THE BLOG

Who Would Have Thunk It?

05/25/2011 12:05 pm ET
  • Carl Pope Former executive director and chairman, Sierra Club

Fourteen months ago, when the Sierra Club launched its Cool Cities program, our goal was to double in two years the number of U.S. cities that had signed on to the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement. At that time, almost 150 cities were committed to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions to Kyoto Protocol levels or lower; our goal was 300 cities by March 2008.

This month the 500th city -- Tulsa, Oklahoma -- signed on to the Mayors Agreement. There are now "Cool Cities" in all 50 states, representing more than 64 million people. To help these cities meet the goals and timetable of the Mayors Agreement, more than 150 local Sierra Club Cool Cities campaigns around the country are working with municipal governments to implement smart energy solutions such as installing energy efficiency lighting, retrofitting city buildings, greening up municipal fleets with cleaner vehicles, and shifting to renewable energy power.

But Tulsa wasn't alone in leadership this week. In New York, the Clinton Global Initiative held a conference featuring the world's mega-cities. In preparation Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa decided to trump the global-warming goals announced on Earth Day by the host of the Clinton mega-cities conference, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Villaraigosa unveiled "GREEN LA, An Action Plan to Lead the Nation in Fighting Global Warming." Green LA calls for reducing L.A.'s carbon footprint to 35 percent below 1990 levels, topping Bloomberg in this friendly competition by five percent

Last month, Mayor Bloomberg unveiled his own ambitious plan to fight global warming by cutting greenhouse gases 30 percent by 2030. He laid out a practical vision for what he calls "a greener, greater New York." His blueprint covers some 127 proposals, ranging from making buildings more energy efficient to reducing traffic pollution, building cleaner power plants, and converting abandoned industrial sites into parks.

On the state front, the National Governor's Association released a report, "Recent State Actions Promoting Alternative Energy," trumpeting state leadership and pointing out that "In their 2007 State of the State addresses, 92 percent of governors highlighted policies on the environment, energy and natural resources, with 39 specifically mentioning new proposals to pursue alternative sources of energy." This leadership is bipartisan -- the NGA's report led with quotes from Minnesota's Republican Tim Pawlenty and Pennsylvania's Ed Rendell, a Democrat.

And state efforts to whip global warming cut across typical progressive-conservative fault lines. In Idaho, which followed California in becoming the second state to ban construction of pulverized coal-fired power plants, Governor "Butch" Otter issued a new Executive Order (Executive Order No. 2007-05) asking for a new state action plan because "it is incumbent upon states to take a leadership role in developing responsive state-level policies and programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, develop alternative energy sources and use energy efficiently."

What's as important as these local and state initiatives themselves is the audience they are reaching. Even though many cities still aren't Cool Cities, and the states are all over the map in how far they have gotten, investors are drawing large-scale conclusions. In a recent investment advisory, JPMorgan told its investors to stay away from public utilities that don't do a good job of encouraging energy efficiency. In a document called "Trading Global Utilities," ("the first in a series covering the impact of climate change on the utility sector") the summary page contains four bullet points, one of which is:

Demand Side Management -- Dull but Effective
Producing 20% of today's energy from renewable sources means little if demand is growing by 3% per year. We'd avoid companies whose valuation depends on volume growth and invest in companies that are embracing demand-side management.

So while Washington largely continues to dither and view energy policy as a series of incremental tradeoffs, the cities, states, and (most important) investors, are moving a dramatically different and new energy economy forward.