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Stopping Global Warming in the Midwest

When it comes to solving our global warming problems, the Midwest is the most pivotal region in the most important country in the world

The scientific debate is over. Stopping global warming is the moral, business, economic policy, political and technological challenge of our generation. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's February 2007 report makes clear that "the warming of the climate is unequivocal" and accelerating and that businesses' and people's actions are the predominant cause. We know what the problems are, and we need to focus on the solutions and act fast.

When it comes to solving our global warming problems, the Midwest is the most pivotal region in the most important country in the world. Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin account for 20 percent of the carbon dioxide (CO2) pollution in the United States and 5 percent of the total global pollution. The Midwest alone is responsible for more global warming pollution than any country other than China, India, Japan and the former Soviet Union.

The Midwest has the nation's largest concentration of highly polluting coal plants and is the national hub of the transportation industry and infrastructure. The energy and transportation sectors together produce approximately 70 percent of the CO2 pollution.

So what can we do about it? The "Willie Sutton" rule applies here. Asked why he robbed banks, Willie is said to have replied,  "Because that's where the money is." Robustly reducing global warming pollution means focusing on the Midwest's energy and transportation sectors. There are ways that work for both environmental progress and economic development that involve technological leaps, policy changes and public engagement.

We now have innovative technologies to produce clean renewable energy and clean up many old coal plants. We can flatten out electricity demand through 2020 by implementing highly cost-effective, energy-efficient lighting, heating, cooling, refrigeration and motor technologies that cost 2.5 cents or less, according to Repowering the Midwest: The Clean Energy Development Plan for the Heartland, a study by the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

Today, wind power and other renewable energy supply approximately 2 percent of the Midwest's power. We have the technology to supply 20 percent of our electricity through clean, renewable energy development. The result would be a 51 percent reduction in CO2--more than the Kyoto Treaty would require.

The economic analysis by the Regional Economics Applications Laboratory at the University of Illinois shows that implementing this clean energy development plan would create 209,000 net new jobs in the Midwest by 2020 and create almost $20 billion of net economic growth. That would infuse billions of dollars into the Midwest economy. It's an old myth that environmental progress and economic growth are in conflict. That's a false choice. There is no trade-off. We can be smart and have both.

We know how new technologies create cleaner cars that get better mileage and reduce CO2 pollution by more than 50 percent. Why is it that Toyota and Honda are selling hybrid cars that achieve 48 mpg, while Detroit still produces gas-guzzlers that pollute much more? We have the technologies to clean up dirty diesel trucks and use cleaner bio-based fuels. It's time to implement them and reduce pollution.

By reducing global warming pollution, we help to make our energy and transportation systems more efficient, improve our air quality, protect peoples' health and protect our forest and water ecosystems, wildlife and biodiversity. The Great Lakes will stay at the level that nature intended them to be instead of falling victim to the artificial changes--both flooding and drought--that global warming will cause.

All of us can be part of these solutions. It's time for the electric utility industry and the coal plant owners to clean up their power plants and to stop opposing public policies that can drive significant investments in energy-efficiency programs and drive accelerated wind power investment and development through policy standards, which, already enacted by several states, require that 20 percent of the power supply comes from clean renewable energy. At home, at businesses and on Midwest farms, let's put clean energy-efficiency technologies and wind power into action.

It's time for the American auto industry to produce and sell us cleaner cars and trucks with modern technologies and to stop opposing "clean car" standards that have already passed in 10 states. Let's get innovative, cleaner cars and trucks on the road. We also must develop modern inter-city high-speed rail and better local rail transit to reduce highway congestion and produces less global warming pollution.

Illinois is the largest energy and consumer market in the Midwest, and the region's economic, business, media and geographic center. There are strong, strategic opportunities to advance effective global warming solutions. Both Governor Blagojevich and Mayor Daley have recently created blue-ribbon task forces to recommend policy actions aimed at significantly reducing global warming pollution. The Midwest is a central source of our global warming problems and can be a fulcrum for sustainable environmental policy and technological solutions. We're running out of time to solve our global warming problems. Let's move forward now. o

Howard A. Learner is the executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center. He can be reached at HLearner@elpc.org

Published: April 01, 2007
Issue: Spring 2007