CitizenMetz

Carbon Consciousness & Action

Archive for the tag “Climate Campaign”

Interview with Ian Monroe, Founder of Oroeco, Social Network for Carbon Reduction

ian-monroeIan Monroe is the founder of Oroeco, a pioneering social network focused on voluntary carbon reduction.  I interviewed him regarding the challenges of convincing consumers to reduce their carbon use. The interview has been condensed.

 

Matthew Metz (MNM): What motivated you to start Oroeco?

Ian Monroe (IM):        Part of the motivation is just doing anything and everything I can to help solve climate change.  I grew up on a small organic farm in Northern California and have seen the effects of climate change in drought and wild fires.

I have worked in international development on renewable energy and climate solutions throughout Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Europe. Communities within the fringe of poverty appreciate that climate change is really a social justice and racial justice issue. Climate change  is a tremendous human issue which intersects with everything I care about.

We now have some amazing technology and social networking tools that allow us to connect information with incentives to shift behavior, but we are not really using these technology tools yet to shift our behavior around climate change. Read more…

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Is the Electric Car Tipping Point All About Cost?

gas car balanceA recent Bloomberg article “Big Oil Is About to Lose Control of the Auto Industry: A Pollution-free Revolution Is Coming,” reports that prices of batteries for electric cars are falling fast, that cost parity between electric and gasoline cars is likely to occur within a decade, and that worldwide electric car sales totaled 288,500 (0.5% of total sales) in 2014, five times the total in 2011.  The author posits that demand for gasoline is flat and gas prices are low in substantial part because of the increasing market share of low and zero-emissions vehicles.

Meanwhile, a report from auto website Edmunds.com suggests that green cars sales are highly dependent on gas prices.   According to Edmunds, hybrid and electric vehicle sales in the first quarter of 2015 declined relative to the same period last year because of lower gas prices.  Edmunds also reported that only 45% of people trading in a hybrid or electric vehicle in 2015 bought another one, down from 60% in 2012.

The relative cost calculus of gas and electric cars will likely be murky for many years, given the patchwork of subsidies available at the time of car purchase, the fluctuating prices of gasoline and electricity, and concerns about the battery longevity and resale value of electric cars.    Consumers that are not moved by environmental concerns and social pressures are unlikely to consider electric vehicle purchases until the cost advantages of electric car ownership are clear and well established, probably 5-10 years after rough cost parity is achieved.  The cost advantages of electric cars will depend on economies of scale—the more electric cars sold, the less expensive they will be.

The number of consumers who buy electric cars for moral and social reasons (assuming rough cost and convenience parity) will therefore be a critical factor in determining the speed of the transition from a gasoline-powered fleet to an electric fleet.

“Engineering” of consumer sentiment to reject gasoline and embrace electric-powered cars must go hand-in-hand with the chemical and mechanical engineering of the electric car.  The engineering of public disapproval of gasoline usage is still in its infancy.  Few people today would criticize a person for driving a gasoline powered car of average fuel efficiency. Consumers feel no social or moral pressure to avoid the use of gasoline, and therefore no need to spend a few extra dollars on an electric car.

A successful campaign educating the public about the vast quantities of carbon pollution emitted by the family car, and asking citizens to take responsibility for avoiding that pollution, could go a long way towards ushering in the era of the electric car, and the demise of gasoline.

Interview with Michael Vandenbergh, Author of Beyond Gridlock

2013 Vandenbergh headshot cropped

Michael Vandenbergh

Last week I reviewed Beyond Gridlock,” a major new article by Michael Vandenbergh and Jonathan Gilligan concerning voluntary carbon reduction strategies.  This week, I interview Michael Vandenbergh about the ideas behind the paper.

 

MNM:  Why have consumer-oriented carbon reduction strategies been given so little attention relative to carbon pricing schemes? 

MV:  We all share a conceptual framework that assumes that the principal actor that can respond to climate change is government, and the principal actions are government regulation or a carbon price.  Even our vocabulary locks in this framework – terms such “policy,” “regulation,” and even “international” imply that government is the key actor.  This is buttressed by our tendency to pursue panaceas, as Elinor Ostrom noted, rather than to pursue multiple strategies when the policy plasticity [MNM: ability to implement] of the optimal strategy is low.

MNM What are the principal political obstacles to consumer-oriented voluntary carbon-reduction strategies?  Could the left and right rally together around such a campaign?  Why hasn’t it happened yet? 

MV:  The principal obstacles to private climate governance are not political – that’s part of the advantage of this strategy.  Government, and thus politics, can be bypassed.  The fact that private institutions and private markets are involved suggests that those with a conservative worldview may be less averse to this solution than to others, and that provides some room for optimism.  Note also that consumer-oriented carbon reduction strategies are only a small part of the private climate governance strategy that professor Gilligan and I outline in Beyond Gridlock. Often corporations and other private institutions reduce carbon emissions because of influences from investors, lenders, employees and others, even if consumers are not engaged.

MNM:  How would you assess the “carbon literacy” of the American public?  Is knowledge regarding the amount of carbon one emits in daily life a prerequisite for an effective private governance campaign for households?  What would a carbon literacy campaign look like? 

