January 20, 2007
Hypocrisy Starts at Home
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Education | Energy Policy
If you want a sense of how difficult it will be for 6.5 billion people to reduce, much less eliminate, their emissions of fossil fuels, consider this telling vignette from the University of Colorado, my home institution, here in Boulder.
The Daily Camera, our local paper, reports today that the University is going to build a new power plant:
The University of Colorado is making plans for a new plant to replace the aging power facility near the corner of 18th Street and Colorado Avenue.
According to the CU Power Plant home page, as recently as 2003 the current power plant, powered by natural gas, not only provided for all campus electricity needs, but it also produced a surplus of power which it provided to the grid.
But due to the high cost of natural gas CU decided to stop using its own natural gas-powered power plant in favor of purchasing power from Xcel Energy. According to a December, 2006 campus study (PDF) of options for providing power:
The recent increase in the price of natural gas along with increasing turbine maintenance costs has forced Utility Services to reconsider the balance of reliability and economics. These increasing costs have compelled Utility Services to shut down both generators except for forced or planned outages.
Why does this matter from the standpoint of the city of Boulder's environmental goals? Again according to the December, 2006 study:
Gross [greenhouse gas] emissions to the environment are increased when the University purchases electricity from Xcel Energy since the electricity comes primarily from coal fired plants instead of the University’s gas fired system. Approximately 80% of Xcel Energy’s electricity is produced by coal fired generating stations, although wind and other sustainable sources are included in their grid areas.Also, Xcel Energy’s new coal fired plant will utilize extensive emission reduction equipment and existing coal fired plants are being retrofitted for emission reduction. These measures will make the emission from coal fired plants nearby equal to the emissions from gas fired plants. Since two alternatives of this study provide for the shutdown of the University’s cogeneration system and the purchase of all electricity from Xcel Energy Utilities, emissions from coal fired plants into the environment may increase under these two alternatives. An alternative is for the University is to purchase all power from wind sources, or Green renewable energy credits (REC’s), which will reduce emissions.
According to this U.S. EPA website electricity from natural natural gas produces about half of the greenhouse gases that electricity produced from coal. Given the energy needs of the Boulder campus, it is not unreasonable to think that a permanent doubling of its greenhouse gas emissions for electricity will make Boulder's goal of meeting the Kyoto Protocol a moot point.
Here is what The Daily Camera reported about my Environmental Studies compatriot Professor Jim White's description the trade-offs involved, and also the reaction of the Chancellor, Bud Peterson:
Jim White, a CU professor of environmental studies, said generation that doesn't involve renewable energy, such as wind, would take some sheen off CU's reputation as an environmental hotbed. He said CU's national leadership in environmental-science research should be reflected in the university's actions.
So keep these facts in mind:
*The University will be spending $60-$75 million to build a new power plant for steam.
*The University prides itself on being environmentally conscious.
*The University is about to institutionalize for a decade or longer a doubling of its greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation.
*The city of Boulder has passed a law to meet the Kyoto targets.
*The Chancellor has balked at spending $250,000/year, or 0.3% of the cost of the new power plant on this issue.
Whatever one thinks about climate change or greenhouse gas emissions, this story from the University of Colorado tells you all you need to know about the difficulties of actually reducing emissions even in the context of strong political support, strong public support, and the existence of a law providing a (modest) emissions target and timetable. This is the situation that on a much larger scale Europe is now grappling with, and I suspect, the United States eventually will be as well.Posted on January 20, 2007 09:09 AM
Here are some examples of hypocrisy:
How much CO2 is put in the for the numerous meeting organised around the world by the UN to urge nation to reduce their co2 emission?
Many of people that I talk to that are concerned by the environment are all telling how wonderful their last vacation on an exotic Island was and how the next time they want to go farther.
One of them justified exchanging is small civic for an SUV (hybrid) because he like to go deep in the forrest for his bike ride. He will sometimes make as much as 500km to get where he want to ride is bike. of course he never miss a chance to make a nice fire camp.
Many of these people complain to me how much I'm ill advise for being skeptics/deniers.
