Humans and human institutions are master procrastinators. We know this. Everyone knows this. It is a lot easier to continue doing whatever you are doing that it is do try something new. This fundamental human behavior is why our calls for climate action with ten year and twenty year plans have not been met for decade after decade even though the technology, processes, methods, and scientific understanding has been commercially available, affordable, and nearly universally accessible to make very large impacts on greenhouse gas emissions for many years.
We have all these plans for greenhouse emissions reductions that say oh lets aim for 50% reduction by 2030 or 2050 some other distant future year. These far off targets do not convey the urgency of the situation, nor the reality that we need to take actions NOW.
What we need to do to change this is to set our goals for carbon and greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions for THIS QUARTER, or at the most, NEXT YEAR. For example, we need every government and company to publicly announce that they will reduce their GHG emissions by 10% or 20% by next year, not ten years from now. Then we can start holding our governments and businesses accountable every quarter, every year, not ten years later like oh whoops, we missed it, what are you going to do about it?
How do we know this works?
Just look at every corporate decision that has been shortsightedly focused on quarterly financial results. Imagine if we harnessed that energy and creativity systematically towards goals that help the world. This vast reservoir of untapped and financially compensated human effort can be powerful. I believe that we can rapidly beat any of these lame 10 year targets by vast amounts by focusing on immediate results NOW.
Measure what matters
Every startup and every company knows that the only way to achieve your goals is to have a way to measure whether you are getting there or not. In startup parlance these are KPI’s or Key Performance Indicators. Every company monitors their financial performance regularly. If they don’t, they fail and they die. We need the same commitment to gathering environmental and energy usage data on a continuous basis that is monitored, reported, and financial rewards given for meeting goals. In this case, the low hanging fruit for every company is their utility bills. These bills are already tracked for financial purposes. What is not being harnessed is the attendant energy and GHG implications that are also provided on those utility bills. For example, every utility bill for gas has how many cubic meters or feet of gas was used. Water bills indicate how much water was used in liters or gallons. Every electric bill has how many kWh were used. Most importantly, these metrics are provided in a clear and consistent format that is comparable across nations, governments, industries, and companies. All we need to do is add these metrics to the corporate, national agendas.
What else do we need for success?
In a word, transparency. Another critical component of this is to require energy and resource usage reporting in the same way that the SEC in the U.S. requires reporting of financials for publicly traded companies and the IRS requires annual financial reporting for all individuals, businesses, and non-profits. While some companies may object to materials disclosures as it may compromise corporate secrets, no company can argue that disclosing energy or water usage will compromise corporate secrets and as such, we should start there.
Finding solutions on a continuous basis
Once we have the above measures in place, then we can start asking, “how are we going to get there?” Not on a ten year basis, but every quarter. What do we need to do today, NOW, to make this 10% or 20% reduction happen this year or this quarter. Furthermore, all stakeholders and participants in the system now have the data necessary to make informed decisions, track progress, and hold leaders accountable for failure to meet targets set on a continuous basis, not just once every ten years.
While I may be wrong about the specifics, let us just say that our goal is get to net zero GHG by 2030. With these systems in place we can now start to break this down year by year, and quarter by quarter to set specific and much more actionable targets across the entire economy and society.
The fixed threshold and the moving goal-post
The reality is that we need to set extremely aggressive GHG reduction goals because otherwise we are essentially guaranteeing that the climate crisis will come to pass. The reality is that the ecosystems of the earth only have a certain amount of resilience and when we break those systems, there is no telling what the consequences will be. This is our fixed threshold. The one we cannot change and the one that we do not know exactly where it is.
The moving goal-posts are the one that we have control over. Unfortunately we have been moving the goal-posts in the wrong direction for decades now. By measuring what matters, reporting transparently, setting and re-setting aggressive goals, and doing all this on a continuous basis we can start to focus on improving. If we all do this continuously as a society, we can collectively begin to move our goal posts forward instead of backward.