Who the CAP Fits

2007-06-17

Denver's Greenprint Denver team recently released the first draft of a "Climate Action Plan" (CAP) that has gotten quite a bit of attention in the blogosphere. This evening I finally got a chance to download and peruse it.

The report begins as follows:

Global climate change will very likely be the defining issue of the 21st Century. At its dawn, we face the knowledge that industrialization, and its historic reliance on the combustion of fossil fuels like coal, natural gas, and oil, has significantly increased the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. We also are beginning to understand some of the implications of these greenhouse gas emissions for our planet: namely, warmer days and nights; more intense storms; more severe droughts; melting glaciers; and rising oceans. The impacts of these physical changes on the Earth’s inhabitants are less well understood; however, scientists, politicians, and business leaders around the world have sounded the alarm with an ever-increasing sense of urgency, identifying a range of concerns, including compromised freshwater supplies; reduced agricultural production; significant risks to coastal communities and major population centers from rising sea levels and stronger hurricanes; and the increased likelihood of extinction for many species.

There are no references in this "report", so it's not clear where this "consensus" comes from. There are an awful lot of assumptions here -- about the severity of climate change, about the causes of climate change, and about the effects of climate change. There's some good (scary) copy here, but the assumptions are not necessarily justified.

The overarching objective of the recommendations in this report is "to avoid the construction of new coal-fired power plants intended to serve Denver’s growing population and energy demands". Why not aggressively move toward cleaner power sources, especially atomic energy (which is the only power source that could truly supplant coal, since wind, solar, geothermal, and the like will always be an insignificant percentage of power generation)? Amusingly, folks on this committee are not exactly enthusiastic about going nuclear:

A minority of the Greenprint Denver Council believes that nuclear energy should not be included as a suggested alternative energy technology to even be considered for feasibility analysis by the State of Colorado, due to several factors: (1) the development of nuclear power plants and the associated mining and shipping of nuclear fuel are both associated with significant greenhouse gas emissions, and thus, this alternative is not a dramatically improved alternative to fossil fuel-based sources; (2) the issue of proper disposal of nuclear waste has yet to be satisfactorily resolved; and (3) the threats from the proliferation of nuclear technology, fuel supplies, and waste materials into unauthorized hands is a real and growing danger in today’s society.

In part I don't have a particular problem with Denver's initiative, in the sense that I prefer local action to central action. I'd rather have Denver and Seattle and Portland push through plans of their own to see what works and what doesn't. That's federalism in action.

But some suggestions in this plan are pretty draconian:

Some of the Greenprint team's suggestions are just silly, or at least inconsistent. For example, Mayor Hickenlooper is pushing for the Denver metro area to plant 1 million new trees by 2025, yet at the same time mature trees are being cut down all over the city to make way for new 6,000-square-foot houses (when the "scrape-off" directly to our south went in, the builder cut down three large trees that were probably at least fifty years old).

While I recognize that people aren't necessarily paying full price for the services they receive (e.g., garbage collection) and that the lack of market mechanisms leads to over-user of such services, in general this plan stinks of unfunded mandates to me. It's only a first draft, so I hope the citizenry has a chance to provide comments and suggestions for improvement. But if you ask me, a plan of this magnitude ought to go before the voters rather than emerging from a committee of the politically connected.


Peter Saint-Andre > Journal