. Bretton Woods (1944) established three monetary rules:

1. Fixed exchange rates,

2. Free trade in goods, but

3. Constraints on the international flow of capital.

In 1971, rules 1 and 3 were abandoned. The Washington Consensus—deregulation, privatization and liberalization—has meant the free movement of capital as well as goods.

Free trade in capital (that Adam Smith wrote would nullify healthy competition and distort comparative advantages) has contributed to unpayable national debts and has destabilized nations in the 1990s, and continues to do so today.

An international body is needed to provide support for climate mitigation and adaptation through financial incentives, regulations and assuring compliance. The Global Environmental Facility—established in 1992 as a collaborative among the United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations Environment Programme and the World Bank—makes grants, not loans and provides a guide for an institution to oversee enhanced global governance.

Preparing for the coming climate and stabilizing it will require realigning rewards, rules and regulations to redirect the international economy onto a sustainable path.

Paul R. Epstein, M.D., M.P.H. is Associate Director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School.


Building a Greener Future: Let’s Stay Together

Jon Rynn

Residents of New York City contribute less than 30% of the greenhouse gases of the average American, according to David Owen in his book, "Green Metropolis." Therefore, if everybody lived in a New York City, US greenhouse gas emissions would plummet by 70%. This is because the way we place buildings in relation to each other has a profound influence on the way we use energy.

In a dense urban structure, where buildings are large, close together, and serve many different uses, a transportation system that is composed mainly of trains is very effective at bringing people and goods into, out of, and around a city or town. A train-centered passenger and freight transportation system can use electricity for 100% of its energy needs, and an electrical system can be supplied by wind and solar energy.

There are other advantages. Economies of scale can be realized in recycling and the installation of ground source heat pumps for heating and cooling—which apartments buildings retain better than single-family homes. Actually-existing electric car and trucks can be used that are slow, low-range, and small, which is fine for a dense city or town.

There is a growing, unmet demand for walkable neighborhoods on the part of about 30% of the American population, while only 5% are currently able to live in one. Let’s assume, for the sake of simplicity, that 25% of the 100 million American households would gladly live in a 250-unit apartment building in a walkable neighborhood. Then if a government-financed program built 100,000 such units, at $50 million each, spread among the downtowns of dozens of cities and towns, the cost over 10 years would come to about $500 billion per year—and most of it would be paid back by the buyers of such units. And we would lay the groundwork for a truly sustainable society.

Jon Rynn is the author of the book Manufacturing Green Prosperity: The power to rebuild the American middle class, available from Praeger Books, Summer 2010.

Visit New Deal 2.0 to read the full series.

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