Yet in the last few years I've reduce my carbon footprint (I drive a car that is more fuel efficient and I drive less by working closer to my home). We use less oil and more electricity (in Québec 98% of our electricity is from renewable energy)to heat our house. I also don't burn wood anymore.
I did all this, not for the environment, but for my personnal finance.
Posted by: Sylvain at January 20, 2007 01:01 PM
I think, actually I'm almost certain, that the renewable energy in Quebec is hydro-electric based. Additionally, the dams and significant other parts of the hydro systems are built on properies of Original Nations. These days, while hydro-based generation is in fact renewable, it is no longer considered Green in some circles.
Posted by: Dan Hughes at January 20, 2007 04:30 PM
Yes, the vast majority is Hydro-electricity. Yes it has a huge impact on the environment at the local level. It has short term (about 10 years I think) problem with a higher level of mercury (from decaying tree). For Hydro is as green as wind power.
The first nation did a good job of bashing hydro-electricity. It seems now that it was only to have more money from the negotiation. They recently agreed to a new project.
Posted by: Sylvain at January 20, 2007 06:12 PM
Roger, what`s involved is not hypocrisy but people and institutions making decisions in face of the costs they actually face.
Since there are no instititions that force economic actors to value the costs of GHG emissions, the CU decision is rational, at least for now.
Posted by: TokyoTom at January 21, 2007 02:26 AM
Tom- Thanks. I wonder what sort of valuation of GHG emissions in what sort of institution would change the calculus of the CU decision. Any thoughts?
FYI, Boulder does have the nation's first "carbon tax" and students have voted for parts of the campus to be powered by wind regardless of costs.
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at January 21, 2007 06:59 AM
A second point in response -- here in Boulder many people (most?) will share with anyone who asks the views espoused by my colleague Jim White, that climate change is _not_ an economic issue.
Is it your argument that they simply don't realize their own (economic) interests and require a price signal to do so?
If so, from your perspective are these folks being disingenuous or are they simply misguided about their own values?
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at January 21, 2007 08:05 AM
Guess what? Here in the UK, hypocrisy also starts at home:
... GUESTS at a £300-a-head climate change conference turned up in a stream of gasguzzling sports cars and 4x4s. Former US vice president Al Gore was the main speaker at yesterday's event in the Hilton Hotel in Glasgow. While the meeting was to address global warming, business leaders turned up in a range of flash motors including Bentleys, Jeeps and Porsches.
One onlooker said: "This was for a conference on how to save the planet. It would appear the irony was lost on them." ....
Indeed, it then tends to move abroad:
... Senior figures conducting research at Southampton University into the effects of climate change and the environment have come in for criticism after they flew to the US recently by private jet. As a result, far more carbon per person was emitted into the atmosphere than would have been the case had they taken a commercial flight. ...
Ah well, but what about this for chutzpah?
... Britain's Prince Charles has booked the entire first class and business class section of a jumbo jet for his U.S. trip to collect an environmental award. The "green prince" has reserved all 62 seats for himself, his wife Camilla and his 20-strong entourage, on the scheduled flight to New York on January 27....
So let us applaud the examplary behaviour of a repentant Prezza who is sacrificing his winter holidays for the sake of planet Earth:
... Prince Charles, criticised for booking a trans-Atlantic flight to collect an environmental award, has cancelled a ski trip to Switzerland to reduce greenhouse gases, a palace source said on Saturday.
In this spirit of self-sacrifice, can I suggest that green campaigners, members of parliament and the Royal family as such agree to abstain from holidays abroad and return to the good old tradition of pleasure beach holidays in sunny Blackpool....
Posted by: Benny Peiser at January 21, 2007 10:53 AM
A further irony here is that the local utility, Xcel, has announced plans to acquire 1300 MW (!) of additional natural gas fired
(Reference for Xcel numbers: http://tinyurl.com/yomvp9)
Posted by: Paul Komor at January 21, 2007 03:46 PM
Many, and I would wager most, prominent people who use their public stage to urge us to be Green are in fact multi-millionaires. By this measure alone they are not and can not be Green. Many compound their situation by being owners of more than a single place of residence. Additionally, many of these second homes are have been built around some of the most spectacularly beautiful places on the planet and these have been spoiled by the development of the housing. Many of these places are in the mountains so that a winter vacation to the home has high energy costs when they are occupied. Finally, these vacation/second houses are not even occupied all year round; a pure waste of natural resources.