MV:  The carbon literacy of the public in the US and around the world varies a great deal, with some having a sophisticated understanding but many having little knowledge.  Shahzeen Attari and her colleagues have done great work on this, and they have found that people often overestimate visible forms of energy use and underestimate by many times their energy use from some household activities.  Similarly, our research team found that people think they should idle their cars for over four minutes if they want to save gas, when the right answer is ten to thirty seconds.  Over ten million tons of CO2 emissions are associated with this idling, an amount larger than several industrial sectors.  Addressing energy invisibility and correcting myths provide two areas of opportunity for private governance response, using information to drive behavior change without requiring altruism or support for climate mitigation.

MNM:  Are there/should there be limits (voluntary, moral, or otherwise) on the right of an individual to use and emit carbon?  How can the concept of limits on carbon usage gain currency?  

MV:  This is an important but complex issue, and we do not address it in this paper.  We do suggest a private climate registry as a way for people in this generation to tell future generations what they did in response to climate change.

MNM:  Should the government set a “Recommended Carbon Limit” similar to the FDA’s Recommended Daily Allowance?  Should consumers at least be advised by the government as to what a reasonable per person usage of carbon is? (Note: I just wrote a blog post on this topic  wp.me/p1yDzM-2R)

MV:  This is an interesting idea, but government action is not what we are focused on at this point.   The point of our Beyond Gridlock paper is that although there are many things government could do, most of them are not viable in the near term, and much of the population dismisses government as the messenger.  Yet we need to start bending down the carbon growth curve.  To analyze new initiatives, we suggest always accounting for the technical potential and behavioral plasticity of any action, as well as the policy plasticity of the initiatives that could induce behavior change.  A Recommended Carbon Limit probably scores well on the first two but not so well on the third.  Following the analysis we suggest in Beyond Gridlock, one approach would be for a well-respected private organization, not a government agency, to set a Recommended Carbon Limit.  That may be more viable in the near term and may allow the concept to be tested and shaped while government remains in gridlock.

MNM:  What single private governance initiative is the most exciting and has the most potential to make a significant impact? 

MV:  The increasing pressure on corporations to disclose the carbon emissions of their suppliers (often called “Scope 3” emissions) is an initiative that has a great deal of promise.  It has a large potential because a large share of all corporate emissions originate from suppliers, and if the buying firms demand carbon reductions from suppliers, the emissions reductions pressure can cross international borders to suppliers in other countries without any international agreement.  This is one of the few ways to create incentives for emissions reductions among small- and medium-sized companies in developed and developing countries.   We are also very excited about the idea of a private climate prediction market that would enable people to buy and sell predictions about the accuracy of the climate science and to say, “put your money where your mouth is” in climate debates.

MNM:  Many have written that the battle to prevent climate change is the equivalent for our generation of World War II, yet the level of complacency in this country is profound, even though 80% plus per the recent New York Times poll now understand that climate change is occurring and that it is man made.  What will it take to galvanize and mobilize the public to make the radical changes necessary to address the CO2 problem before it is too late?  Where do you see the leadership coming from? 

MV:  We think it is a mistake to assume that this mobilization must occur in the near term only through the traditional political processes that affect governments at the state, national, and international levels.  It is also a mistake to start with radical change.  When concern about a problem, such as climate change, is widespread but a low-priority preference for many people, the best response may be to try to buy time while a sufficient consensus develops and the barriers to government action are overcome.  We can achieve more than a billion tons of emissions reductions annually over the next decade by using private initiatives to address market failures and behavioral failures that are widespread around the globe.  The principal message of Beyond Gridlock is not that government action is not necessary but that it is a mistake to wait for the optimal government response.  Instead, we should be pursuing emissions reductions through public and private initiatives to buy time for a more comprehensive response.   The leadership to pursue a private climate governance strategy could come from advocacy group or corporate managers, philanthropists, or pundits, or it could emerge from people who are on the sidelines now but become motivated to do something about the issue.

MNM:  Where is your research and writing headed next in relation to carbon emission reduction strategies? 

MV:  We are continuing to identify new initiatives around the world that are reducing carbon emissions despite the government gridlock at the national and international levels.  Once you make the conceptual shift to understanding the role that private governance can play in reducing carbon emissions, it is remarkable how many examples you can see around the world, and how many new possibilities emerge.

Can a Recommended Carbon Limit Do for Carbon what Recommended Daily Allowances Do for Food?

Carbon DietWhat policies can bridge the divide between the public’s concern about the climate crisis and their unwilling-ness to pay additional taxes on energy?

Recent  New York Times polling found that 83% of Americans (including 61% of Republicans) believe that global warming will be a serious world problem if nothing is done about it.    The public’s high level of concern about global warming does not translate into willingness to pay more for carbon.  The poll found 63% of the public opposed to higher gasoline taxes, and 74% opposed to higher electricity taxes.

