Global warming is the defining challenge of our time. The latest climate science tells us that the United States must reduce its emissions of global warming pollutants quickly and dramatically if we hope to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of global warming. The rest of the world must take strong action as well.
For the United States to make the emission reductions science tells us will be necessarycutting emissions by at least 15-20 percent by 2020 and by 80 percent by 2050will require major changes in many areas of Americas economy, from the increased use of clean, renewable energy to dramatic improvements in the efficiency with which we use energy in our homes, businesses and vehicles.
But solutions exist today that can get us much of the way there. And communities across the countryand around the globeare making those solutions a reality. This report details more than 20 examples of cutting-edge policies and practices that communities, states and countries are using to reduce global warming pollution.
These examples show that while actions to reduce global warming pollution require commitment and creativity, they also bring with them other benefitsreduced dependence on fossil fuels, cleaner air and healthier communities, economic growth and new jobs.
America should learn from these initiatives by adopting public policy best practices that can achieve similar benefits nationwide. The United Statesas well as individual statesshould foster further innovation by adopting mandatory caps on global warming pollution, coupled with policies that will promote the transition to a cleaner, more efficient energy system.
Cities and states across America are achieving impressive results in the fight against global warming.
Texas has added more than 4,000 megawatts of wind power generating capacity in the last decade. Once a marginal source of electricity in the state, wind power now produces about 3 percent of Texas electricity, enough to avoid about 8 million metric tons of global warming pollution per year.
New Jersey doubled its solar power generating capacity within just two years through aggressive public policies that promote solar panels on rooftops in the Garden State.
California uses 20 percent less energy per capita than it did in 1973, thanks to strong energy efficiency policies for buildings and appliances.
Wisconsin avoids about 200,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide pollution per year through its innovative programs to promote energy efficiency in industryprograms that also help save businesses money and keep jobs within the state.
Portland, Oregon, has doubled the number of bicyclists on city streets in just six years through investments in bicycle infrastructure and bikefriendly transportation policies. The percentage of people who bike to work in Portland is now eight times the national average.
In the Rosslyn and Ballston neighborhoods of Arlington County, Virginia, about 40 percent of residents take transit to work and about 10 percent walk, thanks to investments in transit service to Washington, D.C. and smart land-use planning that has created vibrant, compact, mixed-use communities around transit stops.
Southeastern Pennsylvania saw a 20 percent increase in the number of riders on energy efficient trains linking Harrisburg and Philadelphia following investments that increased travel speeds along the line. A similar 20 percent ridership jump occurred recently on the Northeasts Acela high-speed train line.
Other nations have also made significant progress, with lessons for the United States.
Germany recycles 60 percent of its municipal waste (compared to 32 percent in the United States) and has kept its garbage output steady for nearly two decades thanks to policies that put the responsibility for recycling waste on product manufacturers and not individual consumers and taxpayers.
In Israel, more than 90 percent of homes use solar water heaters, which dramatically reduce the need for natural gas or electricity for water heating. Israel requires that all new homes come equipped with solar water heaters.
Copenhagen, Denmark, has revitalized its downtown by giving pedestrians and bicycles preference over cars in large parts of its city center. Walking and cycling now account for more than 40 percent of all trips made in Danish urban areas.
Spain has sparked the creation of new renewable energy industries through aggressive clean energy policies. Spain now ranks third in the world for installed wind power capacity and is the worlds fourth leading market for solar photovoltaics. Spanish companies are increasingly taking a leading role in renewable energy development in the United States and elsewhere. Communities and states across the country are laying the groundwork for even larger changes in the years ahead.
Concentrating solar power, which uses heat from the sun to generate electricity, has the potential to serve a large share of Americas electricity needs. Southwestern states have enacted policies that are contributing to a solar power boom that could result in more than 4,000 megawatts of solar thermal power coming on line in the next several years.
Plug-in hybrid vehicles can dramatically reduce carbon dioxide pollution from vehicles while weaning America from its dependence on oil. Austin, Texas, citizens and public officials are pushing for the development of plugin hybrid vehicles and enlisting people from around the country in the effort.
Green buildings and zero-energy homes could revolutionize Americas building stock by providing pleasant, comfortable spaces with dramatically lower impact on the global climate. Pittsburgh and other cities are driving innovations in green building, while engineers, home builders and researchers are building the first wave of zero energy homes across the country.
Addressing global warming will require efforts from people of all walks of life. Communities like Greensburg, Kansasa small rural town nearly wiped off the map by a devastating tornado in 2007and the South Bronx neighborhood of New York City are showing how residents can come together to weave efforts to reduce global warming pollution into strategies for community development.
Cities, states and the federal government should build upon the successes of these efforts by setting mandatory, science-based caps on global warming pollution, adopting strong clean energy policies, and investing in the transition to a low-carbon economy.
Individual states and the federal government should adopt mandatory, science-based caps on global warming pollution. At minimum, those caps should be consistent with a national goal of reducing emissions by at least 15-20 percent below todays levels by 2020 and by at least 80 percent below todays levels by 2050. Revenues from any program that puts a price on global warming pollution should be used to aid in the transition to a clean energy economy and to reduce the cost of emission reductions to consumers.
Cities, states and the federal government should make energy efficiency improvements and accelerated development of renewable energy the centerpiece of their environmental and economic development policies. Advanced building energy codes; strong energy efficiency standards for buildings, appliances and vehicles; and mandatory targets for renewable power generation and energy efficiency savings are among the policies that can reduce global warming pollution and put the nation on a clean energy path.
Global warming and fossil fuel dependence should become central considerations in land-use planning and publi sector investment decisions. America should increase its investment in public transportation and rail transportation to reduce emissions from transportation. All new public buildings should meet rigorous standards for energy efficiency and the use of clean energy.
This article is the executive summary from a longer report of the same title, published as a joint effort by Environment Texas and Environment America and available online at http://www.environmenttexas.org/reports/global-warming/global-warming-reports/global-warming-solutions-that-work