This simple and straightforward 'analysis' can be applied to all aspects of the life-style of rich people who call for the rest of us to be Green. Transportation used by the rich is another excellent example.
Posted by: Dan Hughes at January 21, 2007 04:19 PM
Roger, Benny and Dan:
It`s interesting that those who decry moralizing from the enviros resort to a moralizing of their own, in the form of a resentful sniping. Perhaps this is unavoidable, but logic makes clear why there seem to be glaring discrepancies between the expressed desires of the climate change control crowd and their behavior.
Let`s acknowledge that no one owns the atmosphere and that, for the time being at least, it is essentially and open-access common resource, easily accessed and into which waste gases are easily released. This makes it an even more paradigmatic case of the tragedy of the commons than open ranges or regional or oceanic fisheries (where investments in cowboys/horse and fishing boats/technology, respectively, are required for access), but let`s look at fisheries for a second.
Even as stocks of tuna are being depleted worldwide, and fishermen and their governments are finally starting to talk seriously about how to limit/police catches and to jointly manage tuna stocks, fishermen continue to race to catch what`s left. Do we call this hypocrisy, when each fisherman is simply acting rationally to catch whatever he can (up to his time/fuel costs), knowing that he cannot protect the resource alone? Do we say that only fisherman who first have stopped their own fishing (leaving the fish to others to catch) have any right to start talking about whether it makes sense to manage the fishery more sustainably?
Of course not. We expect each fisherman to act rationally in the face of the existing situation, and to catch fish even while saying that something must be done - and to hold off catching only if there is a widespread, mutually agree (or in any event enforceable) moratorium. Also note that even where there may be widespread agreement, a few spoilers can render meaningless the self-restraint of a majority, until the point that the majority act to impose its collective judgment.
Also note that things are not much different from the consumers`s side. My holding off from buying tuna sashimi/sushi won`t stop others from eating it (absent a wide boycott), nor will I help to preserve tuna simply by voluntarily paying more for it at the sushi counter.
Why should we expect that things would be any different with respect to the global atmosphere and climate change control - such that we call hypocrits those who say we need to take collective action and who have set about hand-wringing, badgering, cajolling and arm-twisting, while still not significantly changing their own behavior? Though a few may try by buying rather dubious offset credits, or changing their lifestyle, we rightly laugh at that, knowing that such self-sacrifice is both foolish personally and wholly inadequate to the scale of the problem as well.
Posted by: TokyoTom at January 21, 2007 05:42 PM
Thanks for your comment.
One reply is that you don't see many commercial fishermen running around saying that over fishing is a moral, not an economic issue (Think Al Gore and his gold bars vs. Earth).
Certainly many economists would agree with your perspective on what constitutes rational behavior. However, I do not believe that money is the only value that matters. But certainly the behavior of the University of Colorado and examples provided by Benny would suggest that I am wrong!
But to return to your analogy, any fisherman who talks about the sustainability of his economic future while cashing in his catch is not acting hypocritically in my view. However, the same cannot be said for the fisherman who claims that overfishing is a moral, not an economic issue while cashing in his most recent catch.
But regardless of the practical applicability of the Tragedy of the Commons in this case, my main point with this post is a political one.
If the city of Boulder cannot succeed in reducing emissions, what are the prospects for California, the US, Europe, or the World?
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at January 21, 2007 06:29 PM
I personnaly don't find to be hypocrite someone who describe climate change as a dire situation, if he happens to drive a pick-up that he uses/needs to works.
I do find people to be very hypocrite when someone tell me that I should change my way of life while he is doing exactly the opposite of what he says.
As long as the leaders of the "climate change is castatrophic" will continue to act like this, I will have a hard time believing/supporting them.
In other words there is no reason for me to take the bus if they take the for unnecessary reason.
Posted by: Sylvain at January 21, 2007 06:49 PM
More differences between the tuna fisherman and these AGW moralists.
