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Solutions For Change: Global Warming

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By Amanda Griscom Little, Grist Magazine

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"My purpose is not to present a comprehensive and detailed blueprint [of future climate policy], for that is a task for democracy as a whole," intoned Gore, "but rather to try to shine some light on a pathway through this terra incognita that lies between where we are and where we need to go."

The pathway Gore described began with "immediately freezing [carbon dioxide] emissions and then beginning sharp reductions." Reminiscent of the nuclear freeze of the '70s, Gore's proposed carbon freeze "has the virtue of being clear, simple, and easy to understand," he argued. "It can attract support across partisan lines as a logical starting point for the more difficult work that lies ahead."

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Many we've heard before: so-called stabilization wedges, as outlined by Princeton professors Stephen Pacala and Rob Socolow, which would solve the climate crisis with an array of existing technologies; the "25 x '25" proposal from the agriculture community, which would dramatically expand the use of biofuels and renewable energy; increasingly affordable and effective solar panels, wind turbines, and green architecture; "flex-fuel, plug-in, hybrid vehicles" that can run on gasoline, biofuels, and electricity; and a decentralized electricity grid with smaller generators located closer to the points of use.

Also back, in vaguely retro fashion: Kyoto. Gore argued that the U.S. is obligated to play a lead role in developing a new global treaty on climate change. "Since the [Kyoto] treaty has been so demonized in America's internal debate, it is difficult to imagine the current Senate finding a way to ratify it," he said. "But the United States should immediately join the discussion that is now underway on the new, tougher treaty that will soon be completed. We should plan to accelerate its adoption and phase it in more quickly than is presently planned."

Some unexpected, outside-the-box proposals popped up as well. One he has been advocating "for the last 14 years," he said (to the surprise of many who remember no such proposal in, say, the 2000 campaign), would eliminate all federal payroll taxes -- Social Security and unemployment compensation included -- and replace the revenue with a pollution tax on CO2. "The overall level of taxation would remain exactly the same," explained Gore. "It would be, in other words, a revenue-neutral tax swap. But instead of discouraging businesses from hiring more employees, it would discourage businesses from producing more pollution."

He also proposed a new Carbon Neutral Mortgage Association -- a wonky idea redeemed by a cute nickname, "Connie Mae" -- to help finance more efficient buildings and eventually zero-energy, zero-emission architecture. Builders often bypass efficient features like thicker insulation and better windows, Gore noted, because these investments elevate construction costs on the front end, even though they pay for themselves within a few years. "It should be possible to remove the purchase-price barrier for such improvements through the use of innovative mortgage finance instruments," he said.

.......

Amanda Griscom Little writes the Muckraker column for Grist Magazine.

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