I really wonder why I bother to vote and why we spend so much money on maintaining a parliamentary system when our politicians seem incapable of taking a stand and establishing policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. George Monbiot has singled Canada out as one of the major threats to reaching an international agreement in Copenhagen. Why? Are the politicians too busy squabbling amongst themselves or are they protecting the oil industry, particularly the tar sands?
It was reassuring to attend a lecture at the University of Saskatchewan by Dr. Marc Jaccard, an energy systems analyst who builds models to understand the interrelationships between policy, technology and economics. Jaccard says that it is increasingly obvious that we have the technologies to dramatically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions with marginal cost increases. (Of course, we still have to have the political and social will to do it.)
I’m not going to try and reproduce his talk, but he made some points that I found interesting and worth sharing.
For the past three decades, we’ve relied on voluntary action to curb energy use – and it doesn’t work.
We make more energy-efficient appliances, but people just buy more. In 1985, households had an average of 15 electronic devices; they now have 40 (this does not include major appliances).
Subsidizing energy reduction doesn’t have the effect intended either because 25-75% of the people who receive a subsidy for buying a hybrid car or installing insulation would have done so anyway.
You can’t implement aggressive targets if you don’t implement compulsory policies. Regulations and penalties drive innovation, create markets and overcome lack of public understanding.
Jaccard points out that MADD has been extremely effective at curbing drunk driving because they combined education, changing people’s behaviour and compulsory policies and penalties. He suggests that we need RAGE – Residents Against Greenhouse Emissions.
Jaccard emphasized that policies must focus on reducing the harm to the environment rather than changing people’s lifestyles. For example, his research has shown that people are remarkably attached to their cars. You can’t just substitute public transit for a status enhancing, sexual compensating, personal mobility device. But you may be able to substitute electric cars.
And the economy won’t necessarily suffer either. Instead, Jaccard believes that by constraining our policies, we will change the nature of economic growth towards innovation by doing more with less.