If the fisherman docks his boat and stops fishing based on his belief that tuna are overfished:
If the AGW moralist acted in the way he wants the rest of us to act:
Posted by: Mark at January 22, 2007 06:11 AM
Can I suggest you do more reading on the ways mankind has evolved to find ways to surpss tragedy of the commons situtations? From issues of trustworthiness, honor and reliability, to the use of names to identify those making commitments, swearing of oaths, and to informal punishments such ostracism for those breaching oaths and taboos, human approaches to resolving commons situations are undepinning by community-shared "morals". This is still very much the case in indigenous sociieites and even in the west in smaller communities where the participants are all mutually identified and well-known - such as the lobster fisheries of New England, where laws simple codify existing practices and codes, which are strongly enforced locally and informally, essentially through well-known moral codes.
It is only with the evolution of market societies and technologies that render informal community approaches obsolete that we begin to see impersonal rules-based approaches, but the instinct to refer to morals does not die easily. I think it is easy to find examples of this, even among modern fishermen. Certainly even this administration took a strong morals-based approach to the reathorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, to declaration of a "sanctuary in the Hawaiian Islands, and against destructive bottom trawling.
Thus, I would agree completely with you that "money is [not] the only value that matters", and I think it is fair to say that what underlies our typical approaches to smaller commons is not a deliberate and rational calculation, but a shared sense of destiny, mutual control, shared benefit and fairness.
In fact, I think that your own moral sense reflects the existence of an evolved desire to cooperate. You indicate that a "fisherman who claims that overfishing is a moral, not an economic issue while cashing in his most recent catch" is acting hypocritically - I think this reflects what you see as a mismatch between one`s words and actions, and would be rightly criticized in the case of a small commons that could be collectively managed by a close community.
However, when the problem extends beyond a small community to a heterogenous word, we can readily see a mismatch between words and actions, simply because moral values are not uniformly shared, are not enforceable and are simply inadequate to the problem at hand.
Thus we end up with the rather ironic situation where those who acknowledge that there is a problrm that can only be solved through the adoption of formal rules are seen as hypocrites, but those who deny the problem altogether while taking advantage of the lack of controls by exploiting the commons to the hilt are somehow perceived by some as having the moral high ground, since at least there is no mismatch between their words and deeds.
On my own part, I would simply urge greater understanding of the nature of the problem, and the need for collective formal approaches that are consistent with our impersonal market economy. More than strict rationality, my own view is that such an approach is morally required!
As to your last question, do you really not understand the answer? In the modern world, those who are responsible to an impersoanl group of others find it difficult to behave according solely to a perceived moral bent, but rather find it easier to take refuge in behavior prescribed by an impersonal market. Just as we cannot except Boulder to solve the climate change problem, nor can we expect the EU alone, nor even the US, unless China and India are also involved.
Posted by: TokyoTom at January 22, 2007 07:23 AM
I've never thought that the commons framing is particularly accurate or useful in this case, see, e.g.,
I am not nearly as optimistic as you about the ability of 6.5 billion people to agree to view the challenge as one of managing a shared commons.
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at January 22, 2007 07:43 AM
Tom, lots of proseletysing without really saying much, if you ask me.
Bottom line. If someone shouting from the treetops that reducing carbon emissions NOW or we'll all suffer catastrophically, while jetting to New Zealand on holiday isn't hypocrisy then nothing is.
Posted by: Jeff Alberts at January 22, 2007 12:52 PM
Tom, I am not resorting to 'resentful sniping' I am merely pointing out true facts. How is that 'sniping'? I notice that you did not point out that anything I stated is not correct.
I happen to have a very comfortable income and I am not resentful of those who have more money than me. Especially I do not resent those who choose to spend their money on things that I consider to be totally unnecessary for me to be happy. I am also comfortable with the knowledge, and I freely admit the fact, that my income represents a far greater impact on natural resources than the impact of the vast majority of the population of the planet. In turn I do not advocate that others minimize their impacts.
My experience has been that it is also a true fact that simply pointing out true facts to those who are clearly not 'walking the talk' is, for reasons that I cannot understand, considered to be in bad form. Income~kg_CO2 is a true fact. If you do not agree, kindly show me my errors.
