From the Wall Street journal, an article about how Boulder, despite heroic efforts in reducing the carbon footprint of its built environment, has only reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 1%.
Turns out it's very hard to spur people to action, even when the city tries to remove as many barriers as possible, including cost.
Boulder has found that financial incentives and an intense publicity
campaign aren't enough to spur most homeowners to action, even in a
city so environmentally conscious that the college football stadium
won't sell potato chips because the packaging isn't recyclable...Since 2006, Boulder has subsidized about 750 home energy audits. Even
after the subsidy, the audits cost each homeowner up to $200, so only
the most committed signed up. Still, follow-up surveys found half
didn't implement even the simplest recommendations, despite incentives
such as discounts on energy-efficient bulbs and rebates for attic
insulation..."If a place like Boulder that regards itself as being in the
environmental forefront has such a tough time, these types of efforts
are not going to work as a core policy" for the nation, says Roger
Pielke Jr., who studies the political response to climate change at the
University of Colorado, Boulder.
A statement like that would give even No Impact Man pause. But Boulder officials aren't giving up yet.
Boulder plans to spend about $1.5 million in city funds and $370,000
in federal stimulus money to hire contractors to do basic upgrades for
residents. In the program, dubbed "Two Techs in a Truck," as many as 15
energy-efficiency teams will go door-to-door. They'll ask home and
business owners for permission to caulk windows, change bulbs and
install low-flow showerheads and programmable thermostats—all at
taxpayer expense. The techs will set up clothes racks in laundry rooms
as a reminder to use the dryer less often. They'll even pop into the
garage and inflate tires to the optimum pressure for fuel efficiency.
And the Boulder example has wider ramifications.
More than 1,000 U.S. cities have pledged to make such cuts, yet
analysts say most are stymied—in part because it's extremely difficult
to reduce emissions without a wholesale switch to renewable energy
sources. Boulder depends almost entirely for energy on a coal-powered
Aye, there's the rub. And so President Obama has announced a major new funding initiative for nuclear power. That story has a local edge to it for me - the initiative will fund two new plants built by our own Southern Company in Burke County, Georgia (home to Georgia Power's Plant Vogtle). There's sure to be more reaction to that - stay tuned.
In the meantime, what's happening in your own jurisdiction? It is a struggle to change individual behavior at a scale to do broader good. It's the age old question of individual action vs. collective action, and how to make it all matter.
Thanks to Anthony Flint at the Lincoln Institute for the heads' up about this story, through their e-mail newsletter.
Jamie Baker Roskie
Follow up - here's an article from the NYTimes about environmentalists' response to Obama's proposal to fund the nuclear power plants.
Update two - Friends of the Earth are protesting Obama's visit to Savannah today (March 2, 2010).