Is the voluntary market enough?

Written by tom


You may have been surprised yesterday when the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration announced that US carbon emissions decreased 1.3% last year, the biggest drop since 2001. One of the major causes was a remarkable 7.4% drop in heating degree days due to a warm winter that brought electricity generation and heating oil use down.

The claim from our government was predictably triumphant — and totally bogus:

We are effectively confronting the important challenge of global climate change through regulations, public-private partnerships, incentives, and strong economic investment.

Hm. We had a 1.8% drop in 2001, followed by a .8% increase in 2002. What will be said by our political leaders next year?

One positive note in the IEA report is the statistic that non-fossil fuel based power generation (e.g., wind, biomass, solar, etc.) grew by 32 million megawatt-hours. Part of this growth is fueled by the voluntary market, comprised of companies — Whole Foods, Safeway, Johnson & Johnson, Wells Fargo, etc. — and individuals, including the 50,000 TerraPass members. Total non-fossil fuel based power grew to 0.8 percent of total generation. It’s a start, but clearly we have a long way to go.

The voluntary market is delivering results, but it alone isn’t going to get us across the goal line. We must have strong legislation that puts a price on carbon emissions. And we must have a strong voluntary market that allows people and organization to do more than their fair share. The voluntary market, in essence, is an enhancement to political solutions, not a substitute for political solutions.

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