By James H Nixon, Co-Founder and Principal of Sustainable Systems
The Climate Movement’s Growing Momentum
On August 3, 2015, President Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the Clean Power Plan.
According to the EPA, the Clean Power Plan establishes state-by-state targets for carbon emission reductions, and offers a flexible framework under which states may meet those targets. The final version of the rule is projected to reduce national electricity sector carbon dioxide emissions by an estimated 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030—widely characterized as the largest emission reduction in the history of the United States.
According to the EPA, the Clean Power Plan will make the U.S. electricity system much less polluting and our homes and businesses much more efficient, shrinking electricity bills by up to $41 billion in the next 15 years and leading to health benefits worth an estimated additional $55 billion to $93 billion.
Reflecting on the President’s action—combined with the Pope’s Environmental Encyclical Praise Be to You: On Care for Our Common Home released this past June and the historic U.S.-China Joint Announcement on Climate Change and Clean Energy Cooperation of late last year—we might experience a little bit of optimism that the Climate Movement is winning its race to gain enough momentum to make the changes we so desperately need in time.
Not so fast.
We May Be Losing the Race
On August 4, 2015, Rolling Stone published The Point of No Return: Climate Change Nightmares Are Already Here, which asserts that the worst impacts of climate change are happening much more rapidly than climate scientists expected—essentially asserting that we may be losing the race against irreversible Climate Disruption.
The article describes one nightmare reality after another. For example, James Hansen, the former NASA climatologist who brought climate change to the public’s attention, and a team of climate scientists have identified a newly important feedback mechanism off the coast of Antarctica that suggests mean sea levels could rise 10 times faster than previously predicted.
The authors assert that “If emissions aren’t cut, multi-meter sea-level rise would become practically unavoidable. Social disruption and economic consequences of such large sea-level rise could be devastating. It is not difficult to imagine that conflicts from forced migrations and economic collapse might make the planet ungovernable, threatening the fabric of civilization.”
And this may not even be the worst news that climate scientists are bringing us this year. “For that, you have to look…to what is actually happening within the oceans themselves. Water temperatures this year in the North Pacific have never been this high for this long over such a large area.”
The combination of this temperature rise with rapidly increasing ocean acidification and pollution is already producing radical changes in weather and in the oceans ability to support sea life. It could lead to another “Great Dying” analogous to the mass extinction that took place 250 million years ago, when more than 90 percent of all oceanic species perished.
Who Will Win?
So the question for us all is whether the Climate Movement can accelerate its growth rapidly enough to catch up and overtake the escalating reality of Climate Disruption in time to prevent massive irreparable damage to human civilization.
However, the Climate Movement has a secret weapon that, fortunately, is becoming not so secret. In the phrase popularized by Global Urban Development, “You can get richer by becoming greener.”
That’s why Ceres, an advocate for sustainability leadership among companies, investors, and public interest groups, got 365 companies and investors in all 50 states, representing 340,000 employees and $350 billion in annual revenue, to express their support for the Clean Power Plan.
This unprecedented support from the business community for Climate Action makes sense because the Clean Power Plan will drive economic value for companies all across the country. It gives states the unique flexibility to chart their own energy futures, offering opportunities to expand clean energy solutions, attract new industries, and create thousands of jobs.
In another demonstration that you can get richer by becoming greener, REV has assisted more than 200 small and mid-size companies, mostly in California, to formulate and implement Sustainability Action Plans by joining together in Sustainability Circles®.
A typical Sustainability Circle® participant averages $150,000 to $500,000 in projected annual recurring cost savings. And it is equally impressive that participants generate projected annual per organization energy savings of 1,495,618 kWh; water savings of 2,141,844 gallons; and CO2 reductions of 1,059 metric tons.
Maybe It’s Time
Maybe it’s finally time to recognize that the Climate Crisis is providing us with the most dramatic business opportunities since the Industrial Revolution. That’s some pretty good news to add to the Climate Movement’s side of the story.
Maybe we can have some optimism after all.