10 Global-Warming Policy Recommendations

With near-consensus among scientists that catastrophic consequences of anthropogenic global warming are already on their way, yet little being done to avert it, it’s time for the U.S. to begin treating the climate crisis like the planetary emergency that it is. The new presidential administration has a rare opportunity to seize the moment and reassert American leadership on this crucial issue of security, social justice, and economic well-being. I asked experts working across the energy-policy spectrum on how the professedly green Obama administration can hit the ground running.

1. Direct the Environmental Protection Agency to allow California to require car makers to reduce emissions from cars sold in the state. Current EPA administrator Stephen L. Johnson has ignored his staff’s advice in denying California a waiver to implement its Clean Cars program, requiring it to instead defer to less stringent national standards. At Obama’s direction, the new administrator he has nominated, Lisa Jackson, can allow California–plus the 16 additional states eager to adopt its program–to bring the bloated automakers to heel. “He can do this right away,” explains Roland Hwang, vehicle policy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “In fact, the courts are expecting Obama to do just that.” Expect a lot of moaning and groaning from the beleaguered automakers; producing cleaner vehicles should be a condition of their loan arrangements.

2. Tell the EPA to declare carbon dioxide a pollutant under the Clean Air Act. In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Massachusetts vs. EPA that the Clean Air Act gives the EPA the authority to do just that. “Obama should make the ‘endangerment finding’ under the Clean Air Act the first step toward establishing a regime to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions from power plants and other major sources,” declares Daniel Weiss, senior fellow and director of climate strategy at the Center for American Progress (hose president and CEO, John Podesta, directs the Obama transition team). Adds NRDC’s Hwang, it’s “a slam dunk.”

3. Propose a cap-and-trade plan on global warming. Persuading Congress to quickly move on a program mandating–at bottom–a 20-to-35 percent reduction of greenhouse gases from 1990 levels by 2020 would be a good start, as would reductions of 80 percent of 1990 levels by 2050. But it is important that targets in 2030 and 2040 be set and met to reach, in 2050, a goal of 80 percent reduction from 1990 levels. Otherwise it’s all theory. “It is critical to be on the right trajectory,” says Hwang. Whatever program we adopt “should require emitters to buy pollution allowances in an auction,” adds Weiss, rather than giving them away (which would amount to massive corporate welfare and institute a lobbying stampede the likes of which has never been seen before).

4. Smartly apportion billions as part of an economic stimulus and recovery package. Of the hundreds of billions of dollars of “shovel-ready” infrastructure fortification in states and cities, more than 90 percent is scheduled for more highways—what adds NRDC’s Hwang calls “a whole bunch of bridges to nowhere.” Obama has already called for new economic stimulus, but spending money on the right thing should be a hallmark of an administration truly devoted to change. “He can tell Congress that he wants a massive portion of the package’s funds to go toward further buildout of rail and mass transit projects,” argues Lovass. “We have to graduate from remedial-class public transportation system.”

5. Make the White House as a case study in green living. If change begins at home, it’s time to green 1600 Pennsylvania. Ever since the Reagan administration reversed the conservation policies of the Carter administration, going so far to take the solar panels off the White House, 1600 Pennsylvania has been a crappy example of a environmentally-conscious home and workplace. Conservation is the low-hanging fruit of reducing one’s carbon footprint; by incentivizing low consumption, California has kept its energy use almost constant while doubling in population over the last 30 years. Obama can kick-start awareness with high-profile actions like putting those panels back up and hiring a White House chef specializing in organic cuisine. “Obama should illustrate that conservation is a personal virtue and very much an American value,” suggests Tad Fettig, director of the PBS series e2: economies of being environmentally conscious.

6. Stimulate smart agriculture. Factory farming is another criminally underrated threat to the planet, releasing methane, which is 21 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, in addition to CO2 and other toxic effluvia. The administration could start by privileging subsidization based on sequestration rather than yield. “If it costs money to emit carbon,” says Jill Richardson, agriculture journalist and founder of the alt-food blog La Via Locavore, “then why not compensate those who can sequester carbon?”

7. Green America’s fleet. With the automakers reeling after decades of favoring energy-hogging vehicles, this one can kill two birds with one stone. Obama has already asked for a million American-built electric hybrids capable of 150 miles per gallon in six years. While we’re waiting, he should make gas hogs pay their way. Implementing a sales tax or fee structure favoring hybrids, whereby low-mileage vehicles are more expensive to buyers regardless of what the automakers are charging, would be a good way to kick the tires. He could also encourage cities and suburbs to electrify their bus and shuttle fleets, and enact congestion pricing in cities in California, Texas, and New York. Incentivizing other polluters to switch to electric or CNG would be a steal, while cleaning up the automakers’ act would be the home run. “Obama could ensure that a bridge loan program for auto companies requires them to not just speed up their efforts to produce fuel-efficient cars,” explains Weiss, “but also cease their challenges of federal or state clean energy or greenhouse gas programs.”

