2020 Vision:

A strategic response to the urgent crisis of climate change

Contact and Questions

Robert Burns



Table of Contents


The challenge of climate change may be the most profound challenge we face in our lifetimes. We need the Senate to pass a more earnest climate bill which could then lead to a stronger act through the Congressional reconciliation process. The situation is dire and requires more aggressive action than the ACES bill provides. The cost of insufficient action will be disastrous. As it stands now, the ACES bill does not confront the genuine concerns and the dignity of the American people. It is important to understand that: 1) climate change and global warming represent a real and profound challenge to the entire planet; 2) Suitable and proven energy efficiency and renewable energy technology already exists to allow us to meet the challenge of climate change; and 3) the rapid deployment of such technology over the next decade is not only economically affordable but will likely lead to savings for households, businesses and government at all levels while simultaneously conserving environmental resources.

In global warming, we face an urgent and dire issue

The science is clear and irrefutable. Greenhouse gases trap heat in the atmosphere and slow the Earth’s ability to shed heat into outer space: the heat released from beneath the Earth’s crust; the heat arriving daily from the Sun; heat released in nuclear reactions and heat released in exothermic reactions such as burning coal. The largest source of these greenhouse gases arise from the extraction, processing, and burning of fossil fuels: primarily oil, coal, and natural gas. If we use up all of the Earth’s fossil fuels we can expect greenhouse gases to rise at least to the levels before those organisms were fossilized into gas, oil and natural gas – in other words, greenhouse gases supporting temperatures sufficient to melt all of the polar ice caps and increase sea levels hundreds of feet higher than they are today. We are also destroying forests, algae communities and other photosynthetic organisms that reduce the levels of atmospheric carbon-dioxide. Other changes will accompany these sea level rises – some may be far more catastrophic – but avoiding the loss of the polar ice caps should be a main focus. The serious scientific debates are not over whether this process is occurring nor whether fossil fuel consumption is central to the crisis, but whether we can act soon enough and quickly enough to avert the catastrophic loss of the polar ice caps. Morally, we have to put all our best efforts into averting this disaster.

Beyond the loss of glaciers and polar ice caps, some of the other concerns from rising greenhouse gases and global warming include:

  • potential Great Lakes water depletion both from increased evaporation and demand for water from increasing desertification in other regions of the country
  • drought and desertification in some areas and flooding and excess precipitation in other areas
  • increasingly high and unbearable temperatures in some areas and miniature ice age conditions in other areas
  • intensifying wild fires
  • intensifying hurricanes, cyclones, and typhoons
  • oceanic acidification that might undermine the sustenance of much of sea life

The specific impact on Illinois is difficult to predict. Making such predictions about the future of specific regions involves difficult and tenuous methods since such climate prediction models are extremely sensitive to varying though equally reasonable assumptions. However, the overall rise in global average temperatures – and specifically rises in temperatures at the polar ice caps – means that we are certain that continued use of fossil fuels will eliminate the polar ice caps and raise the levels of our oceans around the globe (as much certainty as science ever gives us about the future). While that has no direct impact on Illinois we must consider our duty as American citizens, as Global citizens, and as human beings.

So we need to immediately and urgently focus on ending our addiction to fossil fuels. We have access to economical technologies today to wean ourselves from fossil fuels in a way that will keep energy costs reasonably constant or even below the effective costs of energy today. These technologies are not as wildly profitable as the fossil fuel technologies today where much of the costs of energy are paid as sizable royalties to the immediate extractors and owners of the fossil fuel extraction rights. However, these technologies – such as desert solar, wind farms, hydroelectric and pumped storage hydroelectric – are all in an affordably suitable range in costs. Some may even bring energy cost savings that frees up consumers to spend their disposable income in other ways. So while the profitability of renewable energy sources is lower than fossil fuel based energy, the consumer costs are not appreciably higher. The only arguments against these renewable energy sources amount to supplanting the general interest of Americans in favor of the special economic interests of the fossil fuel cartels and other industry giants.

The strange weather we are experiencing around the world should be a red flag alerting us to the need for more substantial climate action. The cold temperatures seen this Summer (2009) are partially due to the cold freshwater melt of the polar ice caps, which floats on top of saltwater and dissipates around the Earth. This creates cooler winds above the ocean. Saltwater is heavier than freshwater at most temperatures and, whereas cold water usually sinks as it melts, cold freshwater will not sink into saltwater until storms and heavy seas mix the two together. Only then will the freshwater above chemically react with the saltwater below, becoming more and more brackish and allowing the cold water to sink below the warmer water. Cold winds around the Earth will do nothing to refreeze the polar ice caps since too much heat energy is retained in the atmosphere by greenhouse gases to continue to support the Earth’s polar ice caps. Expecting the cold weather we experience this summer to solve our global warming problems is a bit like opening a beer cooler, feeling the cold air inside, and assuming that the ice will refreeze from that cold air when you close the lid.

