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How a Country With One of the World's Largest Economies Is Ditching Fossil Fuels

The country is headed for 80 percent renewable energy and has complete buy-in from all political parties.

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On the other side of the ocean, as was reported in a 2012 Guardian article, the world continues to be amazed by the climate misinformation campaigns and partisan reporting on climate and energy in the United States.  However, according to a 2012 report from the Yale Project on Climate Communication on U.S. perception of energy and climate policy, “A large majority of Americans (77%) say global warming should be a priority for the president and Congress,” and, “Nearly all Americans (92%) say the president and the Congress should make developing sources of clean energy a priority.”  So, perhaps Americans are waking up to the inconvenient truths of climate change when faced with increased droughts, wildfires, and strengthened storms, or are they?   

Regardless of international public perception, the U.S. is not without “climate wins” and international NGOs, academic bodies, and government agencies consistently refer to learning from regional, state, and citywide case studies.  Many of the more progressive climate states include California with their recently-launched cap-and-trade system, and the first U.S. based cap-and-trade system, Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) , which brings together nine Northeast states to reduce CO2 emissions from the energy sector by 10% by 2018. 

Another sign of potential consumer-level buy-in to climate action is that both Germany and the U.S. are seeing the phenomenon of “social cocooning” grow, resulting in a rapidly expanding movement of people reverting to self-sufficiency and personal sustainability. The result? More urban gardens, the local food movement, small-scale energy production and increases in human-powered mobility, which some attribute to social awareness of climate change and others to economic troubles on both sides of the Atlantic.  A not-so-climate-positive shared phenomenon is what’s referred to as “NIMBY” or Not In My Back Yard, where even those who support renewable energy or shifting economies towards sustainability don’t necessarily want to feel or see that shift in their daily lives.  For example, you might love wind energy, but not really want one on the horizon while you’re on a beach vacation with the family.

No Country Is an Energy Island…

As far as climate change is concerned, no country is an island. We’re all in this together.  So, what does it mean that a country like Germany is slashing emissions, pushing for binding emissions targets internationally, and leading the renewable revolution?  Some would argue that they are setting a great example, but unless the other large global economies (and polluters) follow suit, their positive climate impact will be negligible.  Whether we like it or not, energy is the backbone of our global economies, and currently that energy is based on fossil fuels. 

The international impacts of the Energiewende might hit home for the American public sooner than we think.  Currently, the E.U. and U.S. are reinvigorating talks on developing a Transatlantic Free Trade Area, to increase economic ties between the two regions.  As was reported in a 2012 Washington Post article, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, “We are discussing possible negotiations with the European Union for a comprehensive agreement that would increase trade and spur growth on both sides of the Atlantic.” Included in her speech were direct calls for an end to certain standards in the E.U., including agricultural rules, that she referred to as “long-standing barriers to trade and market access”.  Putting this into layman terms: the E.U. has stricter labeling and environmental rules for consumer products and bans genetically modified foods.  So, will the E.U. succumb to U.S. demands and lower their standards to increase inter-continental trade?  Will these demands creep into energy policy and cater to the lowest common climate denominator—the U.S.?  Or will the opposite come true: Germany and the E.U. will counter that if the U.S. wants to open economic ties, then we have to start coming together on the ethical ones, whether it’s energy efficiency, reducing carbon emissions, or having honest labels on our goods?  

 
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