8. Pave the way for clean tech. By nominating Steven Chu as Secretary of Energy, a Nobel-winning scientist developing renewables, the Obama transition has signaled that it wants to clean up the country’s energy problem. It can start that much-needed process by tripling federal research and development spending on clean technologies like solar, biofuels, and innovations yet to be discovered, a pittance considering how little budget is currently allocated for the problem. As for old, dirty tech, “the White House should seek to ban new coal plants that don’t capture their carbon,” says Joseph Romm, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and manager of its blog ClimateProgress.org.

9. Make Big Oil pay. Resource wars and consecutive quarters of record-setting earnings have made Exxon and other oil titans rich while bankrupting the nation. Although Obama has come out against a gas tax, it is only a matter of time before that wall crumbles. “The Obama administration should end tax breaks for big oil companies, and recover lost royalties from oil and gas production in the Gulf of Mexico,” explains Weiss. “Banning offshore oil and gas production for at least 50 miles off the coast wouldn’t hurt either.”

10. Modernize the grid. The transmission of power needs more power, whether that is getting renewable energy like wind to urban areas or rethinking regulation already in place. “Obama should initiate national efforts to rewrite state utility regulations to put efficiency on equal ground with supply,” adds Romm. “We need a major effort to create a smart, green grid.”

Plenty is an environmental media company dedicated to exploring and giving voice to the green revolution that will define the 21st Century. Click here to subscribe to Plenty.

By Scott Thill, Plenty magazine


Jennifer K.
Jennifer Kennedy7 years ago

Cleaning up our air is vital to our survival. I am doing what I can. I purchase all green energy for our home. We just purchased a partial 0 emission vehicle. I also just entered my Tropicana codes to save the rainforest on Ryan's site. I think if we can all do a little bit it can make a big difference. Also, here in Washington I am getting involved in a group that is preserving and restoring natural habitats near where I live, since developers in my town don't seem to care about the preservation of our forests. Lots of clear cutting going on to build tons homes right next to each other that aren't even selling. I challenge developers to plan communities that incorporate the natural surroundings instead of destroying them. I think people would prefer to live in such a community and trees cut down on our air pollution. When they cut down trees they are just adding to Global Warming plus they are destroying an important habitat for many of our native species.

That's all I have to say,


Miggs A.
Miggs A.7 years ago

You should have something in here explicitly about cogeneration, also known as combined heat & power or "energy recycling." That's part of what Romm is talking about with efficiency on the electric grid. I'm associated with Recycled Energy Development, a company that turns manufacturers' greenhouse emissions into clean power and steam. The result is lower costs AND lower global warming pollution. Studies from Oak Ridge and elsewhere say this could slash U.S. greenhouse gases by 20%. That's as much as if we pulled every car off the road. So even though you have several entries above relating directly to cars, better standards there will barely make a dent. The real action is in the generation of power and heat, which accounts for two-thirds of our global warming. That's the elephant in the room.

Alex J.
Alex J.7 years ago

Andy, I'd have to see a source for your claim that soils contain more carbon than the oceans and atmosphere combined - to see what they're including (since most stored carbon isn't in the form of CO2 in the oceans OR soils). The intermediate ocean is a huge carbon pool. I agree with exploring biochar, but remain unconvinced that it can be a magic bullet. To cover even half of TODAY'S emissions would take the agricultural sequestration of at least 4 gigatons of biochar annually. So two key considerations are scalability and potential net long-term storage (including regional differences in carbon retention). Last I read, there was a need for more research to determine how many eggs could be put in that basket.

Andy Kadir-Buxton
Past Member 7 years ago

The cheapest way of reversing global warming is to biochar the !0% of trees and plants that die each year. 90% of the CO2 in them remains in the biochar and it can be dug into the poorest of soils where it enriches it and thus increases food production. Soil contains more CO2 than the the entire ocean and atomosphere combined, and by biocharing just 10% of our trees and plants will offset all man made CO2 emissions.

