Dear POTUS: Here's that climate change strategy [proposal to President Obama for developing a strategy on climate change and greenhouse gas reduction]

Mr. President, last month we promised to send you a clearly defined strategy to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

August 11, 2010

Mr. President, last month we promised to send you a clearly defined strategy to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

At that time, Sir, we recommended that your energy/environment team: 1) focus on conserving energy in existing buildings and homes; 2) concentrate on basic building technologies like insulation and efficient lighting; and 3) consider "near-zero, energy-ready" buildings and homes.

Shortly after your election, you promised to reduce carbon emissions 80% by 2050. Your $819 billion economic stimulus plan calls for $15 billion in energy-efficiency improvements to public buildings, $14 billion for school modernization, $6 billion to weatherize homes of low-income people, $8 billion in loans for renewable energy infrastructure, and billions more for energy research, consumer rebates for Energy Star products, and similar initiatives.

We understand that your immediate focus must be on the economy. But as you said in your Inaugural, Mr. President, "Each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet."

So, when you are ready to take up your climate change agenda, we suggest that you look at the two charts on

          
 
                 
 
            

this page. They are based on the work of Stephen W. Pacala and Robert H. Socolow, of Princeton's Carbon Mitigation Initiative.
 

Figure 1 charts the projected growth of global carbon emissions, which are likely to double by 2055, from a current level of about seven billion tons of carbon a year to at least 14 billion tons of carbon a year by 2055.

Drs. Pacala and Socolow divide that seven-billion-annual-tons difference into seven "wedges" (Figure 2). Each wedge (they describe 15 of them) represents an action—for example, "Increase solar power 700-fold to displace coal"—that would cut a billion tons of carbon a year in 50 years, and a total 25 billion tons over 50 years. By effectively implementing seven of these wedges, we would be able to put global carbon emissions on a flat path; add one more wedge, and we would actually start cutting global emissions.

Mr. President, we respectfully suggest that this approach provides an elegant way for you to present your climate change strategy to the American people. Your team could establish the total emissions-reduction goal the U.S. must reach by 2055, then divide that total into one-million-ton-a-year wedges; for example, "Weatherize 50 million buildings to reduce energy use by 45%."

Such an approach would have a unique appeal. It would establish a "scorecard"—something we Americans appreciate—to track our progress toward the 2055 goal. It would provide a tool by which to hold federal departments accountable for meeting their goals. It would have a fallback mechanism: If we found, for example, that adding nuclear power plants proved too risky, we could step up activity in another wedge to make up the difference. And it would set a framework on climate change for the country for the next half century.

Last November, Mr. President, you took a giant leap forward when you said, "My presidency will mark a new chapter in America's leadership on climate change," and you vowed that the U.S. would "help lead the world toward a new era of global cooperation on climate change."

The next UN Climate Change Conference is in 11 months. You yourself have said it, Sir: Now is the time.

         
 

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