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Regulatory Progress Abhors a Vacuum

November 30, 2010 – It’s funny how the United States has had to go about tackling alternative energy. A vocal minority of climate change deniers, most recently in the guise of the so-called “Tea Party,” won’t permit action on the national level. It appears they will continue drowning out the voices of the better informed as long as they have an audience. Because the media decided inserting themselves into the story is OK , they keep prodding deniers with gleeful, rhetorical questions, all with this noble purpose in mind: let’s you an’ him fight. Thereby creating a story for the aforementioned audience. Sort of the way they insist on treating Sarah Palin as if she were capable of serious thought. No one believes it, but pandering is such fun.

While these shadow puppets provide infotainment, the real story continues to unfold at the local, regional, state and – brace yourselves – corporate level. At least that’s what Bloomberg Businessweek claims in this week’s article, “Unlikely Allies in the War Against Carbon.” We’ll start with the obvious: it’s not enough, and it’s not in time. With that proviso, here’s what’s happening: non-profit environmental groups are finding themselves in the schizophrenic position of battling corporations about upcoming EPA-imposed carbon regulations, while at the same time working with other corporations to help them limit their carbon footprint.

According to Gwen Ruta, of the Environmental Defense Fund, “The tide has turned …There’s this sense of inevitability that they have to adjust to a world where resources are scarcer and there’s a price for carbon.” McDonalds has learned a lot over the last twenty years, or so Bloomberg would have us believe. “The issues are so systemic that no one company can do it alone.” So says Bob Langert, McDonalds’ vice-president of corporate social responsibility. (I was taken aback at discovering such a position existed!) You have to suspect that companies which have long been the focus of environmental watchdogs are that much more knowledgeable about the issues.

Wal-Mart is another corporate giant seeking help in limiting its negative impact on the environment. BBW reports that W-M is seeking help from nongovernmental organizations at all levels (whatever that means). They announced a goal earlier this year of eliminating 20 million metric tons (2200 lbs. = 1 metric ton) of greenhouse gas emissions from their global supply chain by the end of 2015. W-M’s director of sustainability, Miranda Ballentine, admitted, “As big as we are, we can’t take on these issues on our own.” One tool that will help Wal-Mart achieve its goals is Greenhouse Gas Protocol, an accounting app that can track emissions.

In the meantime, California forges ahead. Now that Proposition 23 has been put to rest, cap and trade is next on Gov. Schwarzenegger’s to-do list (“Speed Dial,” p. 65). As the governor points out, c & t is quickly becoming established in Europe, and the northeastern United States has already put it in place. He also took the opportunity to mention that diesel trucks used by California port authorities are being modified to run on electricity. The good news, in other words, is scattered, but it’s out there. It appears that the bandwagon may finally have left the station.

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