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  • Getting to Green

    An administrator pushes, on a shoestring budget, to move his university and the world toward a more sustainable equilibrium.

"Blue" (by) U
October 16, 2009 - 2:30pm

So if educators in "red" states should take it upon themselves to correct their elected climate change deniers in public, do those of us in "blue" states get a free ride? Not at all.

Too many people on the "blue" side of various aisles condition their support for Waxman-Markey, or Kerry-Boxer, or more substantive climate change legislation on the availability of corporate welfare for increased nuclear power, for "clean coal" technology, and for extravagant hand-outs to existing utility companies. Not all, but still ...

Some of these Democratic legislators come from coal states, and seem to think that the coal industry is in their future as much as it was in their past. Somehow, that seems unlikely to me. Respected educators from State U, from Tech, and from elsewhere need to point out that "clean coal" is a term of theory, not of practice. And even if it were real (at the point that the coal is burned), it wouldn't do anything to address emissions from mining, from transportation, from forest destruction, from plateau (oops, I mean "mountaintop") restoration.

Blue state economists should point out that the case for subsidizing utility companies is bogus. The argument, of course, is that existing utilities will need to spend money to make their generation facilities cleaner and, in the absence of Federal subsidies, will have to pass the costs on to consumers. What nobody points out is that subsidizing the utilities takes the decision about where to spend that money out of the hands of consumers. If, instead, any Federal dollars (and I'm not saying there should be Federal dollars, I'm only saying "if") went directly to families (say, in the form of a refundable tax credit), they could choose to spend it either on the now higher-cost electricity from fossil fuels or on truly renewable (hence truly sustainable) power -- leveling out the playing field, at least partially.

Blue state scientists (hard and social) might want to comment on what a bad deal nuclear power has been, still is, and will continue to be in the future. In addition to the inherent security risks from the plants themselves, there are (of course) still issues with spent fuel and water consumption, and serious questions about whether nuclear power contributes to global warming simply by virtue of the heat it pumps into the system.

Institutions of higher education claim to have staked out leadership positions for themselves by signing the PCC, by committing to reduce their net GHG emissions (eventually) to zero, by educating the next generation of leaders. The problem is that the planet doesn't have until some time called "eventually". It doesn't have another generation or so. Based on the latest credible information available (more next week), we have maybe a decade to make serious reductions and perhaps half that time to change course on the way to getting serious.

The time for public leadership is now. Higher ed claims to want to lead -- to run with the big dogs. If that's what we really want, we need to go into the tall grass while it's still green, whether we're (ourselves) "red" or "blue".


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