Listen: Economist Eban Goodstein on Climate Protection
Eban Goodstein Lecture
In a talk in October, Eban Goodstein discussed climate protection and the importance of student and citizen action.
Goodstein is an economist, author, and public educator who directs both the Center for Environmental Policy and the MBA in Sustainability at Bard College. He is known for organizing national educational initiatives on climate change, which have engaged thousands of schools and universities, civic institutions, faith groups, and community organizations in solutions-driven dialogue. He is the author of three books and numerous journal articles and his research has been featured in The New York Times, Scientific American, Time, Chemical and Engineering News, The Economist, USA Today, and The Chronicle of Higher Education.
We'll talk tonight about new rules for climate protection, and I want to just start off by saying that that sounds boring but it's actually, there's probably nothing more important that we could be talking about tonight than that. Before I get into that ... And I'll also talk about, specifically, how students can ... We're sort of at a very unique moment where students can really begin to have an impact on this particular subject. You guys have been locked out of the debate for five or six years because of the partisan stuff going on in Washington, but we're at this very interesting inflection point where your voices can be heard in a very important and profound way.
That's not going to work, can I do it like that way, or this way? Maybe I don't have the software to do that. Let's do this. Okay. Okay, so a little ... By way of introduction, is I do run graduate degree programs in environmental policy and climate science and policy, and an MBA in sustainability. This program is at Bard College Proper, which is about 90 miles up the Hudson River from New York City. This program is actually in New York City. It's a weekend intensive program, it's one of a handful of programs around the world that fully integrates sustainability into a core business curriculum.
I've got information about those programs in the back, and would love to talk with you afterwards about graduate school in the saving the world kind of business, and also, I'm going to circulate this sign-up sheet. If you'd like more information about our grad programs, just. Say, business or policy, or if you'd like more information about the power dialogue project that I'll be talking about at the end, you can just put your name down there. I don't need to circulate it, you can just sign up afterwards if you're interested.
Okay, so climate policy. What is that about? Well, it's really about this extraordinary moment in which we are living. It seems like an ordinary day outside, starting to get chilly, it's the Winter time, but in fact, there will never be another ordinary day in any of our lives. 2014 was the hottest year on record, 2015 is going to shatter that record, and every year, every year, as we grow older the planet is going to get hotter and that's a new thing in human history. We've really have only become aware of this in the last 15 or 20 years as a globe, so it's a new backdrop to all of human existence.
We just happen to be living at this moment where 10,000 years of human history have crashed in the next three decades, and we, and in particular you guys, well in partnership, our generations have got to figure out how we're going to meet the needs of another 3 billion people in a world where 3.5 billion people are barely living on $4 a day, and they're aspiring to the kind of life that we enjoy.
In a world where we're already fighting over water and oil and topsoil and fish and forests and biodiversity, and in a world that's getting hotter all the time. So, I am 55, you guys are 20-ish something, so there's 30 years between us. I think, in terms of that 30 year gap, so 30 years from now, it will be 2045. I will be an old man. I'll be 85, you'll be my age, more or less, a little bit younger. At that point, we are really going to know the future of the Earth in a very profound way. We're going to know, did we meet the needs of that additional 3 billion people? And we're going to know fundamentally how hot it's going to get and whether global warming is going to drive the planet another two degrees Fahrenheit hotter, or another six or seven degrees Fahrenheit hotter, for a total of eight or nine degrees Fahrenheit, within your lifetimes.
To put those numbers in perspective, during the last ice age, a period of time when this particular building was covered by a couple thousand feet of ice, the world was only nine degrees Fahrenheit colder than it is right now. So you guys are coming of age at a moment where you're looking at the very real possibility, if not probability, of the swinging global temperatures of ice age magnitude, only in the opposite direction, within your lifetimes. We can't go there, right? We have to change direction, and that is what climate policy is all about.
To do that, we have to rewire the entire world with clean energy, redesign cities across the Earth, reimagine the global food system, reinvent transportation, and in doing all that, over the next three decades, we have to figure out how to put sufficiency and sustainability, and not profitability and growth at the center of what we are doing on this planet.
Okay, are you in the right room? You can leave if you want. I mean, that's an overwhelming sort of idea, that that is our collective responsibility, and yet, in many ways it's an amazing time to be alive because as human beings, we have never had this kind of agency before. This opportunity to so profoundly enrich the future. That's really what lies in our hands.
