California Is U.S. Low-Carbon Leader
Climate change is not just an environmental issue, it's an economic issue, too. Major economic activities of our industrialized society are at the root of human-caused climate change, which in turn will have economic effects. Yet, the degree that we allow our response to the threat of climate change to be economically damaging or economically productive is in our hands.
Climate change is a leading topic of discussion at the World Environment Day in San Francisco this week, and, fittingly, California will be able to show the world it has a firm grip on both the problem and the solution. The state, its businesses and its public sector are all taking positive actions to create a productive and thriving low-carbon economy -- actions that demonstrate a positive economic response to climate change.
California is both using and developing the technologies we'll need worldwide to make the transition away from high-carbon emissions. California businesses and government are employing energy efficiency, cogeneration, diverse fuels, renewable energy and other clean technologies to reduce their operating costs and increase economic output. In working together, the state and its businesses have shown worldwide leadership in developing clean technology and renewable energy.
Although California has the largest population of the United States, in terms of carbon intensity, it is atypical. Whereas national annual per-capita greenhouse-gas emissions average 20 metric tons, Californians per-capita emissions average 12 metric tons, according to the California Energy Department. The reason: Since the early 1970s, California has been a leader in promoting efficiency, cleaner technologies and renewable energy. California acknowledged early the threat of climate change, passing legislation in 1988 to assess impacts and identify mitigation strategies. Since that initial law, California became the first government to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions from vehicles; set a Renewable Portfolio Standard requiring 20 percent of electricity to be produced from renewables by 2010; established the first state-sponsored climate-change research program; and opened the California Climate Action Registry to facilitate public and private reporting of greenhouse-gas emissions.
The effect of the state's 30-year history of energy-efficient building codes and numerous financial and other incentives to reduce electricity use is pronounced. Per-capita electricity use has remained practically unchanged since the mid 1970s, compared to a growth in national per-capita electricity use of about 1.5 percent per year.
Examples abound of how California's vast intellectual and economic resources are being used to reduce emissions and create new opportunities. Take the city of San Francisco. It operates the largest city-owned solar power system in the United States. Every year, electricity-producing photovoltaic cells on Moscone Center save 4 million kilowatt hours of electricity and $305, 000 in energy costs. By the end of next year, more than 10 new solar systems will be installed at city-owned schools, libraries and health clinics. The installation of energy-efficient traffic signals is expected to cut 7.7 million kilowatt hours and save the city an additional $1.2 million per year in electricity costs. San Francisco is also an established leader in the use of low-emission vehicles and implementing extensive waste reduction, recycling and reuse programs.
Just as San Francisco is proving to be an example for other municipal governments in how to be a low-carbon leader, so are many California-based companies. Take San Jose's Calpine Corporation, for example. This largest independent power producer in the United States and worldwide leader in renewable geothermal power operates 4,000 megawatts of natural gas- and geothermal-fueled sources within California. Calpine's gas turbine combined- cycle power plants emit about 52 percent less carbon dioxide per unit of electricity compared to the industry average and produce electricity at lower costs, demonstrating that environmental and economic improvements can be achieved together.
Many more leadership examples, such as how California's electric utilities are all expected to meet the state's goal of 20 percent electricity from renewable sources by 2010. Or consider how Green Star Products, based in Chula Vista (San Diego County), has become the largest U.S. producer of biodiesel, with 35 million gallons per year capacity. Or how the state-funded Public Interest Energy Research grants have brought more than 33 clean-energy products to the marketplace.
California's response is a model of the abundant economic opportunities available in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and making the transition to a low-carbon future. The state's universities and other institutions are working on the technologies that will shape the low-carbon future and its entrepreneurs are bringing them to market. Such leadership can have big paybacks. A recent survey of U.S. venture-capital firms, conducted by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Environmental Entrepreneurs, labeled California as the most attractive region in North America for clean technology/clean energy investment.
Every economic threat also represents a challenge to those who are bold and creative enough to rise up to it. Investment in the technologies and products and the new energy infrastructure that will shape the low-carbon future offers a huge opportunity to businesses around the world. California demonstrates that the right leadership and incentives can harness the talent and skills that exist to find solutions that beat climate change and increase prosperity for all. As the world's environmental leaders discuss climate change in San Francisco this week, they won't have to look far for solutions.
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