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The New Way Forward

October 18, 2010 – I spotted this in Forbes magazine, of all places: “The Forbes

team of experts and authors predicts that by the year 2018, 20% of all food

consumed in U.S. cities will come from rooftop and parking lot farms. Read that

again: 20% of all food in the U.S. [sic] That is an enormous number. In addition

to making our cities more resilient, the health benefits, for both our bodies and our

planet, of consuming food that is grown within a small number of miles of our

homes or workplaces are significant.” Somebody made a bit of a quantum leap

there, from 20% of all food consumed in American cities (51 million people) to

20% of all food consumed in America (62 million people), but you and I both get

the point.

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What a very different approach the French take to climate legislation than we do.

Rather than permitting legislative “death by lobbying,” France’s government

invited the main stakeholders to the consultative phase of forming the law. Who

were these stakeholders? The State, employers, unions (can you imagine?), environmental NGO’s, and local governments. (Nicholas Sarkozy describes himself

as a conservative, yet this is a very progressive approach to the legislative process. Sarkozy’s definition of conservative might be the equivalent of my definition of

liberal: financially conservative, socially liberal.)

“Stakeholders” in the United States behave competitively, because the premise, however specious, is that only one of them gets to have their way. Stakeholders in France understand that compromise and cooperation result in a product made up of parts of everybody’s ideas. Nobody walks away with nothing, nobody gets everything they wanted. The resulting law, known as Grenelle 2, passed in June of this year, covers climate and energy, biodiversity protection, public health, sustainable agriculture, waste management, and the regulation of sustainable development. Let’s take a closer look.

Urban master plans, to be finalized before 2017, will coordinate planning amongst city, industrial, farming, tourism and environment planners. Urban sprawl will also be on the table. Building energy efficiency is one area that will enjoy huge improvements. Buildings built after 2012 will consume less than 50kw per square meter, and those built after 2020 must generate more energy than they consume! Beginning in 2013, 400,000 old buildings will be renovated every year, in order to reduce their energy consumption. Automotive and mass transit will be made more energy efficient, as well. Grenelle 2 encourages cities with populations exceeding 300,000 to institute urban tolls, in order to reduce commuting by car.

As far as renewable energy is concerned, France will rely primarily on hydropower, wind power, and biomass. Ironically, this new law will make it more difficult to implement wind energy. Certainly, wind power has its detractors. Placement of windmills will be tightly monitored. The fact remains that additional regulation creates an obstacle to be overcome, thereby slowing the transition to a post-carbon future. France’s post-carbon future will definitely include nuclear power; nothing has changed there. Finally, France has foregone the possibility of a carbon tax. These deficiencies notwithstanding, the United States could do much worse than look to France for environmental and climate change legislative benchmarks.


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