If you pursue this kind of work, I mean most people don't want to, they want to stick their heads in the sand and drink beer, right? You can't really do those two things together, but in principle, that's what people ... I mean, because it's scary stuff and don't want to pay much attention to it. But, really, if you're alive and breathing and you get this, there's no better way to spend your time on Earth. We were talking about this earlier, right? You don't go to bed and lay awake at night wondering what you're going to do with your life. There's no existential crisis here. You know you're engaging in good work, you're dealing with millions of other people, and we might pull through.
[inaudible 00:05:52] who we just mentioned, likes to say we're in a race to stop global warming. And that's the good news, like, we're in a race. We haven't lost, but that's where we are, we're in a race, and that's why this is such an extraordinary time that we're living in. Okay, so let's pause for just a moment to think about where we are and how we're living. Scientists are always very careful to say, "You can't blame any individual extreme weather event on global warming," just like you can't blame any individual lung cancer on cigarette smoking, just what you would expect, to see more lung cancers as you smoke more cigarettes, right?
But as a consequence of the last few years in particular of so many extreme, unprecedented, never before seen, unheard of weather events, now that dialogue has begun to change and scientists want us to recognize that the planet is a degree and a half Fahrenheit hotter than it was before, there's 10% more water vapor in the atmosphere, and we are changing the climate. We are seeing the signature of a hotter planet in all of these extreme weather events, particularly the ones that are way off the charts.
South Carolina was just hit by this one in a thousand year storm, as a consequence of the tail end of the hurricane. They have had four one and a thousand year flooding events in the last five years. That's the situation that they find themselves in. Just think about the US, four years ago, this was the summer we had the worst flooding ever in the Mississippi Basin. So you guys remember that when you were in high school, right? That, so the nuclear power plant in Nebraska completely surrounded by water, didn't flood. Later that year, we had the first of the tropical hurricanes to hit this part of the world, Hurricane Irene, killed a bunch of people and destroyed lots of property up where I live in the Catskills.
This is the Western US, pretty much every summer. We have had fire, major fire season after major fire season after major fire season that just doesn't seem to want to slow down. The scale and scope of these fires is unprecedented. Western forests are literally burning down. We are going to lose massive acreages of our forests, that's where we're headed. These forests are not going to grow back in the way that we're used to because Spring is coming two weeks earlier, and Fall is coming two weeks later. It's a different environment, different ecosystem, dryer, more Savannah-like environments are going to begin to emerge in the Western forests.
This was the continental US, pretty much, Summer of 2012. Remember that? We had the worst drought in at least 70 years, in living memory, horrible impacts on agriculture, and then we got hit by the second of the tropical hurricanes to hit this part of the world. The next year, we had the worst hurricane to make landfall anywhere ever, with Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, killed several thousand people. This is California now, this was California two years ago, but it's still California. There in the midst of unprecedented drought, that's obviously bad for our agriculture. They've got water-rationing, towns running out of water out there, the grounds sinking because the aquifers are so drained.
Great Britain has terrific records of rainfall, going back a couple thousand years since the time of Christ. They've had Romans and then later Christian monks keeping very good records. Last year they had the worst flooding ever in 2,000 years. Mentioned in 2014, I think I didn't ... it was the hottest year on record, 2015 is going to blow that out of the water, so to speak, so you can see where we're at in 2015. That was a record year. That's where we were in July. Global average temperatures in 2016.
Planet's heated up about a degree and a half Fahrenheit over the last century, almost one degree Celsius. What climate policy is about is making sure that this curve bends and doesn't keep going up. That's what this boring thing of new rules for climate protection is all about.
Okay, and this was Business Week's conclusion after Hurricane Sandy, you know, in spite of the politics of the moment, and the partisan nature of the conversation, there is an incredibly firm consensus in the scientific community that humans are causing this increase in temperature, and more than that, there's an incredible consensus in the business community.
Any business that actually has a dog in this hunt, whether it's retail, or insurance, or agriculture, they get that the planet's getting hotter, they get that extreme weather events are more real. They understand the trend, they want to figure out how to stop it. And just today, we had 12 major business including BP, and Shell, and Intel, and others, coming out with a call in advance of the Paris meetings that we want a stronger agreement out of Paris, including, we want to see a price on carbon. We want to start to see a tax on carbon dioxide and fossil fuels. So, that's where we're at. We'll talk about the partisan gridlock in a minute, but that's kind of the backdrop.
I want to show you one more picture. This is a picture that everyone of your generation and mine should understand and be familiar with. How many of you have seen it? That's good. It's better than most places I go to these days. I'll take you through it quickly, since about half of you have seen it. But what it is showing is global temperature and atmospheric carbon records, going back 400,000 years, so this is 400,000 years ago. And you can see that the average temperature ... This red is the ... So, what you're seeing is the Earth sliding into and out of ice ages here, and you can see the average temperature in the ice age about nine degrees Fahrenheit colder than it is right now. So that's an ice age, right there.
