We need to think outside the box when it comes to climate change. Recycling, once considered the hallmark of an environmentalist, is practically obsolete. And given the escalation of climate change, it’s clear that individual action is not enough.
The following areas should be addressed by individuals, governments and our representatives to respond to the new realities we face.
City & Local Government Policies
Since we can’t count on our federal government to slow climate change, states and cities need to fill the void. About 40 percent of global gas emissions come from buildings, according to architecture2030.org, but some cities and states are taking positive steps to limit gas emissions, including Berkeley, CA, Brookline, MA, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle. In fact, Seattle is now considering rewarding builders who go all-electric.
Cities account for 70% of greenhouse gas emissions and hold half the world’s population, so they are integral to climate change, according to architecture2030.org. They also exchange information, particularly about funding, which can be the major hurdle for green projects. The University of Pennsylvania initiated the City Climate-resilient Infrastructure Financing Initiative last December to match city-initiated projects with funding sources. The initiative, a joint effort by Penn’s Perry World House and the Institute for Urban Research, will begin operations this year.
One of the initiative’s founders, Maurice Rodas, is the former mayor of Quito, Equador. At a conference in Madrid last year, at which the C2IFI initiative was announced, he described his efforts to reduce emissions in Quito, including constructing the city’s first subway system and attempting to electrify the bus system.
The Insurance and Mortgage Industries
To reduce climate change, we need to understand capital flow. Global insurance companies have trillions of dollars in assets and investment strategies, and have an enormous impact on our environment. They could make a simple, positive shift by investing in sustainable energy projects in lieu of fossil fuels.
Consumers should demand transparency from their insurance companies. I called my insurer, State Farm, and spoke to five people before reaching one who told me their investment information is “proprietary.” I’ll keep trying.
On the liability side, insurance companies could charge policyholders more for insurance if they live on the coast or in flood-prone areas. This might discourage building in those areas.
Similarly, mortgage companies could price differently for structures in vulnerable areas. Prices should reflect risk. Higher mortgage rates might discourage people from buying on the coast and in flood-prone areas. On the flip side, those who build durable and sustainable structures could be offered discount rates.
Federal Tax Policy
For companies that “offshore” manufacturing, there should be a “border adjustment” to level the playing field. Companies manufacturing products outside the United States, possibly with fewer environmental regulations and therefore at a lower cost, should pay a tax. This would balance the scales, so consumers could purchase products made sustainably at the same price (no matter where they’re produced) and sustainable industries would not be penalized for doing the right thing.
Strengthening the Takings Doctrine
The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution has a Takings Clause, which states that private property “shall not be taken for public use without just compensation” except in national emergences. The state of South Carolina tested this and lost in Lucas v South Carolina Coastal Council (1992).
The U.S. Supreme Court found that South Carolina’s Supreme Court erred in holding that the state’s Beachfront Management Act was a valid exercise of their police power and did not constitute a taking. If Congress were to declare climate change a national emergency, states would be exempt from the Takings Clause and able to better mitigate the impact of climate change.
So, where does all this leave us? We need to get involved in municipal efforts and write our congresspeople, and we should find out where our insurance and mortgage companies invest their money. If enough of us ask questions, they might feel pressure to become more responsible. I’ll keep asking; I invite you to do the same.