In particular, any climate change bill should include some significant planning for sea level increases. There are serious concerns that glacial melting in Greenland and Antarctica could cause large portions of land-based ice to slide into the ocean all at once. Greenland’s land-based ice represents a 23 foot (7 meter) rise in sea level alone if it were to slide into the ocean and melt. So if a significant portion of this ice sheet were to slide into the ocean, that would represent a disaster requiring significant upfront preparation. Antarctica includes similar potential for glacial disasters. Together the loss of both the northern and southern polar ice caps involves a sea-level rise over 230 feet (70 meters).

Therefore New Orleans’ plight is only one early indication of what global warming will bring to the United States. Imagine not merely rebuilding one city, but relocating and rebuilding hundreds or even thousands of coastal cities around the nation. While such a catastrophic event might also represent significant increase in economic activity and job creation it is an economic burden too great for American workers to shoulder all at once. The costs will be unprecedented. Moreover, the loss of the cultural legacy of these communities represents a stunning cultural and historical loss to us all. Imagine the Statue of Liberty, Washington DC’s mall and Santa Monica Pier, all immersed under hundreds of feet of Ocean water. Yet, once the sea ice is gone from the polar regions the freshwater ice on Greenland and Antarctica will become increasingly precarious due to the warming temperatures.

We have the resources to economically address the climate crisis, but we have little time for delay

While these are alarming concerns, we can meet this challenge if we prepare quickly and thoroughly. We are trying to prevent profound changes to the shape of our continents, other land masses, and seas that will cause immense economic pain to everyone worldwide. This process must not be about protecting profits for coal companies and others in the fossil fuel industry.

The need is urgent. However ACES has mistakenly focussed on the faint hope that new technologies will arise in the future to help us deal with the climate crisis (e.g., carbon capture and sequestration or generation IV nuclear). We already have the technology to address this challenge and we cannot wait for scientific advancements in coal and nuclear to make those energy sources into viable options. Desert solar, wind farms, run of the river hydroelectric and pumped storage hydroelectric have already proven themselves as viable and reliable energy sources. We need to rapidly expand the nationwide capacities in these green and renewable energy sources to meet the global warming challenge. Existing fossil fuel generating stations can serve as a backup to renewable sources for the unusual cases where renewable generating stations fail to meet demand. This would mean the fossil fuel generating capacity would remain in place throughout the country, but the utilization of this capacity would gradually diminish over the next decade until it only provided 20%, 10% or even less of the total electrical energy consumed.

Many scientific hypotheses have been put forward for technologies that may become central to our energy production and distribution in the next decades or century. Superconducting capacitors, large-scale battery technology, hydrogen fuel cell electrical storage, nuclear fusion, generation IV nuclear fission, carbon capture and sequestration, etc.: all of these technologies might become fruitful and economically viable in the coming decades. However, faced with the urgent crisis of climate change, these are technologies that must take a backseat to the proven renewable energy technologies already available.

Renewable energy technologies and energy efficiency measures have already proven themselves: some for as much as a century. Desert solar thermal can be easily combined with backup fossil fuel generation to provide abundant and reliable electrical and thermal energy: including thermal energy for saltwater desalinization to produce freshwater from seawater. Wind farms also provide a very low cost source of energy. Pumped storage hydroelectric has shown for decades that it can provide for peak level demands and can be used to supplement the daily variations in desert solar power capacities. Highly efficient rail electrification has, for more than a century, demonstrated the way to power trains without any fossil fuels and without any batteries or other electrical storage whatsoever.

With the urgent need to address global warming, we cannot afford to raid the treasury and turn over permit fee allowances to utility companies. The profitability of the energy industry might rise or fall while addressing the climate change challenge, however, Congress must stay focussed on the general welfare of American citizens: more so with climate change than ever before. While coal extraction and processing employs as many as 5,000 workers in Illinois alone, we must find the means to help these workers transition to other careers, but we cannot allow that obligation to cause us to give up on confronting climate change.