And scientists get this data by drilling mile deep wells in Antarctica and Greenland, they pull up the ice cores, they can actually count the ice core rings backwards. You don't want to lose count when you get to 399,942, right? And then can pull out air bubbles from that, and they can actually measure the thickness of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and they can also get a good proxy for temperature.
So this is ice ages. The blue line here is the thickness of the carbon blanket surrounding the atmosphere, and let's stop for a minute. I'll give you the easy story on the science of global warming. You guys have all heard it, but this is a nice metaphor, right? If the Earth was an apple, the skin on the apple would be the thickness on the Earth's atmosphere. For the last 120 years, we've been burning gas in our cars, or in our power plants, we've been pumping billions, and billions, and billions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, right?
CO2's a well-known heat-trapping gas, lets in the light, doesn't let out the heat. So the very simple science of global warming is thicker blanket on the planet. It's really that simple. Thicker blanket on the planet. Thicker blanket of carbon dioxide, and for the last three decades, scientists have been desperately trying to come up with some other explanation for why the planet's heating up so fast. And there is no other explanation. It's not about volcanic, solar activity, nothing else that might explain that upward trend. Fits the data, this carbon dioxide story does with frightening elements, okay?
So, ice age cycles, it's about 100,000 year cycle, right here is the last ten thousand years, this is the Holocene. It's the period of time during which human civilization developed. So, here is animal husbandry, there's the first city, and there's the iPhone, all compressed in that 10,000 years. This is all of human history. Humans have been the beneficiary not only of a warm period, but remarkably stable. So if blow this up, turns out that temperatures haven't varied by more than half a degree Fahrenheit in either direction for the last 10,000 years.
But, clearly we live on a planet that is not stable. It's a system that's subject to very wide and very rapid swings in temperature. We happen to have gotten lucky in terms of where we are today. All right? So, planet's heated up about a degree and a half Fahrenheit over the last hundred years. We will get another two, so 3.6, total, that would be about the best that we can do. But where we might head is more like eight or nine degrees Fahrenheit, right?
So this what climate policy is about. New rules about climate protection is about bending that curve, or letting it go. That's again, why this is probably the most important conversation we could be having right now. Okay?
Carbon dioxide. Now, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that there's a really strong corelation between the level of CO2 in the atmosphere and the thickness of ... And in global temperatures, right? That the level of CO2 and global temperatures, those peaks and valleys line up almost perfectly. Now, that's a corelation, it's not a causal relationship, we actually understand what's been going on.
So, in the past, as the planet started to come out of an ice age, right? What's happened is that's led to more CO2 in the atmosphere. That's created a thicker blanket over planet, more CO2 in the atmosphere, thicker blanket, warmer planet, more CO2, until something reverses that, and the planet starts to cool down. Well, that pulled CO2 out of the atmosphere leads to a thinner blanket, cooler planet, less CO2 in the atmosphere, thinner blanket, cooler planet, and that is the natural ice age cycle.
And it changes in orbit and wiggles every 100,000 years, driving the initial increase or decrease in temperatures. So, what's happened in the past is that carbon dioxide has acted as an amplifier, and it's taken what should've been relatively small changes in planetary temperature due to changes in orbital wiggles, and blown that up to 10 or 15 degree Fahrenheit swings.
So we know from this record, that when you increase CO2 in the atmosphere, you will dial up the temperature and what we've done, where are we at now? Well, this green line shows what's happened since the industrial revolution, and we're actually now not at 380, but does anybody know where? Yeah, over 400 parts per million, so in the last 10 years, we've gone to the top of the white chart, all right? So we're basically just pushing CO2 levels way out of the range of anywhere they've been in the last 400,000 years, basically just begging for the planet to heat up, and that's what it's doing. Okay?
So carbon policy, planet policy, it's about banning that CO2 curve, making it stop at 450, so that the temperature curve will bend. And this issue, where aren't we screwed anyway? And the answer is, the best we can do is challenge it ... Because the best we can do, because we're going to get twice the global warming, and more than twice the global warming we've already experienced in the last 20 years.
We're already seeing glaciers are melting, sea levels are rising, animals are migrating, but that's a world that is still going to be recognizable, and that's the kind of world we need to promote and we need to shoot for. It'll be tough, but it'll be manageable.
Okay. So, I want to show you one more picture, and this is, again, this issue of, "Whoa, I don't want to be here. I don't want to think about this." So what are going to be the big impacts of climate change in your life for the next 10 to 15 to 20 years? Sort of medium-term. I've already talked about it. There's two of them. What's the big ones in your life? What do you think? Big impacts. Okay, and floods, in particular. Or heavy, heavy precipitation events. That's one. What's the other one? Floods and famine from droughts. Okay. So floods and droughts. Those are the two real near-term impacts.
