In this third and final installment on Energizing the Real Green New Deal, we focus on specific incentives and actions for transforming the built environment, transportation, agriculture, and forestry to zero greenhouse gas emissions. With these specific actions, along with the others outlined in this three-part series, we can significantly reduce, and eventually eliminate, carbon emissions from fossil fuels.

 

The Built Environment

Homes, buildings, government offices, and military installations are responsible for about 40% of our carbon emissions, making them a priority in the quest for a zero greenhouse gas emissions future. Zero energy homes, buildings, and factories have already been constructed at a profit to builders and buyers. And several cities and states are already on the path to zero carbon in the built environment. Building out a carbon-free smart grid will support this development. Here are some simple steps we can take to further accelerate this trend:

  • Since they stand to gain so much by a transition to all-electric power, utilities should incentivize the construction of zero and zero energy ready, all-electric homes and buildings so they can be powered completely by carbon-free electricity. The growth of all-electric, zero-carbon buildings will bring increased profit to utilities as the resulting demand for electricity expands.
  • Utilities, manufacturers, non-profits, and local governments should join forces to actively market the many intrinsic benefits of zero energy homes and buildings to businesses, governments, and homebuyers.
  • States, and eventually the federal government, can offer tax credits for new or renovated zero energy ready homes and buildings based on an energy performance standard, such as a HERS Index target of 20 to 40. Based on the superior efficiency of these buildings, their net carbon emissions can easily be eliminated by adding on-site solar panels or purchasing carbon-free electricity from off-site. Incentivizing a zero carbon emissions target for all buildings would drive action and innovation without dictating specific methods and materials.
  • Building codes in California, Washington, Oregon, New York, and Vermont are already on the path to zero. As more states adopt zero energy codes and market demand grows, incentives can gradually be phased out.
  • Larger tax incentives should be offered for low income homebuyers and small businesses if they reach the building performance target.
  • Getting to zero in the built environment can be reinforced with technical education for builders and developers supported by states, local governments, manufacturers of electric HVAC equipment, and utilities.
  • Tax credits at the state and federal levels should be enhanced for solar panel installation, with higher credits for low income homeowners and small businesses. The return on investment for solar panels is positive. A small stable federal tax credit, will further enhance the profitability of solar panels, increasing demand. Once demand drives production to a volume that lowers prices, the tax incentive can be phased out.
  • Financing should be structured to cover installation costs so that monthly dollar savings will cover the monthly payments. This means that homeowners and businesses immediately break even or make a small profit from their solar energy investment.
  • While it has been estimated to cost $400 billion to retrofit all buildings to zero carbon, the return has been estimated at $1.4 trillion (retrofit costs minus saved energy costs). With that massive positive return on investment, banks, green banks, and public agencies should be encouraged to provide low-cost loans at nearly the same rates as US treasury bonds. This financing should be available for all manner of building efficiency improvements. This includes loans for installing solar electric systems on homes, apartments and businesses, for battery storage systems, and building of certified zero energy homes, buildings, and retrofits.
  • Change Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae policies to require banks and other lenders to determine loan amount eligibility by PITI+Energy so that mortgages and second mortgages can include energy savings as income that will increase their eligibility for a larger mortgage to cover energy efficiency upgrades.
  • Low income families will benefit the most from zero energy homes, since the average energy burden for low-income families is three times greater than for the rest of the country. The incentives in this program will need to be aligned in a way to ensure that low income families can afford them and benefit from them the very first month of ownership.
  • Cost effectively constructed zero homes and zero buildings have strong inherent incentives. They are excellent financial investments and provide improved comfort, health and productivity. Governments at all levels, non-profits, developers, realtors, and manufacturers need to use their resources to get the word out. As soon as they do, demand will catch on quickly.

 

Transportation

Transportation, including cars, trucks, company and government fleets, ships and airplanes, and military vehicles account for 28% of U.S. carbon emissions. As we are in the process of creating a smart grid powered with renewables, here are some ways we can incentivize a transition to a zero carbon transportation system.

