California Air Pollution Permits Are Imperative for US Energy Independence


As we speak, the largest climate experiment ever conducted in America is underway. California is currently rated as the eighth largest economy in the world. Just last week, the state passed legislation to ration off their greenhouse gas emissions starting January 1st. Companies will have to obtain permits for the amount of greenhouse gases they emit. It is a controversial law whose future is uncertain, but at its core, the legislation represents a shift within the environmental movement, which is seeking to rapidly and aggressively change people’s lifestyle to something more sustainable.

 What is happening in California is not unique to the state. Across the United States, in New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has released a study that seems to take the Gore-esque approach by very visually showing people in New York City what their carbon emissions over the course of a year look like. While cities tend to be more energy efficient than suburbs, the point of the video remains. It is a reminder that we as people affect our world, and we have the power to change our habits. It is a plea for sustainability which is starting to take hold in America and throughout the world.

The recent legislation in California hopes to attract greener businesses and enterprises to the state as well as cleaner sources of energy. Recently, some news has been made in Sweden with Sweden asking its neighboring countries for their garbage to burn for fuel. And as a result of California’s new legislation, a similar company called Sierra Energy has already set up shop in California. Sierra Energy is working to build reactors much like the ones used in Sweden. They will take trash (plastic, metal, wood chips, anything) and incinerate it to produce energy. After adding some oxygen to the incinerating trash, "it can then be turned into a low-carbon diesel fuel, or burned to make electricity, or even converted to hydrogen for fuel cells."

While I am sure that this technology, like anything else, has its drawbacks, it is a definite step forward in our definition of humans as sustainable creatures. It takes what we waste and uses it for energy. It is part of a path to energy independence that this country should have by now.

Along with the hopeful possibilities of a robust green economy that leads our country forward as a sustainability world leader, California has seen the revival of the electric car. Silicon Valley has given way to a release of an all-electric car by Tesla Motors that has been receiving positive criticism from the right people: car enthusiasts.

The Tesla S has just been named “Car of the Year” by Motor Trend and “Automobile of the Year” by Automobile Magazine. An electric car being made by a company other than the Big Three and being respected as a car by car people might be a first step in bringing the electric car out of the garage for good. It’s not just a golf-cart, it’s a car. While it's unsure how the car will do on the market, the emergence of the Tesla S is another indicator that we are in the middle of some revolutionary lifestyle changes in the United States which reflect broader world-wide movements that many countries are undertaking to cut back on carbon emissions and use their national resources sustainably.

"Going green" is becoming less of a liberal tag-line and more of a an honest movement with definition. 

The top-down method of curbing carbon emissions and creating a more sustainable society will be met with a great deal of criticism as just one more way the government is asserting themselves over the way we live as Americans. But the larger implications of the stringent legislation in California for a more prosperous and cleaner future outweigh any potential initial setbacks. While some companies may find it hard to meet the carbon emission requirements set by the California government, others may embrace the policies and do really well. California realizes that they will see many companies take their business elsewhere as a result, but they are banking on new innovative businesses to take their places.

Like Sweden, Denmark is a pioneer in working towards energy independence and living as a sustainable society. Only instead of working towards that goal, they are already independent. Since the Arab Oil Embargo in 1973, Denmark has slowly been working their society into literally an overall more efficient and clean-running machine.

With early legislation that very much resembles California’s carbon tax followed up by aggressive investment in clean energy (Denmark gets over 40% of its domestic electricity from renewable resources), Denmark is moving towards complete renewable energy independence by 2050. Denmark sees about half its population run on bicycles, and they incinerate most of their waste for heat and energy. Over the years, their mentality as a people has embraced this way of thinking. It has moved the country to grow more and more ambitious in its efforts to live sustainably.

So, California, is it possible to operate with such ambitious green policies in the context of the larger United States? Keep in mind that the landmass of California is 10 times that of Denmark’s (never mind the rest of the country) and there are roughly 32,000,000 more people living in California than Denmark. These green policies will pose a bit more of a challenge. But California has made a decision to be a policy leader in the United States, and I believe we will see reflections of their ambition be supported in other states as well.

While not completely popular, California’s environmental goals promote an urgent and sustainable response to how we live as humans on earth. California has the right idea for how to shape our future as a nation and as a species as a whole. It will be interesting to see what becomes of California’s bold experiment. I do not think it is merely optimistic to think that America can work towards where Denmark is in terms of energy independence and environmental sustainability. It is not only possible but necessary that we do.