One low-cost, high-return approach would be for the government to set and promote voluntary guidelines and targets for individual carbon emissions limits similar to the “recommended daily allowances” the FDA sets for calorie and sodium intake.  The Recommended Carbon Limit (RCL) for Americans could be set, for example, at 27,500 pounds (12.5 metric tons) of CO2 emissions per year (30% below the existing U.S. per capita average or more than 50% above the European average), and could be reduced 5% annually from there.   Just as with food’s “nutrition facts” box, the RCL could be paired with a labeling campaign, which could, for example, inform consumers at the gas pump that using a gallon of gas emits 20 lbs of CO2, or state on their electric bills how much CO2 was used to generate their electricity.

The purpose of the RCL would be to raise consumers’ awareness of their carbon emissions and how those emissions contribute to the world’s CO2 problem, and to encourage consumers to set limits on their emissions.

Establishing an RCL would generate enormous controversy and debate about the individual’s duty to conserve carbon, the role of government in setting carbon limits, what the appropriate carbon limits should be, and whether there should be different limits depending upon where one lives.  These debates would highlight the consumer’s role in carbon reduction and raise awareness of key carbon-reduction issues that receive little public attention.  The debates would also highlight key issues hindering carbon reduction efforts, such as many communities’ dependence on coal-generated power, poor mass-transit in suburban and rural area, and the difficulties of financing home weatherization and solar panel installation.

The RCL would likely be more politically popular than carbon taxes.  Americans’ visceral opposition to higher taxes would be avoided.  The limits would be set without regard to personal wealth, and would therefore be more egalitarian than gas taxes, which fall harder on the poor than the wealthy.  The limits would be completely voluntary.

RCLs would bring out into the open the issue that has long been obscured in public debates—whether individuals’ use of carbon should have limits.  Carbon limits should have the imprimatur of government, because of government’s unparalleled reach and credibility, and because it is important that the entire population understand that everyone needs to do his or her part in solving the CO2 problem.

We are running out of time to deal with the climate crisis.  A clear message from the government to consumers about their role in addressing their carbon emissions is both critical and long overdue.  Just as the FDA’s recommended daily allowances help people establish a healthy food diet, RCLs are necessary to help us establish a healthy carbon diet.

LOW GAS PRICES FINAL BLOW TO CARBON TAX STRATEGY

Today’s low gas prices (the national average this week is $2.69 a gallon) are another nail in the coffin for the climate movement’s longstanding strategy of reducing gasoline use through imposition of higher motor fuel taxes.  As discussed in an earlier blog post, higher federal gas taxes to disincentivize gas consumption are completely off the table until a new Congress arrives in 2017, and probably long after that.   And even if additional gas taxes were to be miraculously enacted, their effects would be masked by highly volatile gas prices that are presently more than $1 a gallon under their recent averages.

For the next several years, consumers’ rejection of gasoline will not be based on an economic calculation based on price signals, but rather a choice based on their desire not to be throwing 20+ lbs of dangerous garbage into the air on a daily basis.

CLIMATE POLITICS BLOCKED BUT CONSUMER CONSCIOUSNESS OPEN

nueromarketingThe 2014 midterm results assure that legislative progress won’t be made on key climate issues until 2017 at the earliest.  Republican majorities hostile to carbon pricing and other carbon-control legislation will be firmly in control of both houses of Congress.  Climate-denier Sen. James Inhofe will be the new chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.  President Obama and the Democrats in Congress will be fighting desperate rearguard battles simply to maintain regulations on coal-fired power plants, block development of the Keystone XL pipeline, and defend other important climate-related laws and regulations. So what are Americans deeply concerned about the climate crisis to do?  Obviously, biding time for two years and hoping that a new pro-climate president and Congress take control in 2017 is not an option.   Rather, the climate crisis requires that we push ahead with even greater urgency the movement to decrease CO2 emissions, despite conventional political channels being blocked. One area where enormous progress can be made now is changing consumer perception of gasoline and other fossil fuels.  Consumers have not been pushed to change their carbon habits—habits that by some estimates account for 71% of all carbon burned in the U.S.   Buying gas, using fossil fuel-powered electricity, and other environmentally destructive routines of daily life are poorly understood and go unchallenged and unquestioned by both consumers and the broader society. Read more…

Consumer Education Key to Climate Policy Progress

Getting consumers to accept personal responsibility for their carbon usage is a critical step in building a durable political coalition to address climate change.  Consumers who are concerned about their personal CO2 emissions are likely not only to reduce their emissions, they are much more likely to strongly back carbon taxes and other climate-friendly legislation.

Key messages of a consumer-directed campaign include:  “Each gallon of gas you use puts 20 pounds of CO2 into the air,” “the CO2 you put in the air stays in the air,” and “reduce the CO2 that you can, offset what you can’t.” Read more…

Moral Pricing of Carbon

While a carbon tax or other form of carbon pricing is stuck in our gridlocked political system, a psychic or moral price that will limit carbon usage can be established without need for congressional action.

The principal constraint on most consumers’ carbon usage now is their ability to afford fuel, and given that the price of energy is relatively low (driving a car costs less than $.20 a mile), energy cost is for most people a relatively weak inducement to substantially reduce their carbon usage relative to the convenience of car travel. Read more…

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