Strong climate change legislation

To make climate legislation that genuinely meets the needs of the American people, the legislation must include many enhancements over the House ACES bill:

  • Sea Level Rise Emergency Response System: Establish a watch system in Greenland and Antarctica to provide some early warning for any catastrophic land-based ice that slides into the ocean. There should be some plan in place to alert and evacuate coastal areas in the event of such a catastrophic international event.
  • Coordinated program to dispose of refrigerants and refrigerant equipment Many refrigerants constitute a pound-for-pound hundred or thousand times more potent greenhouse gas than carbon-dioxide. We must ensure these refrigerants and the appliances that make use of them are disposed of properly.
  • Need for an urgent focus on existing technology: Although the need for action is urgent, ACES focuses on the hope of developing new futuristic technologies for coal plants to keep coal as a fundamental part of our energy mix.
    • As Al Gore has suggested, we can and should address greenhouse gas emissions over a rapid 10 year period and not draw this out over 40 years, as ACES proposes. An 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 is essential, appropriate to the urgency of our situation, and completely within our nation’s capacities.
    • While President Kennedy’s proposal to send a manned mission to the moon within a decade may have seemed unrealistic in 1961, the goal was achieved in only eight years. We must meet the climate crisis with the same type of bold endeavor that inspired the World in the 1960s
  • Emission permit revenues should fund consumer energy efficiency and decentralized renewable energy projects: The bill should include provisions for direct federal investment in energy projects such as household and business efficiency subsidies, desert solar projects, and pumped storage hydroelectric facilities.
    • An ideal way to facilitate decentralized solar, wind and other renewable energy alongside rapid improvements in energy efficiency would be to establish a federally guaranteed energy loan program, providing consumers with low interest (or zero interest) loans to finance household and business energy efficiency and renewable energy measures. In this way, homeowners and businesses would retain Federally or state certified energy contractors to make renewable energy and energy efficiency improvements to their homes and other buildings. The contractors will be paid directly by the utility company (from a finance pool with low or no interest subsidies and loan guarantees) and the debt service payments will be made by energy consumers directly to the utility companies along with their usual energy payment. The obligation to pay should remain with the building itself even as title transfers from one owner to another to remove some of the uncertainties of efficiency and renewable energy improvements. In general, the combined finance and energy payment should typically be below the prior energy payment when the building improvements are amortized over a suitable length of time (e.g., 5, 10, 15, or 20 years).Utilities should be encouraged to provide summary data of how effective consumer retrofits have been at reducing energy consumption and the historical record of containing consumer costs. Efficiency measures might include
      • Replacement high-efficiency appliances
      • Replacement compact fluorescent (CFL) and LED bulbs
      • Thermal insulation and draft reduction measures
      • Thermal insulated windows and doors
      • Insulated hot water pipes and heat recovery systems
      • Ceiling fans and other passive ventilation systems to substitute and supplement air-conditioning use
      • Heat pump systems, including those using ground and ground water thermal exchange
      • Solar thermal hot water and space heating systems
      • Photovoltaic systems
      • Small scale wind turbines
    • While, Renewable energy retrofits for homes and businesses might include:

