Requirements to reduce emissions are running into a sudden roadblock: The economy:
Representatives of German business have called for a moratorium on any European Union legislation that would impose higher costs on companies at a time when they are grappling with the fallout from the financial crisis.
Two of Germany's largest trade bodies said Brussels should think carefully about putting additional burdens on business given the potential of the financial crisis to weaken the "real economy".
"We've got to ask whether certain measures, including environmental legislation, are responsible given the economic outlook," Hanns-Eberhard Schleyer, general secretary of German Confederation of Skilled Crafts, told the Financial Times.
The economic free fall gripping the nation may bring down one of the main environmental objectives: capping the greenhouse gases that are blamed for global warming.
Democratic leaders in the House and the Senate, and both presidential candidates, continue to rank tackling global warming as a chief goal next year. But the focus on stabilizing the economy probably will make it more difficult to pass a law to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. At the very least, it will push back when the reductions would have to start.
As one Republican senator put it, the green bubble has burst.
"Clearly it is somewhere down the totem pole given the economic realities we are facing," said Tom Williams, a spokesman for Duke Energy Corp., an electricity producer that has supported federal mandates on greenhouse gases. Duke is a member of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, an association of businesses and nonprofit groups that has lobbied Congress to act.
The financial crisis and a deepening economic downturn are threatening to delay efforts to deal with another pressing global crisis: climate change
Hopes for action had been running high since both Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama had pledged to make cutting U.S. greenhouse gas emissions a top priority. But environmentalists now fear that the next president may be more focused on reviving a flatlining economy, and Congress could be wary of supporting any measures that might slow growth or raise energy prices for consumers.
"The truth is there is a very large question mark hanging over the idea that Congress would take economywide action on global warming with the economy in such anemic shape," said Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch.
As long as environmental actions require significant additional cost, for often minimal impact, this is going to be a huge problem for those who want environmental change. Not unlike the argument against invading a country to counter starvation or genocide: We may want to do it, it may be a really good idea to fix the problem...but if we don't have sufficient self-interest, we'll bail when the going gets tough and possibly make things worse than if we hadn't gotten involved.
Long-term expensive environmental programs are likely to fail if there isn't sufficient self-interest to weather the bad times, like economic downturns.
The best way to make progress is to find ways to proceed that improve the economy, which means the solutions should be cheaper and provide more benefit than not enacting them. In that case, two factors come into play:
Because the environmental solution is cheaper, it won't go on the chopping block when the economy goes south...in fact, we'll want more of it.
There will be much less, possibly no need, to create special environmental departments and groups to enact these things, because market economics will drive us toward them anyway.
Case in point: We recently installed the new low-energy light bulbs throughout our house. We did so because they save us money, and for the same reason they save us money, they also use less energy.
Though, if one breaks, there are a few things to be aware of...:
How should I clean up a broken fluorescent bulb?
Because CFLs contain a small amount of mercury, EPA recommends the following clean-up and disposal guidelines:
- Before Clean-up: Air Out the Room
- Have people and pets leave the room, and don't let anyone walk through the breakage area on their way out.
- Open a window and leave the room for 15 minutes or more.
- Shut off the central forced-air heating/air conditioning system, if you have one.
- Clean-Up Steps for Hard Surfaces
- Carefully scoop up glass fragments and powder using stiff paper or cardboard and place them in a glass jar with metal lid (such as a canning jar) or in a sealed plastic bag.
- Use sticky tape, such as duct tape, to pick up any remaining small glass pieces and powder.
- Wipe the area clean with damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes. Place towels in the glass jar or plastic bag.
- Do not use a vacuum or broom to clean up the broken bulb on hard surfaces.
- Clean-up Steps for Carpeting or Rug:
- Carefully pick up glass fragments and place them in a glass jar with metal lid (such as a canning jar) or in a sealed plastic bag.
- Use sticky tape, such as duct tape, to pick up any remaining small glass fragments and powder.
- If vacuuming is needed after all visible materials are removed, vacuum the area where the bulb was broken.
- Remove the vacuum bag (or empty and wipe the canister), and put the bag or vacuum debris in a sealed plastic bag.
- Clean-up Steps for Clothing, Bedding, etc.:
- If clothing or bedding materials come in direct contact with broken glass or mercury-containing powder from inside the bulb that may stick to the fabric, the clothing or bedding should be thrown away. Do not wash such clothing or bedding because mercury fragments in the clothing may contaminate the machine and/or pollute sewage.
- You can, however, wash clothing or other materials that have been exposed to the mercury vapor from a broken CFL, such as the clothing you are wearing when you cleaned up the broken CFL, as long as that clothing has not come into direct contact with the materials from the broken bulb.
- If shoes come into direct contact with broken glass or mercury-containing powder from the bulb, wipe them off with damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes. Place the towels or wipes in a glass jar or plastic bag for disposal.
- Disposal of Clean-up Materials
- Immediately place all clean-up materials outdoors in a trash container or protected area for the next normal trash pickup.
- Wash your hands after disposing of the jars or plastic bags containing clean-up materials.
- Check with your local or state government about disposal requirements in your specific area. Some states do not allow such trash disposal. Instead, they require that broken and unbroken mercury-containing bulbs be taken to a local recycling center.
- Future Cleaning of Carpeting or Rug: Air Out the Room During and After Vacuuming
- The next several times you vacuum, shut off the central forced-air heating/air conditioning system and open a window before vacuuming.
- Keep the central heating/air conditioning system shut off and the window open for at least 15 minutes after vacuuming is completed.
So with the inevitable cost of some cleanup, or getting some kid or dog sick, maybe this wasn't such a cost-or-energy effective idea for us! Well, for purposes of this discussion, let's assume we're saving money and energy anyway.
One reason it saves us money is that the local government (not sure if city or state) insisted on footing a big chunk of the bill for our light bulbs, making them even cheaper for us, at other people's expense.
But, to my knowledge, that wasn't necessary. The light bulbs would have saved us money anyway, and since the light bulbs would have saved us money without the subsidy, we would have bought them anyway.
Or, if without the subsidy the light bulbs wouldn't have saved us money, then it's a pretty good bet that they wouldn't save energy either. Cost is usually a pretty good indicator of efficiency, except when there are externalities where there's some cost to society not reflected in the price. In the case of lightbulbs I doubt it...and if there are, they are probably swamped by the cost to us of the cleanup reflected above.
In either case a government subsidy isn't necessary...worse, by "picking the winner" and subsidizing this kind of bulb, if a more efficient bulb using a different technology comes along, the government subsidy may encourage us to keep buying the less efficient bulb, thereby increasing rather than decreasing energy usage.
In any case, let's take it as a given that the bulbs reduce energy consumption and save money for the consumer. Then it seems the best, most realistic way to improve the environment is to continue to seek items like the light bulbs, which we know won't be thrown out if money gets tight.
I'm not an environmental genius, and I don't know what all cost-saving environmentally-sound products we should be focusing on to replicate the light bulb situation. But there must be numerous things we can do along those lines that will save consumers money, so they are guaranteed to be adopted and kept through the tough times.
Whatever those things are, they aren't Kyoto, which even if it were actually fully implemented, would do very little:
...all current models show that the Kyoto Protocol will have surprisingly little impact on the climate: temperature levels projected for 2100 will be postponed for all of six years.
Yet the cost of meeting the Kyoto Protocol will be $150 billion to $350 billion annually (compared to $50 billion in global annual development aid).
So let's save the world: Let's find solutions that people and governments will be eager to implement because they save money and increase convenience, not the other way around.