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Duke of Climate (AMS-1)

By: Dr. Ricky Rood, 6:28 AM GMT on January 22, 2010

Duke of Climate (AMS-1)

Did those storms hit California? The ones that those models predicted last week? Haven’t had time to watch the weather, but people tell me there are rain delays in Phoenix.

I’ve been at the American Meteorological Society (AMS) Annual Meeting in Atlanta. It’s been a while since I have been to a “science” meeting, and this meeting was excellent. It had a far more vital feeling than the last AMS meeting I was at. The next few blogs will be about a few of the more than interesting presentations.

The theme of this year’s meeting was “Weather, Climate, and Society: New Demands on Science and Services.” In the Presidential Forum on Monday morning there was a session with three speakers talking about information needs of commercial air companies, public health, and energy production. Jim Rogers the CEO of Duke Energy gave the presentation on energy.

Back in September of 2007, I wrote about business and climate change, and I mentioned the US-Climate Action Partnership (US-CAP) . The principles of US-CAP are

1) Global problem, global response, US needs to lead
2) Technology is required, hence real price of carbon
3) Has to be effective, limit CO2 to 450-550 ppm
4) Create opportunity
5) Fair, economy wise
6) Encourage early action

US-CAP is a big advocate of cap and trade as the policy vehicle to address climate change.

When I talk about US-CAP amongst my friends and students there is always a sense of mistrust. They look at the corporations that are behind the activity and conclude that addressing climate change is not the primary motive at hand. What would be the motives of corporations? A big one is the development of uniform and stable policy. That is, if you imagine the U.S. full of municipal, state, and regional policies, then a uniform federal policy makes a lot of business sense. It also might help to smooth out international trade as well. To go beyond the call for policy to the call to a particular type of policy, cap and trade, suggests that these companies have determined that a cap and trade policy is to their benefit. (We ALL act in our best interests, even the altruist.) The companies might also be thinking of branding themselves as “green,” or trying to position themselves relative to future liability. All of these motivations might be present, as well as a commitment to wanting to address the climate change problem and to support sustainability.

So Rogers directly and unwaveringly set out his point of view. He stated early in his talk that he was convinced by the observations that the planet was warming and that he believed the basic scientific result that carbon dioxide released by burning fossil fuels was the primary cause. To me, it is important to hear these words spoken by those out side of the community of scientists. To me, it is important to hear these words spoken by people in positions who impact the paths to solutions.

Mr. Rogers made a brief mention to the emails of climategate, and quickly moved to a risk assessment, that is, what if the science of global warming was completely wrong, what would he do different? His answer was, fundamentally, he would do nothing different. He stated a business and moral imperative to reduce the environmental footprint of energy production, hence, a reduction of reliance on coal. He stated a need for economic stability, economic security, hence a need for a diversified portfolio of energy sources that are not constantly subject to the wars of international trade and the wars of international territory. (What did Vladimir Putin write his thesis on? (hmmmm) Rogers stated a business and moral imperative for efficiency, because we need energy to grow the economy, and there was not energy to waste; hence, efficiency fuels economic growth.

After the talk the question was posed to Rogers that his company is fundamentally in the business of selling energy, and that there was a spirit of being less than sincere about efficiency. This is a question that often comes to mind – the kind I could imagine fueling a decent discussion in blog comments. The answer was interesting, and I am not sure I state it accurately – first, in the way the electrical generation industry is run, read regulated, the costs of increased efficiency and the potential of reduced sales of kilowatt-hours is revenue neutral. And second, dollars spent by the utility on efficiency are far more effective dollars, with far less risk, than building new power plants.

Rogers ended his talk calling for a reframing of the climate problem as the revitalization and growth of the U.S. economy. That this is what he tells Congress at the many opportunities he has to talk to Congress.

A lesson that I think I learned from business professor Andy Hoffman is that when environmental causes align with the bottom line, then business is an accelerant of change. (this is, still, a good doc (2.27MB) to me.) Therefore, while the other motivations that I mentioned above may all be true, the fact that they come together with goals of climate change is important. That is what we want – something that matters. The goals of US-Climate Action Partnership (US-CAP) are better laid out and more effective than most I have seen. Yes, there is likely a lot of wiggle-room in it all, but at this point to continue to argue over long-term issues at the expense of the short-term simply let’s the carbon dioxide waste get deeper and deeper.

As the talks at the meeting wore on over the week, I started to think more and more about how do we move forward after Copenhagen. In Copenhagen it proved impossible to bring to the front the important things that we can do today that would make a difference to climate change. We argue over the long-term reduction goal at the expense of the near-term solution paths. The same is true over policy, we argue over cap and trade and taxes at the expense of doing what matters (me too!). In the next year it is my job to figure out a way to do what matters in the short term. How do we scale up what we can do now?


And here is

Faceted Search of Blogs at climateknowledge.org

Figure 1: A car load of us went to see Martin Luther King’s Ebenezer Baptist Church one night after dinner.

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.