  • Emission permit fee revenues for a nationwide long-distance energy grid: Permit fee revenues and energy distribution surcharges should be used to construct a Federal electric energy grid. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) could be repositioned to develop an energy grid for the entire nation. Like the federal interstate highway system, we need an interstate electrical highway system with high-voltage DC transmission lines and pumped storage hydroelectric facilities. The TVA has already exhibited their expertise in this. The distribution of electricity is an inherently monopoly industry since it is highly inefficient to duplicate distribution networks. It is entirely appropriate for distribution networks like the interstate highway system and the interstate electricity grid to be run by government rather than private monopolies.
  • Permit fee revenue funded loan guarantees for renewable energy generating stations and syngas production plants: Specifically loan guarantees and revenue guarantees should be provided for desert solar, wind farms, run-of-the-river hydroelectric, pumped storage hydroelectric, and syngas production from waste stream facilities. Carbon caps should be adjusted along with pumped storage electricity purchase and sale prices should be adjusted to ensure the profitable and efficient use of pumped storage hydroelectric plants and avoid fossil fuel use. At the end of a 10-year transition, coal and natural gas generating stations would remain for backup generating capacity only when renewable generating stations provided insufficient energy.
  • Allowances and Offsets:
    • Emission allowances (permit fee giveaways) should be eliminated and instead directed by government agencies toward subsidies, loans, and direct investment in renewables and efficiency improvements. Defraying consumer expenses, as ACES does defeats the purpose of the cap and trade market-based approach by undermining the price signals sent to consumers to economize and reduce consumption. However, the careful direction of permit fee revenues towards energy efficiency and renewable energy projects should sufficiently offset most of the additional emission permit costs burdening consumers. Additional low-income supports could be added for those unable to shoulder any further energy costs; however efficiency measures will likely be sufficient. Once consumer energy loans are retired, the consumers enjoy all of the benefits of the energy efficiency investments by shedding the finance payment and enjoying lower energy use.
    • Offsets need to have very strict guidelines and measurable real-world results to avoid weak ‘PR’ offsets. Projects must be verifiable, permanent and enforceable. Emission offsets must be tightly managed and thoroughly scrutinized according to scientific standards
  • Natural gas without fossil fuels: A new bill should include a heavy focus on syngas (synthetic gas) production of natural gas grade biogas from landfill and other waste streams. Methane released from these landfills is 25 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than the carbon dioxide emitted from using biogas as fuel. Such methane released into the atmosphere persists in the atmosphere for over a decade before degrading into carbon dioxide. So it is far more beneficial to tap this methane released from our waste streams and use it for energy than to let it seep into the atmosphere as methane or to waste it by flaming it off but failing to use the heat energy generated by the flame.
  • Transportation
    • Mass transit electrification: A new bill or companion bill should make mass transit electrification a central part of the plan. This includes:
      • Complete electrification and significant expansion of the nation’s freight and passenger rail system. Expansion includes significant increases in mainline track and sidings of suitable length for even the longest freight trains
      • Nationwide TGV (French manufactured high-speed trains) style high-speed rail systems like the one moving ahead in California
      • Increased focus on compact communities, pedestrian streetscapes, bicycling facilities, shared vehicle programs
      • Increasing focus on proven electrified transit – which avoids expensive and environmentally costly battery use – such as:
        • Rapid transit systems
        • Electrified commuter rail systems
        • Streetcars and light-rail transit
        • Trolley buses
    • Interstate Transrapid maglev system: Several states (e.g., New York, Pennsylvania) are already carefully researching Transrapid maglev technology, but so far little effort has been made at the Federal level to pursue such proven train technology. Already China has an operating Transrapid train for local Shanghai travel and will be extending this to an intercity line traveling upwards of 300 mph. Imagine traveling from downtown Chicago to downtown Washington DC by train in around three and one-half hours with zero carbon emissions, while enjoying the comforts of train travel including electrical outlets, cell phone access and internet access throughout the trip. We need the federal government to lead the way in establishing a nationwide high-speed train network to increasingly replace jet travel and long-distance car travel and to provide an affordable alternative to paying increasingly expensive carbon permit fees.
    • Plugin Hybrid passenger vehicles: A new bill should include a plan to transition completely to plugin hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV), such as a requirement that all new passenger cars sold in the US after 2015 include plugin hybrid capabilities of traveling at least 40 miles on a charge. Over 90% of commutes in the US are under 40 miles per day, so 90% of those trips would be powered by clean carbon-free energy. The average car remains on the road for 14 years, so 2015 implies a substantial weaning from oil by 2029. Such cars are expected to reach the market in 2011 and should be ready to replace all passenger vehicles by 2015. The efficiency gains for such vehicles represent a marked reduction in costs for consumers. Emission permit fees could subsidize finance arrangements where motorists pay substantially lower upfront costs (e.g., with a $10,000 federally funded rebate) for PHEVs and agree to pay higher costs for electrical energy (though still substantially lower than gasoline costs) to pay off the rebate over time. Such an arrangement would reward motorists who reduced their energy consumption while still making such a rebate program largely revenue neutral.
    • Regulatory enhancements: To ease the burden on citizens who are now typically forced to rely on automobiles, new regulatory measures should provide new supports for mass transit, other mass transportation as well as other alternatives to automobiles. For example:
