On the Bright Side
Industries unite to combat greenhouse gases
It's as close to a miracle as we've seen lately in the Land of Enchantment. Take 40 people from wildly different backgrounds and viewpoints, set them a killer deadline and give them the impossible job of designing a lifeboat for New Mexico.
In June of last year, Gov. Bill Richardson ordered the creation of the New Mexico Climate Change Advisory Group (CCAG), its members chosen by the state Environment Department. Their task was to predict the state's future greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and recommend ways to cut those emissions to 2000 levels by the year 2012, 10 percent below 2000 levels by 2020 and 75 percent below by 2050.
The group met their December deadline, presenting the governor with 69 strategies that actually exceed the 2020 targeted reductions. And if their projections prove reasonably accurate and the measures are put into place, the group predicts the changes will save the state more than $2.2 billion over the next 13 years.
The sociology of fundamental change is often more difficult than the technology. The Alibi asked Eva Thaddeus, who represents the Sierra Club on the CCAG, how the group managed to secure unanimous consent to 67 out of 69 recommendations. Her colleagues represented stakeholders from Abo Dairy to Zuni Pueblo, with groups as diverse as ConocoPhillips, Intel, Ski New Mexico, the state's universities and laboratories in between.
Thaddeus said the CCAG used the Center for Climate Strategies, facilitators who specialize in helping states develop plans to cut greenhouse gases. New Mexico was their first energy-producing client. Thaddeus said the facilitators were surprised at the high percentage of GHG emissions caused by fossil fuel industries--23 percent in New Mexico compared to only 3 percent for the nation overall.
Reflecting that influence, the strategy that promises the single most dramatic reduction of GHG is cutting methane lost during oil and gas production, an approach seldom mentioned along with more common worries about vehicle emissions and building insulation.
Another major factor in their success, Thaddeus said, was that they "came together in good faith," everyone acknowledging that global warming was happening, that humans were a major cause, and that the problem was critical.
One specific action helped the group maintain consensus--they decided to stay neutral on the issue of nuclear power. "We couldn't not talk about the elephant in the living room," Thaddeus said, "but we knew it could tear us apart." They simply recommend that the state should evaluate nuclear costs and benefits. Thaddeus said another tough issue for New Mexico is coal, with the two coal-burning plants in the Four Corners area creating half the state's CO2 emissions and another possibly to be built.
Focus groups around New Mexico showed that an overwhelming majority of people interviewed believe global warming is a problem and that humans are causing most of the changes. However, Thaddeus said, there's still a disconnect between awareness of the problem and understanding that it is caused by burning fossil fuels. Thaddeus said the situation was a big opportunity for public education.
The CCAG report is online at www.nmclimatechange.us. The 10-page Executive Summary lists goals, relative importance and costs, and the 69 individual recommendations grouped in categories of Residential, Commercial and Industrial; Energy Supply; Transportation and Land Use; and Agriculture and Forestry.
Richardson will send two major energy initiatives to the 2007 State Legislature. A Clean Car program, similar to one passed unanimously in California, would phase in higher standards for fuel efficiency. Another bill calls for doubling or tripling the percentage of energy the state's utilities provide from renewable sources by 2021.