NYT’s Tom Friedman updates the global warming threat and spells out the solution

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The NYT columnist Tom Friedman has another terrific global warming piece today, “Mother Nature’s Dow.” He is the only major national columnist or reporter consistently warning the public of what science now tells us is likely result of continuing on our current greenhouse gas emissions path — unmitigated unconscionable catastrophe. And he is the only one laying out the solution in detail. In this post I will endeavor to annotate his column for new and old readers who want more.

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Friedman begins by noting, “I’m convinced that our current financial crisis is the product of both The Market and Mother Nature hitting the wall at once.” This piece is in some sense a sequel to his one from three weeks ago, see “Is the global economy a Ponzi scheme?” He then lays out the climate realist position, noting:

If you follow climate science, what has been striking is how insistently some of the world’s best scientists have been warning — in just the past few months — that climate change is happening faster and will bring bigger changes quicker than we anticipated just a few years ago.

He cites two scientific sources:

For more sources on this climate realist position, see “An introduction to global warming impacts.”

Then he lays out the five key policies needed to avert this catastrophe, the “climate bailout.” He cites Hal Harvey, CEO of “a new $1 billion foundation, ClimateWorks, set up to accelerate the policy changes that can avoid climate catastrophe by taking climate policies from where they are working the best to the places where they are needed the most”:

“There are five policies that can help us win the energy-climate battle, and each has been proven somewhere,” Harvey explained. First, building codes: California’s energy-efficient building and appliance codes now save Californians $6 billion per year,” he said.

For more on the crucial role of energy efficiency and California codes, see (“Energy efficiency is THE core climate solution, Part 1: The biggest low-carbon resource by far” and “Part 4: How California does it so consistently and cost-effectively” and “California tightens building standards yet again”).

Second, better vehicle fuel-efficiency standards: “The European Union’s fuel-efficiency fleet average for new cars now stands at 41 miles per gallon, and is rising steadily,” he added.

Obama is already taking action here (see “Obama to push for California waiver that mandates cut in auto CO2 emissions”). Ultimately we need to set fuel efficiency standards so high that they drive the transition to Plug-in hybrids — a core climate solution.

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Third, we need a national renewable portfolio standard, mandating that power utilities produce 15 or 20 percent of their energy from renewables by 2020. Right now, only about half our states have these. “Whenever utilities are required to purchase electricity from renewable sources,” said Harvey, “clean energy booms.” (See Germany’s solar business or Texas’s wind power.)

For more on this, see the following posts:

The fourth is decoupling — the program begun in California that turns the utility business on its head. Under decoupling, power utilities make money by helping homeowners save energy rather than by encouraging them to consume it.

See the following posts for more info on decoupling and a related strategy, national energy efficiency standards:

“Finally,” said Harvey, “we need a price on carbon.” Polluting the atmosphere can’t be free.

Duh!

What I especially like about Friedman’s and Harvey’s policy strategies is that they don’t talk about a Manhattan project or Apollo program for technology breakthroughs. Yes, we need much more R&D — and thankfully both Obama and the venture capital community are delivering that, and a carbon price will drive even more R&D.

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But if we don’t embrace the strategies above quickly to drive existing clean energy into the marketplace, then all the R&D in the world won’t save us, a point I will blog on (again) shortly.

I’ll end with Friedman:

These are the pillars of a climate bailout. Yes, some have upfront costs. But all of them would pay long-term dividends, because they would foster massive U.S. innovation in new clean technologies that would stimulate the real Dow and much lower emissions that would stimulate the Climate Dow.