One of my most favorite early targets were Downhill Skiers. Many of these people with whom I interact tend to advocate and preach that we should all be mindful of the future of the planet. I suspect that Downhill Skiing represents a higher environmental impact per unit of time than the vast majority of many other activities. Clear-cutting the slopes, building human-made structures in formally unspoiled locations, locations that require large CO2 costs to ensure the comfort of the skiers, huge infrastructure investments, high CO2 costs for transportations, etc., etc.
More recent targets have been 'Eco-Tourists', the very definition of an oxymoron and additionally, what a crock.
Again, if you consider any of this to be incorrect, knidly point out my errors.
It is very difficult to read your comments for understanding when you lead with an unjustified assumed characterization of my unstated outlook relative to those who have more money than I do. There's got to be a word for this approach, but I don;'t know what it is.
Posted by: Dan Hughes at January 22, 2007 01:54 PM
"Let`s acknowledge that no one owns the atmosphere and that, for the time being at least, it is essentially and open-access common resource, easily accessed and into which waste gases are easily released."
I don't see any reason to acknowledge something that is simply not true. Emissions of waste gases of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, and others, are regulated, and with increasing stringency. These regulations are such that total emissions and ambient concentrations of these gases in the U.S. are significantly less than ~20-30 years ago, even though economic activity has greatly increased.
Particulate emissions are also being regulated with increasing stringency.
Posted by: Mark Bahner at January 22, 2007 07:01 PM
Roger, it's a puzzle to me that you do not find the TOTC framing to be informative, particularly when that is precisely the approach explicitly taken by economists to AGW - from Nordhaus to Mankiw to Stern and Tol, and accepted by many of your commenters here, such as Saleska and Goklany.
I see you noted in final comments to me on another thread that "Commons problems are "solved" (quotes because they are often not completely solved) by turning them into non-commons problems. ... If you insist on defining climate change as a commons problem you will find that there may indeed be no solution beyond muddling through (which may be where we are headed). If it is to be "solved" then someone has to figure out a way that is politically, technologically, and practically feasible to turn the challenge into a non-commons problem."
This represents a limited, partial understanding of how commons problems are resolved. While private property approaches (which also require the establishment of commonly accepted understandings and legal institutions) that resolve commons problems by eliminating the commons is one approach, it is not the sole one. Historically, many commons have been managed by creating shared rules of use, while excluding outsiders - so that from the outside, the commons looks like private property. These traditional approaches have relied heavily on a shared sence of community and on informal (but still effective) rules and sanctions, including peer pressure (moral suasion) and direct action. This can still be seen at work in the New England lobster fisheries, for example. It seems to me that these approaches have very deep roots and provide the basis for mankind's startling evolutionary success.
Many traditional approaches to commons have been swamped by growing market demand and evolving technology that has made either privatization or destructive exploitation by outsiders possible.
But in some cases, where privatization is simply not feasible, community management approaches are making a comeback. The latest reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act for US fisheries is a case in point. This eliminates the destructive, dangerous and wasteful race to catch diminishing fish stocks during incresingly limited fishing seasons, by setting quotas that are allocated to existing fishermen and that, like rights to graze a shared range, may be transferred among the fishermen in private transactions. Ron Bailey of Reason Magazine has a good article on these approaches here: http://www.reason.com/news/show/36839.html
If you are interested in exploring this further, I would suggest the following as useful starting points:
1. Bruce Yandle, The Commons: Tragedy or Triumph?
2. Messick, D. M., M. B. Brewer, Solving Social Dilemmas, http://www.iew.unizh.ch/wp/iewwp059.pdf
Exerpt: "[I]nformal sanctions are key to the enforcement of implicit agreements and social norms. Their importance derives from the fact that the bulk of people’s daily interactions is not governed by explicit, enforceable contracts but by informal agreements and social norms. These agreements and norms are major factors in a society’s social capital that is crucial for the functioning of democratic institutions as well as for economic and social success. How we interact with our colleagues at the workplace, with our friends and neighbors and even with strangers is governed by a set of informally shared rules of appropriate behavior."