Alex J.
Alex J.7 years ago

Yohan, sorry but much of your linked material is cherry-picked, half-truthful and misleading. For one thing, if you look at what the NAS really said, in whole rather than sliced & diced and tossed with some spin, you see that the conclusions of the hockey stick were largely affirmed, and later expanded upon. Not that the hockey stick was ever the sole basis for the anthropogenic warming concern. Ocean research has also been beefed up. And change on other planets? Hmmm, what does that necessarily mean? See #11: http://understandit.ml1.net/

Alex J.
Alex J.7 years ago

If people want to continue polluting awhile longer, causing harm to others down the road, then it follows that they should help pay for the damage/help support compensatory technologies. Similar to the incentive/disincentive system applied to power plants that once spewed heavy doses of sulfur dioxide. The "right" to use the atmosphere as a free, open sewer has it's limits in a world of billions.

Alex J.
Alex J.7 years ago

It's amazing how people spout off out of little more than fear and ignorance. For one thing, the petition of 31,000 scientists was the farce (see near the end of http://understandit.ml1.net/). I would call the preponderance of evidence, and the stated positions of all the world's major scientific institutions etc. the closest we'll get to a consensus (which by the way doesn't necessarily mean "100% agreement"). Some discussion of that here:

The fact remains that the U.S. and Europe are largely responsible for the CO2 accumulated over the past few decades, and still continue to outpace India and China on a per-capita basis. America is not a developing country. Unless the wealthiest nation on Earth lifts a finger to help moderate fossil CO2 (currently ignored for the most part), why should those still trying to grow their economy to provide even the basics for most of their people? In addition, the carbon footprint of China at least is partly our doing - we've outsourced our pollution by moving a great deal of manufacturing overseas.

As for the cost of doing nothing vs. the cost of transitioning to a low-carbon economy (not quitting cold turkey), some recent discussion here:


Paul B.
Paul B7 years ago

Very well said, Yohan.

There is nothing wrong with doing our part to reduce emissions, but at what expense to me. I am already over-taxed and get very little in return and more is on the way with the stimuli package by our new dictator.

Why do Americans always get this eco-fecal waste shoved in their faces and the rest of the world does nothing. We pretty much started the environmental movement, when is the rest of the world going to catch up.

We've been doing our part, voluntarily for many years and the last thing we need here is a global effort to put us on track. Our automobiles are the cleanest in the world. Our landfills are so good, that canadiens dump their waste here, instead of in their own backyard.

It's time to start facing the truth Mary Jane n., that websites like this, and although very entertaining, are usually set up only to perpetuate half trufs, miffs and lies.

Yohan D.
Yohan D.7 years ago

Part 2 of 2
You said:
“Is the world going to come to an end? OH wait, that's if we don't...and if you for some reason still don't 'believe' it,...”

It is not an issue of whether I believe it or not. It is an issue of whether we should spend (and therefore tax) trillions of dollars on the dubious claim that global warming is caused my mankind. There is plenty of science that shows that it is a natural cycling of the weather augmented by the activities of the sun. If you want to spend your money on something that has less chance of being true than your odds of winning the lottery, go ahead. Just don’t make me pay also by way of the iron fist of the government.

You said:
“...who cares, some of us care that there is even a chance it is happening,...”

There is probably a greater chance that a meteor will hit the Earth and destroy a city than the world ending by pollution.

You said:
“...and know that action is therefore mandatory. Money doesn't mean anything if the environment is trashed as a result (of greed).”

Money means everything if the government takes it all and spends 10% on whatever it is that they are supposed to while the other 90% goes to “overhead” while at the same time you don’t have enough to take your kids to the doctor or feed them properly. These matters should be left in the hands of the people. This is the essence of freedom.

~ Dr. X ~

Yohan D.
Yohan D.7 years ago

Part 1 of 2
You said:
“I can't believe that in a world with free information that people especially on this website, are calling what is actually on around them, a lie. Open your eyes.”

I thought I made my point clearly. I even referenced everything. Where was it that my eyes were not open?

You said:
“What's wrong with cutting down on pollution anyway, altering our wasteful lifestyles...”

You are quite right. There is nothing wrong with cutting down on pollution and altering our lifestyles. I agree with this. It is the hysteria caused by the government / media that translates into more taxes that I don’t like. Living a less polluting lifestyle does not require more taxes.

You said:
“...that have gotten out of control (not sustainable in an overpopulated world)....”

I really don’t think the world is over populated. I used to drive between Los Angeles and Denver about 7 times a year and I would drive for hours without seeing any signs of civilization. There are cities that are over populated, like LA, which is why I moved.

You said:
“... and getting off oil addiction?”

And I agree again. The way to solve this is to stop driving and encourage the government to support those who are working on alternative fuels. Why tax us for that?

~ Dr. X ~