What's the third one that's a little bit long-term? Yeah, so, sea level rise. That's going to take a little bit longer unless you live in Miami or some very low-lying place. It's going to kick in, in a big way probably when you guys are hitting retirement. I mean it will be steady and slow, but it'll start to really get serious about then.
Okay, but floods and droughts. Droughts are easy to understand, right? You're heating the planet up, Winter's getting shorter, things are drying out, but why more floods? Why more extreme weather events? Any ideas? Yeah? Horse poop, was definitely horse poop. Yeah, okay, that's it. All that water that you're drying out on land is going into the air, right? And you've got warmer air that can hold more water, so you're driving the hydrologic cycle. You're pumping more water into the atmosphere, it's going to come down more violently, and more intense storms. That's well-documented. We're seeing much heavier precipitation patterns around the world, or much of your snowfall, because it's still going to get cold in the Winter, and it could snow.
Floods kill thousands. Droughts have the potential to kill millions, or as in the case of the Middle East, generate massive civil unrest. This is a forecast from, or picture, that comes from the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder. It's a US government research facility, and the scientists were asked to forecast what drought conditions might look like when you guys are in retirement, if we keep doing what we're doing. We don't change direction, we don't bend those curves. Okay? That's what I want to show you.
This is current drought conditions, or last decade, and the way to read it is anything to the left of this magenta, this dark brown and beyond, is extreme drought for the conditions for the area. And if you look in the US for the last decade there was only one spot, maybe central Wyoming or something that was experiencing extreme drought in the last decade, okay?
This is their best guess of what the world's going to look like in 2060, 2070, if we don't change course, if we don't bend the curves. This is not a good picture. A lot of change. If you draw a line from Virginia up to the Great Lakes, central Canada down to Oregon, and everything South and West of that, the whole continental United States, all of Latin America, North and South America, and the Amazon, all that goes into extreme drought forever, essentially, in this scenario.
Same thing in Europe, China, Central Asia, okay? What happens if they Amazon goes into extreme drought? It burns. It burns just like the Wester forests are now, all right? And that puts billions of additional tons of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Again, this is kind of, "Well, you know, I just kind of want to leave now. I don't really want to pay-" You know, this is not easy stuff to look at and think about. The trick to doing this kind of work, of devoting your life to changing this, is that this picture has got to motivate you, not paralyze you. Right? These stories we tell about bad outcomes, I've got to drive you to a commitment to make sure this doesn't come true rather than a paralysis about what happens if it does. And that's just the reality.
We were talking about that earlier. What's the trick? What's the mental trick? When I wrote my book, "Fighting for Love," I was struggling with that because I was trying to ... All these mass extinction stories, I was getting pretty challenged thinking about that, and I really had to go back to my roots and figure out what it is that drives me and there was this moment where I was like, "I can't write a book about fighting for love. I'm an economist, people will laugh at me, you know?" But my wife told me, "That's what it's about." And she was right, and that's what it was about.
One final depressing footnote to this one. The scientists who actually developed this analysis are up here in Colorado, outside of Boulder. You know, you'd think they'd be safe from climate change, but last year their offices were destroyed by an unprecedented, never-before-seen rainfall event that caused massive flooding in the Boulder area. Even the scientists were not immune from these changes. Okay?
So let's talk about solving the problem, and that's a lot of the ways to keep your spirits up is to think, "We can do this," right? And the good news here is, it's not an economic problem, it's not a technical problem. It's really a question of policy. A question of rules. Changing direction. We can do it. Okay?
So, here we are in 2015. We're emitting about 34 billion tons of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. If we keep going, we'll be at 62 billion by 2050. That's a recipe for planetary suicide. But we could bend the curve, and by 2050, cut emissions to about half, 14 billion tons. Then by the end of the century, completely decarbonize the economy. Zero carbon dioxide emissions.
You're like, "Well, that's not possible." But, what was the major emission source from the transportation sector here in Swarthmore 100 years ago, start of World War I. What was the major pollution source, here, from transportation? Any ideas? Yeah? Horse poop. It was definitely horse poop. Okay? That was the major pollution from transportation 100 years ago. We definitely managed to reduce emissions of horse poop by well over 90% over the last 100 years. Right? We did that. We accomplished that, okay?
