When it comes to progressive climate change initiatives, Georgia’s legislators distinguish themselves by leading the opposition. Our state’s national reputation hit a new low last year on both environmental and economic development issues when Georgia legislators at the National Conference of State Legislatures refused to adopt or recommend federal measures to address climate change issues, including global warming. Such measures incorporate targets for reducing carbon emission, plus investing in renewable energy and energy conservation.
The greatest irony, and one worth contemplating, is that Georgia’s leaders opposed the policies other states are pursuing on the grounds of protecting Georgia’s economic interests. Better informed analysis of economic concerns has led enlightened leaders from across the country to adopt hard targets for improving energy efficiency and investing in renewable energy facilities. They comprehend that these efforts will improve the competitive standing of their states in attracting desirable economic opportunities, while also doing their part to reduce global warming and control energy costs for their citizens.
Our neighboring states have taken steps to resolve these issues. Alabama, Florida, and South Carolina are developing policies that will reduce their citizens’ dependency on foreign energy resources, help them cut back on emission of greenhouse gases, and improve their average energy-using efficiency.
These advancements are being made not only through state energy policy, but also through government purchasing choices that are less energy intensive and, when possible, use materials that are more durable and recycled. They are also exploring ways to reduce air pollution and energy waste through better transportation planning and related patterns of land use that require fewer miles being driven to jobs, schools, and shopping.
As Georgia’s leaders remain committed to obsolete thinking, old technologies and wasteful practices, other states are leaping out ahead to get an inside track on the huge benefits of emerging energy markets and major new investment opportunities in energy conservation and renewable sources. These progressive steps also promise to correct some of our most troubling environmental problems – radically reducing respiratory problems and mercury contamination caused by dirty coal-burning power plants, shrinking greenhouse gas emissions, and also moderating energy costs and diminishing dependence on foreign fuel sources.
No wonder so many states have initiated their own climate-change action agendas. This groundswell of progressive action in so many states resulted from enthusiastic bipartisan support. Rather than being held hostage by the status-quo, Georgians should press ahead, despite our legislator’s failure of forethought.
Driven by compelling assessment of such issues, legislatures in other states have reached conclusions that seem to have been lost on our legislative leaders. It is abundantly clear that the more we delay in taking thoughtful action on climate change, the more Georgians will lose in the long term. Ten or 15 years from now Georgians may wonder why other states are enjoying lower-priced renewable energy, better-paying jobs, and cleaner air and water.
Georgians will be forced to correct costly mistakes our state officials kept making long after it was clear they were going down the wrong path. The longer we commit public and private resources to conventional forms of power and production, low-efficiency buildings, and wasteful patterns of land use, the more it will cost later to implement overdue upgrades. Moreover, such delays will produce unnecessary environmental damage and misuse of valuable natural resources. And in the meantime Georgia will be at a competitive disadvantage compared with more progressive areas favoring energy innovation and efficiency.
Our state cannot afford to continue suffering the downside of misinformed policies that benefit the relative few who profit from wasteful and polluting energy technologies. It’s time to revitalize our views on the purpose of economic development and realign public polices to serve long-term environmental and social values. Enlightened self-interest in public policy can only be realized through unbiased reassessment of our options and their consequences for all of our citizens.
Kyler is executive director of the Center for a Sustainable Coast, a membership supported, nonprofit organization that works to protect the public interest in issues related to coastal Georgia’s growth, economy and environment.