      • auto insurance premiums should be proportional to driving-time and driving-distance. While automobiles typically constitute a sizable sunk cost for motorists, much of the operating costs and depreciation of automobiles are proportional to the distance and time spent driving. insurance risks clearly rise with driving distance and driving time yet premiums are currently structured to penalize vehicle owners who leave their vehicle at home and switch to other modes of transportation. While motorists tend to think the cost of operating a vehicles as merely the cost of gasoline and parking, much of the other operating costs – including collision and liability insurance as well as depreciation – are linked to driving distance and driving time and not to owning an un-driven vehicle (though comprehensive insurance policy coverage is not related to driving-distance and driving-time since comprehensive policy risks can strike even while the vehicle is stowed in the garage). The cost of an automobile sitting in the garage involves mostly financing costs alone (in other words, the interest payments). However,insurance premiums are erroneously structured today to treat a car stored in a garage as a car at risk for collision, injury, liability and other casualties.
      • Congress could provide inducements to intercity rail and intercity bus, to structure fares to support family and companion travel. Families and traveling companions are often discouraged from traveling via mass transportation methods because the fares are typically multiples of the number of passengers traveling, while private costs of automobile operation increase only marginally with each additional passenger. While higher occupancy automobiles (e.g., 3 or more passengers) provide better efficiency and better emissions per passenger-mile than single occupancy vehicles, such trips still do not match the incredible efficiency of intercity buses and rail, nor do they have the potential to reach the zero emission levels of electrified intercity rail systems. Therefore it is highly beneficial to move multiple passengers on long-distance trips from internal combustion engine powered vehicles into intercity buses and electrified trains.
    • Conversion of truck freight and intercity buses to natural gas: Especially for local freight deliveries, the conversion of freight trucks from diesel to natural gas reduces greenhouse gas emissions due to the greater energy efficiency and purer burning of natural gas compared to petroleum-based fuels. This higher efficiency burn of natural gas results in marginal reductions in greenhouse gas emissions per ton-mile of freight. However, natural gas also has many other benefits: the complete elimination of all other non-carbon-dioxide pollutants; and the reduction of US dependence on foreign oil. While interstate freight should rely increasingly on an expanded and electrified rail system, we will still need to depend on trucks running on internal combustion engines (preferably with natural gas instead of diesel) for local freight until some other replacement technology surfaces. The careful direction of allowances toward natural gas truck conversion would be an appropriate use of permit fee allowances, though even here the price signals of carbon permit fees will encourage buyers to further economize on local freight deliveries.
    • Adding dockside electricity to the EPA’s SmartWay program to end truck idling: The EPA’s SmartWay program provides many measures that can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, an obvious omission from the current program is a program to retrofit trucks, truck stops, rest stops, and docks with “dockside” metered electric connections. SmartWay calls for dockside comfort stations to lure truckers out of their cabs. However, dockside metered electrical connections would allow trucks to shift from idling on expensive diesel fuel to clean, less-expensive, and eventually all-renewable electric energy for in-cab electricity while at the same time for easing cold engine starts and allowing drivers to enjoy the comforts of their own cab.
  • Avoiding the shortcomings of ACES
    • ACES relies too heavily on the cap and trade
      • Cap and trade can supplement our national energy strategy, but the core focus of our energy policy must be on the rapid deployment of renewable energy and efficiency measures
      • In addition cap and trade must be carefully regulated since energy is so central to our economy. We cannot allow market manipulation to bring the economy to its knees. Emission permit fees should be sold at periodic Federal auction that allow the buyers to return the permit fee for a refund of what they paid. However secondary markets should be avoided. Derivative market will likely develop which can provide a valuable hedging capability for industries that rely on emission permits, however these derivative markets should only be allowed through reputable exchanges where trades have some guarantor. We cannot allow another repeat of the AIG scandal that defrauded Americans of hundreds of billions of dollars.
    • ACES squanders allowances and offsets
      • No emission permit fee allowances whatsoever, unless they benefit the public. Since those emission permits are public property, the giving away of such allowances amounts to a raiding of the public treasury. The crisis of climate change is too urgent to carelessly give away the resources we need so dearly to address the crisis. Allowances for cement production directed at renewable energy or to guide freight trucks towards natural gas both provide direct benefits the public. On the other hand, allowances to the coal industry and the nuclear industry do nothing for the public interest.
      • While offsets might be useful, ACES errs too greatly on the side of liberally allowing offsets whether they genuinely meet the needs of the public or not. It is far better to deny an offset that is a legitimate offset than it is to allow fraudulent offsets to be sold. It does the public no good whatsoever to grant additional greenhouse gas emissions to a particular producer in exchange for token gestures of planting trees in a forest that propagates trees all on its own.
    • Demand management focussed on renewables: In ACES smart grid technology erroneously focuses on managing and reducing peak load, but renewable energy requires a focus on managing the peak differentials between supply and demand. For example at night desert solar supply is reduced or near zero and so demand management should encourage energy consumption during the day while without renewable energy demand management would normally try to re-situate demand loads to nighttime hours.
    • No permit revenue funding for coal and nuclear: We cannot afford to transfer public revenues to nuclear and coal research while simultaneously confronting climate change.
    • No classification of refuse incineration as renewable energy: Refuse incineration emits substances far too noxious and poisonous and the subsequent health burdens are disproportionately shouldered by the poor and people of color.