So we went from horses to internal combustion, cars, and we got to go from cars to something else. And that something else is not a mystery, right? There's a guy named Elon Musk who's doing it already. He's building 100% electric cars, right? That are fantastic vehicles, and so, we obviously need to produce electricity from clean energy sources, wind, solar, geothermal, potentially sustainable biofuels. Once we have that clean electricity, we can use it to run our vehicles on batteries, so we can solve that particular problem, right?
In fact, there's a whole menu of technological opportunities that would allow us to unhook from this addiction. Addiction to fossil fuels, and make this rapid transition to clean energy. In this particular diagram, there's a lot of fuel efficiency and end use, electricity efficiency, big chunk of renewables, steady chunk of nuclear, and some carbon [inaudible 00:24:53]. You don't have to believe in any one of these particular technologies with all sorts of options emerging, but basically, we have to have conscious effort to scale these technologies up, and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, and increase it on alternatives, okay?
And the Germans have done a great job of this. In about the space of about 15 years, they went from six percent renewable energy, to close to 30%, wind and solar, and on a good day in Germany, sunny, windy day in the Summer, they'll get 75% of their electricity from renewables. Over the space of 15 years. So we know we have models, we know this can happen, we know it's affordable, and there is good news out there.
So, this was the headline I've been waiting for ever since I was your age. It came in last year, Fall of 2014, "US Solar and Winds Start to Outshine Gas." Large wind farms and solar plants are now cost-competitive with gas-fired power in many parts of the US even without subsidy. Even without subsidy. And that's because we've been investing in these technologies, and we've driven down the costs, and now it's really very cheap to back out these dirty energy sources and replace them with alternatives.
More good news on the international front, and so we just had the agreement between Premier Xi and Obama, bilateral, they're going to confirm it in Paris pretty soon, the Chinese have agreed to cap coal use by 2020, and cap their carbon emissions by 2030, and that's not enough, but it's an important first commitment. And last year, for the very first time, when the world economy was growing, carbon emissions did not rise, right?
So rather than being on that upward trajectory that I showed you? For one year, anyway, we were flat. We don't whether that's a blip, or whether it's a trend, but it's certainly some cause for celebration. So it seems like something's happening out there, so we're beginning to get to the point where we might be turning that corner.
So there is good news out there, and what I want to talk about for the remainder of the time here is what is the US doing about this, and what can you do about it, specifically, to get us on that downward trajectory? From a policy perspective. And in particular, President Obama is going to go to Paris in December and he's going to pledge that the US is going to reduce emissions of global warming pollution by roughly 30%, by 2030. And that's not all, all right? It's on the downward trajectory, but it's not steep enough, but again, it's an important start and we can do better later, but that's the pledge.
How can he do that? How does he have the authority to say we're going to do that? What's the legal basis for his claim that we're going to cut emissions, right? Where does that come from? I'm going to give you a little history to get you there. It's going to start when I was 10 years old. In 1970, and the US Congress passed the Clean Air Act. This has nothing to do with global warming. No one even knew about it back then, really. A couple scientists, maybe.
It had to do with urban air pollution. You guys have seen pictures of Beijing and Shanghai and how horrible it is. It wasn't quite that bad, but we had really bad urban air pollution problems back in the 60's, and so Congress passed, in 1970, the Clean Air Act, and they also created the EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, and what the Clean Air Act did, was it gave the EPA the authority and required the EPA to make sure that industry did not put dangerous stuff in the air at dangerous levels.
In other words, it mandated that the air that Americans breathe had to be safe, okay? And on the basis of that law, the EPA said about creating a bunch of regulations to reduce emissions out of industry was very successful. Air got cleaned up within the space of a decade, decade and a half. But again, nothing to do with global warming.
I remember when I first heard about global warming, I was your age. I was 21. It was 1981, and I was part of an environmental group at Williams College where I went to school, and there was this guy named Al L. I remember Al because he was 30, and was a hippie, and had long hair and a guitar, and for some reason, he was still hanging around college, I don't know why.
He showed up at our little group, and his face was ashen, literally, and he said, "The scientists have proved that there's this thing called the greenhouse effect, and the planet's going to heat up, and we're all doomed." I remember this, and I remember we all thought, "Oh, it's just Al. Whatever, he's a conspiracy guy. This is just crazy, you know, whatever." And we just didn't pay any attention to him. But Al was right, that was the year the first government scientist's report came out about climate change, and by 1988 it was out there.
And by 1992, you had the first international gathering to focus on climate change, right? And George Bush, Senior was present at the time, and there was actually an agreement that came out of the meetings in Rio de Janeiro called the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. UNFCCC. And that treaty was signed by President Bush, ratified by the US Senate, so the US is an active participant in this treaty.
It did a few things. One was it created the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC, which is a group of international scientists that get together every four or five years and give a state of the science report. They've done that five times now, and every time it's like, "Guys, this looks pretty serious. Better do something about it. Guys, this is really serious. You have to do something about it. This is incredibly serious and you should've done something about it five years ago." Just keeps getting more and more urgent.
It also set up an annual conference of the parties, so every year, the treaty members meet, so some of you are going to Paris. I'll see you there in December. That's where Obama's going to make this announcement.
The final thing the treaty did, the nations of the Earth pledged to try and hold their emissions voluntarily to 1990 levels. Okay? That didn't work. By 1998, at the fifth conference of the parties, a stronger treaty emerged, called the Kyoto Treaty. In that treaty, the nations of the Earth were going to commit to reducing emissions, not voluntarily, but all commit to reducing emissions five percent below 1990 levels by three years ago, 2012.
Europeans signed it. President Clinton signed it, Russians signed it, Japanese signed it, Australians signed it, Canadians signed it. Enough people signed it, it went into force, and Europeans actually did it. They created a continent-wide cap and trade system, they ratcheted down their emissions, they built a lot of renewables, and they actually achieved the targets as a continent.
Clinton brought it home. Us Senate rejected it, made it clear they were not even going to vote on it, and when President Bush came into office, he officially pulled the US out. Canadians, Japanese, Australians, all kind of ignored it. No one else paid attention. But the Europeans took it seriously, okay?
I want to pause for a moment and think about the partisan nature of this conversation right now. As far as you guys are concerned, it's been that way forever, right? As far as you can remember, it's been republicans don't believe in the science, or they're not scientists, and democrats think it's real and want to do something about it. But the republican party has a long and honorable tradition of support for environmental protection measures in America, going back to Teddy Roosevelt, created national parks.
Richard Nixon was the republican president who oversaw the creation of the Clean Air Act. Ronald Reagan saw the expansion of Superfund. George Bush, Senior, signed the UNFC Treaty, and actually foresaw the first major national cap and trade experiment. He signed that into law of the acid rain control, so up until about ... And in fact, in 2000, George W. Bush ran on a pledge to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant. He pledged to do that as a candidate, he was running against Al Gore. He had to sort of be green, a little bit, and that's what he did.
In 2008, Mitt Romney, John McCain were running for president. They both pledged to tackle global warming and regulate global warming influence. It's really only been in the last six years that you've seen, in the emergence and dominance of the tea party, really silencing the moderate voices in the republican party. So, ultimately, that voice has got to come back because if we don't deal with this in some sort of a bipartisan manner, we're not going to get there. It will, you know, the planet's going to keep getting hotter.
We're at sort of a really weird moment right now, where oil has polluted the dialogue and we've had this weird confluence between oil company money and libertarian ideology that's just ... It'll go back to the norm. Hopefully sooner rather than later. But that's where we're at. I want to make sure that you don't think of this as a partisan issue because even though it seems like one right now, it's not.
So, that's where we're at, up to the George Bush, okay? Bush pulls us out of Kyoto Treaty, and basically when you think about it, from when we first became aware of global warming in 1988, all the way to 2007, US didn't do anything about global warming. Nothing as a nation. Nothing. States did stuff. California passed a bill in 2006, the Eastern states, New England states, have their own cap and trade system.
A lot of state-level, interesting policy experiments on energy efficiency and other things, but as a nation, we didn't do a thing until 2007, when the state of Massachusetts and some other state attorney generals said to the Supreme Court, "Hey, you remember that 1970 law, the Clean Air Act, that says that industry can't put dangerous stuff in the air? Well, guess what? Carbon dioxide is dangerous. It's causing the planet to heat up. It's causing heat waves. People are dying. And so, we believe," said Massachusetts to the Supreme Court, "the EPA has the legal authority and the right to start to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant."
The Supreme Court actually agreed. This was during the Bush era, and it was a bipartisan Supreme Court decision, so you had some of the conservative justices, [inaudible 00:35:58], Roberts were on the Court, and they agreed with it, so this is a solid decision. It's not going to get reversed. It's the law of the land. CO2 is a dangerous pollutant, and the EPA, under the 1970 Clean Air Act, which had nothing to do with global warming, suddenly now the EPA has the authority to regulate global warming. Okay?
So this is kind of the happy ending that's emerging out of this weird political moment, okay? So, that was the backdrop, now Obama's elected. Suddenly it seems like maybe we'll have a bill that's directed specifically at global warming pollutants, and allow us to do what the science demands, which is 80% reductions, because we're not going to get there under the Clean Air Act. I'll talk about it in a minute. So, we have the Clean Energy president, we have the House of Representatives that's got a Clean Energy majority, Obama has a two-thirds majority in the Senate, veto-proof.
We were all optimistic that there would be a bill passed, and the House passed one, but then Obama's focused on healthcare, and Obamacare, kind of dithering, not moving very fast. Ted Kennedy, senator from Massachusetts dies. Obama's two-thirds majority disappears, and the Senate doesn't get their act together, and then, in 2010, you get the backlash election, with the Tea Party wiping out the Clean Energy majority, and solidifying any opposition in the House to any action on climate change.
That has to do with gerrymandering and the way the congressional districts were arranged in the 2010 census, so we're pretty much stuck with this until 2020. Probably not going to see any action, still, out of Washington, until after 2020, but that's okay, because we have the Clean Air Act, this bill from 40 years ago. So, let's think about how that's worked out.
So 2007, Supreme Court says, "EPA, you must act." And the EPA in there timely fashion, takes them five years to get it done, but they do. And my friend, Dallas [Bertrar 00:38:00], says the Clean Air Act's like a freight train. It's very hard to get moving, but once you do, it's very hard to stop.
So, in 2012, the first thing the EPA tackled was vehicles, and what they did was they doubled the fuel efficiency requirement for vehicles. So, before this law passed, if you wanted to sell cars in the United States, you had to have an average fuel economy of your fleet of 28 miles per gallon. So, if you're Ford or Toyota, you can sell vehicles that get 20 miles per gallon, or 15, but you've got to sell an equal number that get 38 or 42, so it's got to average out to 28.
What they did was they doubled that, and said by 2025, we're going to be at 55 miles per gallon, all right? It's a big bite out of a big sector if you think about it, we have the same number of vehicles and we double the mileage, we're basically cutting the fuel use in half, cutting emissions in half. This is not rocket science. I have a plug-in Prius hybrid that gets 55 miles per gallon, pretty reliably, so it's not like this is technology we don't know how to do. Ford is switching over their truck manufacturing to aluminum to reduce the weight. So industries adapt to ... Electric vehicles get three, four hundred miles per gallon, so, you know, we may very well do better than this, but this has now set a much higher bar.
2013, EPA moved forward to regulating new power plants in the US, and they basically said you can't build a new coal plant because they're too dirty in terms of their carbon emissions, unless you could capture the carbon and bury it underground, and no one's going to do that for a while. And then just this year, in August, they finalized regulations for existing power plants under the Clean Air Act, targeting 32% reduction levels by 2030, and this is another big sector, 40% of emissions, so two big bites out of two big sectors is the legal basis for Obama's announcement in Paris.
It's the Clean Air Act that allows him to make this commitment. Now, will it come true or not, is the thing I want to talk about the last five minutes of this talk, and that's where you guys get involved. Why didn't the EPA, if we think about where we're at with this 30% reduction, from a US perspective, we're basically on this trajectory, right? Instead of being on the deeper trajectory, so the Clean Air Act doesn't really allow us to do what science demands. It allows us to get partway there.
And the reason is that the statutory authority and the Clean Air Act only allows the EPA to go as far as what's called The Best System of Emission Adequately Demonstrated, the BSER. So they couldn't just say, "Arbitrarily, you have to cut emissions by X%." They have to justify from a technological analysis about what's possible using today's best system.
And so, what the EPA did was they looked on a state-by-state basis about Pennsylvania's number of coal plants, number of gas plants, what they think the renewable energy potential is, and based on that, they set a target for every state. Different targets for each state. But then, once the targets are set, the states can actually come up with their own plan to figure out how to get there. So Pennsylvania's reduction target is 35% and the EPA based that analysis on Pennsylvania making their coal-fired power plants more efficient by switching from coal to existing mine-cycled natural gas, because when you burn natural gas, in terms of the burning of natural gas, it's much cleaner, and that rules out the question of life cycle impacts of methane leaks. Did we talk about that?
And then also using more zero-emission renewable power including offshore and onshore wind, floatable tanks, utility scale, and rooftop, and then also states get credit for energy efficiency. Actually reducing energy demand in addition to making these switches, okay?
And all that allowed the EPA to argue that they thought Pennsylvania could, using existing, known technologies, make a 35% reduction by 2030. Different states have different targets. So right now, in every state, and in Harrisburg, here in Pennsylvania, there is a woman or a man whose job it is to come up with a plan to meet this 35% goal, and that's true in Albany, and Nashville, and Austin. In every state now, there's a person whose job it is to do this, okay? And you can be their phone is ringing off the hook, although we don't have hooks anymore. That's kinds of an anachronism, isn't it? Ringing from coal industry lobbyists, and utility executives, and others, who are saying, "I wonder if we can do this. It's too strong, we got to slow it down. Can we have four more years to comply?"
