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Is the voluntary market enough?

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.

Take the first step.

Start small. Be conscious of the impact your actions have on the environment and figure out what you can do to lessen the blow. Calculate, conserve, and offset.

For businesses, our Corporate Sustainability Plans can help you with your emission reduction goals.

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