Revenues and Funding

While addressing climate change involves a very diverse set of investments, policies, and public-private cooperation, the challenge is within our capacities. Americans spend anywhere from $500 billion to $1,500 billion on energy each year depending on the already wild fluctuation in fossil fuel prices. Such prices may become increasingly volatile and more and more costly as we move beyond peak oil, peak coal and peak natural gas. Many experts believe we have reached these peak production levels already so consumers will be forced to pay increasing costs for fossil fuels beyond what renewables cost even today. Long-term investments in desert solar, wind farms and hydroelectric over the next decade will gradually reduce the expenditures on fossil fuels to a minor fraction of our current fossil fuel bill. Over the same span of time, the payments consumers and businesses currently make toward fossil fuels will be replaced by payments to retire the debt on renewable energy. Moreover, emission permit fees provide an integral and immediate source of revenue to fund these renewable energy and energy efficiency measures.

However, we cannot squander these permit fee revenues by simply turning over the revenues to the energy industries through permit allowances. Such a move constitutes a transfer of wealth from mostly low and middle income Americans to the energy industries.

Other measures we propose involve a change in our priorities but not necessarily an increase in Federal spending. For example, the focus on electrified rail, and electrified mass transit involves a change in the Federal investment strategy to move away from petroleum based transit strategies and to move toward much more efficient electrical propulsion systems. These electrical systems are more than three to five times more energy efficient than the internal combustion engines they replace, and we have the technology to create these systems now, as demonstrated by the many light rail transit systems in many large cities.

If handled correctly, all of these energy measures can reduce costs for consumers, businesses and governments at all levels.

Recap of funding needs

The proposals made above do not involve substantial costs to the Federal Government since they constitute a recovery of permit emission fees for the general welfare where instead ACES allowances go to fossil fuel cartels and subsidies for the nuclear and coal industries. Some of the above proposals involve funding through emission permit fee revenues or commodity sales and user-fee revenues including:

  • sea level rise emergency monitoring system: A modest annual budget that could be funded out of carbon emission permit revenues.
  • rail electrification and expansion: Funding for these projects could be drawn from the highway trust fund, from carbon emission permit revenues, locomotive energy fees (replacing the higher cost of diesel fuels).
  • interstate electrical grid: Seeded funding through carbon emission permit revenues and ongoing revenues from electrical grid distribution fees.
  • pumped storage hydroelectric: seeded through carbon emission permit revenues and ongoing revenues from electrical grid distribution fees.
  • syngas production facilities: seeded through carbon emission permit revenues and ongoing revenues from syngas sales.
  • large renewable energy project loan guarantees and revenue guarantees can also be covered through carbon emission permit revenues.
  • decentralized low-interest and interest-free loan subsidies can also be covered through carbon emission permit revenues.

The Federal government has control over many price levers in combatting climate change. The caps on carbon emissions can be reduced to increase permit fee revenues. The price of electricity for train locomotives can be increased and still fall well below the current cost of diesel power. The price of electrical distribution fees on the interstate electrical grid can be raised or lowered and the many energy efficiency measures will still reduce the burden on energy consumers. All of these price levers allow the Federal government to maintain a revenue neutral set of policies for the Federal budget. The question remains whether the costs to consumers will remain constant, rise or fall. Because the energy efficiency possibilities are quite substantial – especially in transportation – it is likely that a thorough and successful energy efficiency strategy could lead to budget improvements for individual rate payers as well. That question of the ultimate costs to consumers can only be answered through econometric analysis and ultimately practical experience, but these various price levers means that we can ensure the programs are revenue neutral for the Federal budget.

Shifted priorities

Other proposals involve a shift in priorities. The shift in priorities applies especially to the transportation sector proposals:

  • temporarily (perhaps over 5–10 years) reducing highway spending to only the most critical safety related renovations
  • pedestrian and bicycle projects
  • electrified mass transit projects (including electrifying and expanding the national freight and passenger rail system)
  • interstate Transrapid maglev system

Directed emission allowances

While ACES involves many permit fee allowance giveaways in areas that undermine the market-based approach of cap and trade, some fine-grained greenhouse gas emission permit fee allowances are desirable:

  • natural gas for intracity freight fleets
  • natural gas for freight trucks (modest allowances slowly phased out as renewable energy powered electrified rail systems proliferate)
  • natural gas and gasoline for intracity buses (modest allowances slowly phased out to encourage electrified mass transit systems)
  • natural gas for intercity buses (allowances especially for communities not served by electrified rail and slowly phased out as renewable energy powered electrified rail systems proliferate)
  • cement production solely for cement used in renewable energy projects

Anticipated results of effective climate legislation

In crafting legislation to address the urgent crisis surrounding climate change, it is important to consider what we want our energy policy to achieve over the next decade. To consider how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by over 80% in only a decade, we need to consider precisely the technologies available today that would enable us to reach those goals. Again, with such a short timeframe we cannot rely on the lure of possible future technological innovations since such innovations likely take much more than a decade to become viable options for our energy policy.

Instead we must consider our current technological inventory and determine how that technology can be harnessed today and in the coming decade to ensure that we meet our energy needs while at the same time avert climate catastrophe. So we need to first determine what technology would get us to our 10-year goal, and second, map a policy path to reach that goal.

While cap and trade can serve as an integral part of energy policy, it cannot be the primary strategy to meet this challenge. The market based approach of cap and trade involves setting a limit on the greenhouse gas emissions and allowing the auctioning and secondary market exchange of emission permits to send price signals to producers and consumers of products involving greenhouse gas emissions. These price signals encourage all consumers to reduce energy consumption through efficiency measures or merely greater diligence in keeping thermostats moderated and unnecessary lights turned off. It also encourages firms to economize on energy consumption and find innovations that reduce the greenhouse gas byproduct involved in energy production. However, such market based approaches also encourage firms to find loopholes, move production overseas or engage in other rent-seeking behavior that undermines the entire climate strategy. So cap and trade can be a part of addressing the climate change crisis, but it cannot be the central part of our global response.

The 2020 end game

In truth, any plan to quickly avert climate change catastrophe should begin with an assessment of current technology and a projection of where that technology could take us in only a decade. From that projection, we then map the paths and mechanisms to get us to that outcome. While innovations along the way may get us to our broad goals by some other means, that should not stop us from weighing our current technological capabilities.

While the proposed requirements for plugin hybrid electric vehicles would kick in for only new vehicles as of 2015, it will take additional time for the entire fleet of private passenger vehicles to transition toward plugin hybrid electric vehicles. Some have estimated the average life of a vehicle as around 14 years. Some incentives could be offered to accelerate the attrition rate, but we can expect the replacement of all vehicles (except antique and hobbyist vehicles) by plugin hybrid electric vehicles by around 2029. Most of the measures discussed here are achievable by 2020. However, the transition to PHEV will require an additional period of approximately nine years.

In any event the end-game goals include:

  • drastically more efficient lighting and appliances
  • drastically more efficient thermal insulation and draft protection of homes and other buildings
  • space and water heating largely converted to passive solar thermal and electric heat pump systems
  • flame heating in cooktops and industrial uses supplied by syngas from waste stream byproducts
  • restoring much of the compact and efficient communities and transportation systems taken from the American people by the oil and automobiles industries
  • electricity generation almost entirely from renewable energy sources: hydroelectric, desert solar, wind farms, decentralized photovoltaics, and decentralized wind turbines, supplemented for intraday peak demand/supply differentials by pumped storage hydroelectric
  • coal and natural gas generating stations solely as redundant backup systems for the rare days when renewables provide insufficient power levels (this means the existing investment in coal and natural gas generating stations is not wasted but becomes an integral piece of the renewable energy strategy as redundant backup systems)
  • transportation using ⅓ the energy from before the transition through use of higher efficiency electric vehicles (compared to internal combustion engines) and grid-connected vehicles such as high-speed rail, light-rail, and trolley buses.
  • over 90% of passenger automobile trips using plugin hybrid vehicles running on renewable energy charge (by 2029 after the complete attrition of all non-PHEV)

Remaining sources of greenhouse gases in 2020

There are many sources of greenhouse gase that we might classify as high-hanging fruit. These sources can be somewhat neutralized and reduced, but current technologies do not allow us to eliminate these emissions.

  • jet travel and air freight: though even aeronautical transportation can be substantially reduced through substitution by electrified rail, high-speed rail and maglev Transrapid trains.
  • nautical freight: Current technology offers few potential improvements in this area though nautical oil, natural gas and coal freight should be reduced substantially implying significant reductions in oil spills. We might also consider a global UN administered carbon-tax on nautical fuel oil to create a fund for self-sufficient sustainable economic development in underdeveloped nations.
  • recreational petroleum powered vehicles (boats, planes, antique autos, snow mobiles, etc.): suitably reduced by cap and trade induced price signals
  • some natural gas to supplement syngas production from waste streams: syngas and natural gas can be mixed and delivered through the same pipelines
  • local freight: perhaps accommodated through carefully directed allowances
  • cement/gypsum production: cement production involves carbon-dioxide emissions even when produced by completely greenhouse gas free energy
  • other miscellaneous non-energy production processes
  • backup fossil fuel generating stations: smart grid technology can provide consumers with instantaneous information regarding rates when expensive emission permit fees are included

Side-effects include (or the other benefits of clean energy policy)

  • migration from an energy sector where expenditures are made largely to pay foreign and domestic royalties to cover fossil fuel use (oil and natural gas in particular) to an energy sector where much of the facilities are produced domestically with incomes accruing domestically (particularly if we develop domestic wind turbine, solar reflectors, solar thermal concentrating reactors, photovoltaics, etc.)
  • drastic reductions and even eliminations in many of the toxic air pollutants (sulfur, mercury, nitrous oxide, sulfur dioxide,) meaning healthier air to breathe, lower medical costs, and reduced cleaning and renovation costs of buildings as well as clothing, etc.
  • lower cost energy (perhaps even without considering externalities, but certainly lower cost energy when externalities are considered)
  • an end to wars over oil and other fuels
  • greater national security and an improved civil defense position since the new national energy strategy involves fuel-free energy capable of powering homes and businesses on a scale of years or decades instead of relying only on our fossil fuel strategic reserves which last only a matter of months.
  • more walkable communities creating a physically healthier citizenry, a reduction in the enormous waste of traffic jams and long commutes, and more sensible transportation systems


“Why should I do anything for posterity? What has posterity ever done for me?” — Groucho Marx

These are just a few of the glaring omissions in the House bill. Without a stronger Senate bill, the US cannot hope to lead at the Copenhagen talks in December of this year (2009). The situation is too urgent to make this simply about empty political victories for Obama and other Democrats. We should follow Al Gore’s call and reduce carbon-dioxide emissions to 20% of current levels by 2020 (not merely a 20% reduction to 80% of current levels). We have the technology, we have the resources, and everything we do to achieve such reductions builds a better World for ourselves and our posterity.

Through the measures outlined above, we have the capacity to drastically reduce our carbon emissions, to drastically reduce our energy consumption and to save money in the process: business, consumers, the federal government could all save money all at the same time.

Some spheres of greenhouse gas emissions will remain beyond our technological reach. For example reducing carbon emissions for nautical vessels – especially freight – will remain largely beyond our technological capacity for the foreseeable future. Local freight truck deliveries might be converted to natural gas, but will still continue as a source of carbon emissions. Jet travel will remain a significant but difficult to reduce source of greenhouse gases. The production of cement even when produced from completely carbon free energy still involves carbon dioxide emissions as a by-product of the cement production process. For all of these sources of greenhouse gas emissions, the precise focus of cap and trade can provide an efficient mechanism to induce consumers to cut back on these products. Moreover the continued stream of government revenue from these sources can continue to serve as a funding source to fund carbon offset projects around the World.

By 2020, research and development may bring us new technologies to meet the energy needs of the United States. For example, successful carbon capture and sequestration prototypes may provide a way to restore coal to a central role in our nation’s energy supply. Advancements in superconducting capacitors might simplify the electric energy storage process. Nuclear fusion might bring an entire revolution in energy production. However, all of these possibilities cannot lead us into a complacency or misguided cautiousness – waiting for a better solution – when we already have suitable technology to meet the climate change challenge today. We must act immediately and urgently to use the technology we have today to meet the climate change challenge.

We understand politics is about compromise. However, when asking the American people to accept compromise, we must be told for whom, for what, and why compromise is necessary. When sea levels rise, we want to hold those responsible for enriching themselves at a time of national crisis. As things stand today, it looks like we are being asked to sacrifice ourselves and our posterity at great personal cost simply to enrich the few who own the rights to fossil fuels extraction. That is an unacceptable compromise.

As the Copenhagen Accord approaches, we must prepare to make the US a leader in the strategy to address cataclysmic climate change. We must show the World that we are prepared to wean ourselves from fossil fuels to send an unambiguous signal to the other members of the accord that we are a serious partner in averting the effects of global warming.

We can meet the challenge of climate change. Desert solar, decentralized photovoltaics, wind farms, and hydroelectric pumped storage together can meet far greater than 90% of our energy needs. Recent developments in these technologies have brought the cost down to a level where they are among the least expensive energy generating methods available – so low that it is unlikely carbon capture and sequestered coal will be capable of competing with renewable energy for the foreseeable future. Efficiency measures can greatly reduce our energy needs as well. In dealing with the challenge of climate change we simultaneously raise ourselves up with better, faster and more efficient transportation systems; homes, businesses, and other buildings which have vastly smaller energy demands; cleaner and virtually pollution free air to breath; and so much more. We have a duty to ourselves and our descendants to take this crisis seriously and to meet this challenge now.