  • Develop a consortium of EV car and truck manufacturers and utilities and incentivize the building of an electric vehicle charging network to the scale necessary to power EVs across the country. General Motors, the largest car manufacturer in the U.S. and Bechtel, the largest U.S. engineering firm, are planning to build out thousands of fast charging stations to fuel the 20 new electric car models that GM will be introducing by 2023. This is a perfect example of intrinsic incentives outpacing the need for extrinsic ones, such as government subsidies.
  • Incentivize grid-integrated, solar-powered charging stations at a higher rate and create universal industry standards so that all fast EV chargers work with all makes of EVs.
  • Tesla’s Electric Semi Truck is in beta, Daimler will be opening an electric Freightliner truck plant in Oregon in 2021, and other plans are being laid for heavy duty trucks and charging stations for long haul freight runs. The purchase of electric heavy duty trucks should be incentivized with tax credits and accelerated depreciation, both of which should be higher for small businesses.
  • Incentivize positive energy homes and buildings that have extra solar panels so that they can power EVs with renewable energy, providing free solar EV charging at home or at work.
  • For apartment dwellers, incentivize building owners to install charging stations, and incentivize the sale of solar EVs, including the Sion, which has its own state of the art solar panel that powers it 19 miles a day by solar alone. Though the solar range is small it will allow apartment dwellers to do errands, commute short distances and get to the nearest charging stations.
  • Continue full tax credits for purchasing EVs, including SUVs, light trucks, and long-haul trucks, boosting credits for those with low incomes. Provide the biggest tax credits for U.S. manufactured EVs to help create good jobs.
  • Increase the taxes on gas and diesel and use the revenue to create an infrastructure of rest areas with EV charging stations nationwide and to improve the roads and bridges EVs travel on. These infrastructure improvements will provide jobs far into the future, including in times of recession.
  • As more companies are coming out with more EVs with longer ranges and at lower prices, consumers will learn that EVs are better vehicles. They are faster, need less maintenance, have lower fuel costs, and can even be fully powered by a few solar collectors added to homes and businesses. EVs, like zero energy homes, are better vehicles with strong inherent incentives, so external incentives can gradually be removed as production scales up and prices fall. The government’s role, as with zero energy buildings, should be to promote the benefits and provide tax credits weighted in favor of low income buyers and small businesses.
  • A high functioning fossil fuel free public transportation system should be incentivized in, and between, all urban areas. Electric buses, subways, and commuter railways along with their supportive infrastructure should be incentivized by utilities and governments at all levels. For example, the City of Los Angeles, among others, has already purchased fully electric buses and charging stations.
  • Electric passenger and freight railways are already common in Europe and a small 100% solar powered train is in daily operation in Australia. A government/utility/rail industry/academic consortium should be funded to develop and fund a strategy for electrifying our U.S. rail system and/or using clean hydrogen to power locomotives.
  • Technologies are already in the pipeline to increase the energy efficiency of commercial airplanes. The progression of the energy efficiency of traditional aircraft should be incentivized by tax credits and by gradually increasing the tax on jet fuel.
  • While traditional aircraft are gradually becoming more fuel efficient, several companies are in the early stages of developing commercial electric planes. A government/industry/university research and development consortium should be formed and funded to develop commercially viable electric planes or clean hydrogen planes within 15 years.
  • A jet fuel tax increase can be applied to rebuilding our aging airport infrastructure towards zero carbon operations. Prioritize the building of connections between airports, rail systems and urban areas.
  • Electric ships are being developed but are not yet capable of powering large, long-distance cargo ships. Liquid hydrogen, derived from natural gas by a process that does not involve carbon emissions, could be the most promising approach for zero emission container ships. Both of these should be the subject of further research and development.

 

Agriculture, Land Use and Forestry

The agriculture, land use, and forestry sectors of our economy contribute almost 25% of our greenhouse gas emissions. Here are some steps that could help reduce that toward net zero.

  • In the U.S. 10 to 20% of carbon emissions are offset each year by our forests. One acre of hardwood trees can offset the carbon emissions of 18 average Americans. Well managed forests accumulate more carbon per acre than poorly managed ones. We need to incentivize farmers, landowners and lumber companies to plant and manage forests sustainably, allowing profitable ecological harvesting. Deforestation and clear cutting should be restricted in most situations.
  • Farm animals are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions and there are a variety of techniques for helping reduce those emissions – techniques that should be incentivized, as part of a new USDA organic labeling standard.
  • New and tasty plant-based protein foods are being developed from green pea and other legumes, as a healthy addition to our diet. Including more plant proteins in our diets may help keep the demand for livestock from continuing to grow, and reduce the high mortality resulting from high levels of animal protein consumption.
  • A government/industry/university consortium should be formed for research and development of new agricultural techniques and processes that will sequester carbon and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from this sector.
  • Electric farm equipment is already being developed and its purchase should be incentivized.
  • Commercial fertilizers are either manufactured from fossil fuels or use fossil fuels to transport them long distances. Farmers should be rewarded for moving to sustainable organic agricultural techniques that do not rely on synthetic or imported fertilizers.

 

Where Do We Go From Here?

We have shown examples of how both extrinsic and intrinsic incentives – but primarily intrinsic ones – can and should be aligned with the desired greenhouse gas reduction behaviors we want in a way that minimizes government expenditure and control, relies heavily on free enterprise, and enhances equity and job opportunities. These, as well as additional, suggestions will need to be examined, refined and improved by businesses, governments, and experts in a variety of fields, tested in appropriate focus groups, modeled by computers, and packaged brilliantly by advertising experts, business leaders, and politicians to garner widespread public support. Their implementation by families, businesses and local governments, which has already begun, will need to be broadly encouraged. It is a huge task and will require mobilizing our intelligence, creativity, and political will as a nation. This mobilization can occur primarily through inherent, built-in incentives, and be led by ordinary people, businesses and local governments.

 

What to Do if There is No Action at the Federal Level

Since the federal government has been slow to take up the challenge of reducing greenhouse gases, it is important for every state and local government, every corporation, small business, non-profit organization, family, and individual to press ahead to accomplish these critical objectives. Then, when the federal government finally takes action, we will have a wealth of experience and lessons learned that will make the final effort much more effective.

 

Its Everyone’s Business

It is also important for each of us to look at what we can do that is practical, achievable, and affordable with regard to reducing our own personal carbon emissions. From renovating our homes towards zero, to purchasing an electric vehicle, to riding our bikes and walking, to speaking up in our places of work, there is a lot we can do now. Many who read this blog are already committed and have taken action or will take action, incentivized by acting in accord with their own inner sense of values and in many cases by the return on investment involved with adopting zero carbon/zero energy technologies. Now it is time to encourage your friends, colleagues, employers and employees to move toward a zero carbon future. Our world depends upon it.

If you have ideas regarding how to more effectively move our society to zero, please let us know.

Read our entire series on Energizing the New Green Deal: