The Climate Change Reality Roller Coaster

By Dan Bertolet February 22, 2010

Two weeks ago, Bill Gates delivered a TED speech on climate change in which he proclaimed that we must reduce our carbon emissions to zero by 2050, and that to get there we need an "energy miracle." On that point, Gates suggested we should spend the next 20 years developing new technologies, and the following 20 years implementing them.

The first point inspired Alex Steffen to call it "the most important climate speech of the year," because "people who will never listen to Al Gore, much to less someone like me, hang on Gates' every utterance."

And the second point inspired Joe Romm to call Gates' approach "suicidal," because "Gates keeps diminishing the value of aggressive action now."

Both are right.

Americans are so enamored with the heroes of business that the opinion of a guy whose only qualification is his exceptional talent for building a giant software company carries more weight than the consensus of a community of thousands of climate scientists and environmentalists. But that's the reality of America, so it is indeed a big deal that Gates is out there telling it like it is, and also that climate change is to become a focus of his philanthropic efforts.

What Romm objects to is Gates' contention that we'll need twenty years of research to invent the miracle solutions necessary to achieve zero emissions by 2050. Romm believes—as do the majority of those who have any credibility on these issues—that we already have a tool kit of proven strategies that we should be deploying far more aggressively than we are now.

At this point, addressing climate change is much more of a political and psychological problem than an engineering problem. Even the basic economics make sense. As Al Gore writes in his new book, Our Choice:

"It is now abundantly clear that we have at our fingertips all of the tools we need to solve three or four climate crises. The only missing ingredient is collective will."

To cite just one example, in 2007 electrical and nuclear engineer Arjun Makhijani published "Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free: A Roadmap for U.S. Energy Policy," that spells it all out in detail. No one is arguing that he's got it wrong. We just aren't following through.

The City of Seattle has established a reputation for leadership on climate change based on former mayor Greg Nickels' key role in establishing the US Mayors Climate Protection Agreement. More recently, Alex Steffen called for much bolder action when he challenged to the City to set the highly agressive goal of carbon neutrality by the 2030.

Today at 2pm the Seattle City Council is scheduled to announce their new priorities at a public meeting at City Hall. Included in these priorities will be an effort to formally establish the goal of making Seattle North America's first climate-neutral city by 2030.

Collective will starts with leadership, and leadership derives its power from the people. The Seattle politicians who are willing to take bold steps on climate change will need as much public support as possible to counterbalance the inevitable backlash from the status quo.

If you want Seattle to become a world leader in climate change solutions, today is a perfect opportunity to show up at the City Council meeting and make some noise.
Show Comments