3. Thomas Dietz, Elinor Ostrom & Paul C. Stern, The Struggle to Govern the Commons, SCIENCE VOL 302 12 DECEMBER 2003
4. Elinor Ostrom, Thomas Dietz, Nives Dolsak, Paul C. Stern, Susan Stonich, and Elke U. Weber, The Drama of the Commons (Committee on the Human Dimensions of Global Change, Editors, National Research Council)
5. CAROL M. ROSE, EXPANDING THE CHOICES FOR THE GLOBAL COMMONS: COMPARING NEWFANGLED TRADABLE ALLOWANCE SCHEMES TO OLD-FASHIONED COMMON PROPERTY REGIMES, 10 Duke Envtl. L. & Pol'y F. 45
6. TERRY L. ANDERSON AND J. BISHOP GREWELL, PROPERTY RIGHTS SOLUTIONS FOR THE GLOBAL COMMONS: BOTTOM-UP OR TOP-DOWN, 10 Duke Envtl. L. & Pol'y F. 73
7. BRUCE YANDLE, GRASPING FOR THE HEAVENS:
8. Robert Ellickson, Order without Law: How Neighbors Settle Disputes,
9. Elinor Ostrom, Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action (Political Economy of Institutions and Decisions)
Please note that I also find Public Choice analysis, focussing on the manipulation of governing institutions by elites and special interest groups, to be very useful as well.
Posted by: TokyoTom at January 22, 2007 08:40 PM
Sylvain, I certainly understand your sense that some who are proclaiming the need to better regulate man's use of the global commons are being hypocritical, by not "walking their talk", so to speak - it is natural to feel as you do.
I would just point out that there are very good reasons why they say one thing and do another - just as a fisherman who is pleading for a more sustainable use of a fishery will himself catch whatever fish he can, and invest is a faster boat and fish-locating gear, while not investing in the fishery, and just as Colorado University will invest in the lowest-cost, most reliable energy supply despite its goals to lower its climate impact.
Posted by: TokyoTom at January 22, 2007 09:50 PM
Jeff, I would be curious if you could clarify what it is you think I am "proselytizing" for, if not for a clear-headed understanding of the nature of environmental problems and how we approach them.
Posted by: TokyoTom at January 22, 2007 10:02 PM
Mark, a happy new year to you.
I think we're all quite aware that developed nations all have regulatory/legal regimes that regulate many air pollutants (more or less effectively, and with many problems remaining), but surely you understand that these respective measures have no binding effect on other countries, and that in the developing world pollution is very ineffectively regulated, if at all?
Just as we can expect more effective pollution control in developing countries as they become wealthier and enhance their governance and legal systems, we can expect greater national and international efforts made to deal with matters that are less tractable than classic air pollution to solutions at a purely local level, including various aspects of climate change.
Posted by: TokyoTom at January 23, 2007 12:03 AM
Dan, thanks for your comments. I am happy to make a few comments to you specifically in return.
1. "multi-millionaires ... are not and can not be Green."
2. "pointing out true facts to those who are clearly not 'walking the talk' is, for reasons that I cannot understand, considered to be in bad form."
3. You criticize "Clear-cutting the slopes, building human-made structures in formally unspoiled locations, locations that require large CO2 costs to ensure the comfort of the skiers, huge infrastructure investments, high CO2 costs for transportations, etc., etc."
Your first comment illustrates well what happens to open-access common resource where there is no cost to resource use. Since GHG emissions are free, no one faces any incentives to find ways to structure their activities so as to reduce such emissions. If such measures were in place, we would all take such measures into account in our private economic decisions, since they would be reflected in the pricing signals we face.
4. You criticize "'Eco-Tourists', the very definition of an oxymoron and additionally, what a crock."
PS: As I was addressing also Roger and Benny in my initial comment, I was necessarily rather broad. I apologize for any resulting incorrect and unfair presumptions.
Posted by: TokyoTom at January 23, 2007 12:42 AM
Tom, explain to me how one can be an Eco-Tourist and not at the same time abuse the commons. Additionally, it seems to me that to promote 'incentives to preserve' would necessarily mean that sufficient numbers of such tourists to 'make it worthwhile' to the less developed world would be necessary. This seems to me to be encouraging even more abuse of the commons.
