Can Pew Center experts help California inspire the nation to solve global warming?
If the federal government won’t force power plants, drivers and industrial leaders to lower their greenhouse-gas emissions, California’s going to try. And the Pew Center on Global Climate Change is moving to Sacramento in March to help.
“In the absence of federal climate policy, the states are where decisions on climate control are being made,” said Joshua Bushinsky, Pew’s western policy coordinator on global climate change.
California traditionally has taken the lead on environmental efforts, often inspiring new federal legislation. If the Golden State can implement effective solutions to global climate change now, the federal government could follow.
The United States, according to the Pew Center, has only 5 percent of the world’s population but is responsible for 25 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions. California is the world’s ninth-largest emitter of the greenhouse gases, which trap heat in the atmosphere.
Bushinsky, a policy expert who holds a master’s degree in earth systems from Stanford University, hopes to help California meet a series of emissions-reduction targets, including the caps required on greenhouse-gas emissions, by 2020. By that same year, emissions must be reduced to 1990 levels. By 2050, emissions must be reduced to 80 percent below 1990 levels.
Two major polluters—transportation and electricity generation—were responsible for 60 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions in 2004, according to the Pew Center.
Creating a “market system” for emissions credits is one thing Bushinsky said the Pew Center is working on with legislators.
Once California sets a cap on emissions, businesses such as power generators will have the right to trade, buy and sell their rights to emit greenhouse gasses, not just in California but also with the European Union, as well as Northeastern and mid-Atlantic states. The fewer emissions a company produces, the more money it can make selling its rights to companies that produce more than their share.
“If you can make a dollar reducing emissions, people will do it,” Bushinsky said. “Once there’s a price on emissions, you start creating innovations.”
Bushinsky said it will take decades to reverse global climate changes already taking place. It also will take technical innovations and market forces that political leaders can’t even foresee. A market for emissions credits could help jump-start that innovation.
Creating a market that condones emissions may seem counterintuitive. “Yes,” Bushinsky said. “We’re saying that emissions are OK today by giving an incentive to reduce.” But at least “cap and trade” policies inspire emissions reductions. “By not having a federal policy in place, we’re also saying it’s OK.”