Now, there's this really interesting moment where we're out of the partisan dialogue and debate about this global warming happening, just saying, "How are we going to do this in every state?" And this is where you guys come in. Every state is moving forward, but there are governors who oppose this, there are state legislatures who oppose this. It's contentious. And whether we're really going to deliver on Obama's promise or not is not clear, or exceed that promise, which we could do. We could do better than that, in every state.
So, that's why we're launching this power dialogue project, which you guys can sign up for if you want more information. And we need your help. But the idea is that on 4/4/16, that's Monday, April 4th, 2016, we are going to try to facilitate conversation between 10,000 young people in every state ... 10,000 total. So 4 or 500 in every state. And that person, that regulator who's in charge of coming up with this implementation plan.
The basic idea is somebody's going to get us an auditorium in Harrisburg and Giovana's teaching a class in senior seminar in energy policy, or climate policy, or an introductory environmental studies class, then faculty can bring their classes to this event in Harrisburg. There'll be classes from all over the state, 15, 20 classes, 20 students each, 400 students, having a chance to hear directly from the person who's coming up with this plan, and engage them in dialogue.
Every class will nominate a student representative, will sit up on the stage, ask the questions, open it up to the floor. And I can't stress how powerful that experience will be for that regulator, for that one person whose job it is because nine cases out of ten, they want to do the right thing, right? They really would like to see this law pushed forward, but they're getting a lot of pressure.
And so, hearing from people who are actually going to be alive in 2060, 2070, that's going to be a very powerful experience for them, and it's going to give them the foundation for pushing back, and being aware of what their broader responsibilities are.
So we think this is going to have a very powerful impact on the regulators themselves, but also, of course, if it's a national event, it's happening across the country, that'll be a media opportunity, political candidates will have to weigh in, it'll be a broader statement about your interests and engagement in ... Your generation's involvement in this critical decision, because it's really about you. It's not about us. You and your kids. That's who's going to be most affected by this.
So we need your help with this. Obviously, here at Swarthmore, you will send a couple of classes, but I'll send around a video of me saying this in 30 seconds. We'd love it if you would send it to your friends at other schools and help us just raise awareness about this whole project. We have a specific ask that we would ask to happen at the Swarthmore campus, the Namfer campus, and all the other campuses, U Penn, and that is that we would like to see on every campus, a debate. You guys have a debate club, right? We'd like to have the debate club debate the proposition, resolve the US initiative faster than they agreed to in Paris.
So then you can have people arguing, "Yes, we need to go faster." You could also represent the other side with students arguing the con, "No, we can't move that fast because it's too expensive." And then that would create ... We have 2,000 debates around the country, right? One on every campus. That, too, is just raising the level of engagement around this issue, and really providing ... Making sure somebody's got Obama's back when he goes to Paris and makes a commitment that we're actually going to follow through on that, here over the next year, two years, five years out. Okay? So, need your help. Please sign up, and we'll get you on our mailing list and we can start figuring out how to push this conversation.
So, just to wind up, I talk about mass extinction and global warming all the time, and people say, "Doesn't that kind of leave you hopeless? Doesn't it make you depressed?" I think anybody who works in this space has to recognize that there are two futures out there, and one is pretty dystopic. 2100, it could be 9, 10 degrees Fahrenheit hotter, it's a post-peak oil, post-water-shortage world, tribalistic politics, mass extinctions, not what we want for our kids and grandkids.
But I know you guys are all allied to a second future where we get this right and we do rewire the world with clean energy, and we do put sufficiency into the dialogue and at the heart of what humans are doing on this planet. We have this extraordinary privilege to be alive at this inflection point in human history, and we really do. I think about it that way. I mean, there's, in many ways, no more human time to be alive than we're alive today because of the profound nature of what we're either going to collectively create or not.
So it's just an exciting time to be around. Also because of the technologies at our fingertips, the ways in which ideas can go viral and the rapidity of which change can happen. Then I just have the privilege of working with lots of folks a little bit older than you, who are at the heart of trying to come up with both the policy and business solutions.
So it is what it is. This is where we live. This is the time we're here on the planet, and from my perspective, we got two things to do. We got to change the rules. We need to come up with a new suite of policies at the state and national level, cities, towns, within business. But we also have to figure out how to transform the game. We got to figure out how to produce goods and services sustainably at the level of the individual business and enterprise. And that's what we're involved with in our graduate programs at Bard.
So, love to talk with you more about any of this stuff. There's some information about our programs in the back. Thanks for having me here.