Posted by: Dan Hughes at January 23, 2007 05:54 AM
Hello again Tom. After thinking about it for a while I have another question.
How can you argue that some people on the planet, and they will be among those having more time and money to spare, can abuse the commons by eco-touring, while at the same time argue that all should be willing to do their share to save the planet? I'm thinking especially of the billions of people who must abuse the commons merely to try to stay healthy and alive.
Posted by: Dan Hughes at January 23, 2007 07:02 AM
I think what this issue illustrates is the difficulty of achieving GHG reduction goals without regulatory authority. The City of Boulder, like other local governments, has a number of tools it can use; building codes to compel lower energy use in new and remodeled buildings; incentive programs to encourage investments in increased energy efficiency within existing buildings; transportation programs aimed at reducing vehicle miles travelled; incentive programs aimed at encouraging a shift to more efficient vehicles; and working with the utility to get more renewable energy on the grid. The city may have the ability to require that existing buildings be brought to a higher efficiency standard over some time period. But the city does not have the legal (or practical) ability to set up a cap and trade system, to tax motor fuels, to mandate vehicle standards,or to mandate the fuel mix of the utility. Also, as a state institution, CU is exempt from most regulations that the city may impose. While city action is important, it is pretty clear that regulatory requirements at the state and preferably national level are required.
What is rather fascinating to me is that this is an issue where CU could so easily reduce emissions by purchasing windpower from the local utility, at least during a transition period to some longer term solution, at a very modest cost. All of the moves towards renewable energy at CU have been driven by the university's customers - the students. Students not only voted to tax themselves to pay for windpower for the student controlled buildings, but also taxed themselves to set up funds to invest in energy efficiency and solar, and agreed to a very large fee increase to build new academic buildings only with a commitment from the campus administration that those buildings meet the LEED Gold standard of the US green building council and that the electricity for these buildings come from 100% Green-E ertified renewable sources. CU is unusual in that is has taken significant steps towards sustainability, but these have been driven from the bottom, not by leadership from the level of the chancellor or the president. So it may not be surprising that the chancellor is, at least initially, proposing to ignore the impact of the power plant decision on carbon emissions. However, given the very modest costs involved, I am guessing that the final outcome will be quite different. The surrounding community and students are likely to put some significant pressure on CU to take a different approach; and as a public institution CU now faces a new state administration and legislature that has a clean energy and climate change agenda, and is unlikely to agree to provide tens of millions of dollars of state capital funding for this project without the carbon emissions being addressed.
Posted by: Will Toor at January 23, 2007 10:13 AM
Dan, good questions.
Bottom-line, we have to expect that individuals (and the groups they belong to) will have their own preferences that they will try to realize. Voluntary private transactions between individuals and firms, whereby each achieves some of its objectives, is the engine that has fueled civilization, improved technology and increasing wealth.
Problems occur when private transactions have a large external component to which neither party has any effective obligation, or when the resources involved in economic activity are "common" or open-access resources that are not effectively regulated - then such common resources get abused.
When the commons is small, informal public pressure, jawboning and community sanctions (including force) have been traditionally employed to solve such problems - and much of our success as a species is based on evloved behaviors that enhance such cooperation and coordination.
But in a rapidly growing, globalizing yet still hetereogenous world, moralizing is still our instinctive response, but is hardly an effective one. More formal rules and regulations may be needed, and in many cases clearly are essential. Strong, competitive markets, when coupled with unclearly defined or ineffectively defended resources, leads inevitably to resource abuse - until resource users, property owners and governments decide that it is in their interests to put a stop to it.
Can I suggest you take a look at the links I sent to Roger above, particularly Bruce Yandle, The Commons: Tragedy or Triumph?, http://www.libertyhaven.com/politicsandcurrentevents/environmentalismorconservation/commons.shtml?
My comments on the Lahsen & Noble posting about research on land use in the Amazon might also be worth considering: http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/prometheus/archives/climate_change/001043lahsen_and_nobre_20.html.
Posted by: TokyoTom at January 24, 2007 08:44 PM