saving-energy-growing-jobs-david-b-goldstein.thumbnail.jpgFiredoglake is pleased to welcome author David Goldstein and host John Wilson, two of the country’s leading energy efficiency experts. You’ll find introductions and related links and information in this preview post.

I’m pleased to introduce my friend David Goldstein’s invaluable and timely book, Saving Energy, Growing Jobs.  All the policy issues David discusses are now confronting the country and the next Administration.  

Climate change is going to be the public health challenge of the 21st century, and energy efficiency is going to be the number one solution.   California has been a test bed for efficiency policies for the last 30 years, and David’s book captures the lessons he learned.   It’s not a wonky discussion about policies–it’s about the political atmosphere that clouds clear thinking and blocks good public policy.  To quote the book’s introduction:

"No one supports pollution as public policy. No matter what one’s political philosophy or business goals, clean air, safe drinking water, foods free from poisons, and the protection of unspoiled environments are seemingly universal goals.

 Then why is environmental policy so controversial? The only plausible policy reasons to oppose environmental protection, and indeed, the primary arguments anti-environmental advocates raise on virtually all of the major environmental controversies of the last several decades, are the beliefs that a clean environment…

1. Requires unacceptable compromises in our economic well-being, or

2. Places unreasonable restrictions on human freedoms.

This book demonstrates how such concerns are ill founded. The arguments and evidence I offer instead support how and why well-designed policies for environmental protection will enhance economic development, create greater employment, and provide more democratic ground rules for the economy."

David pays close attention to the theory of markets, the assumptions that lie behind political [mis]perceptions of markets versus regulation, and why those assumptions are often invalid, leading to market failure.  He then makes a powerful case for why appropriate regulation is not only essential to enable markets but increases economic growth, jobs and innovation.

To realize these benefits we have to overcome the various myths that free market fundamentalists use to undermine good regulation and, ironically, undermine economic growth.  Myths about the evils of government intervention, for example, often drive businesses that would obviously benefit from better environmental standards to oppose any regulation as bad for business.  Learning how to recognize and exploit these situations is the key to many of David’s successes in getting business support for better regulations. 

The last 30 years have seen remarkable changes in how energy is used in California.  Scarecrow’s introduction shows a graph of how California’s per capita electricity use has been constant since 1975, while the electricity use for the U.S. as a whole has increased 50%.  There are lots of reasons why this happened, but a good deal of the change was due to consistent pursuit of public policies that supported energy efficiency.  And it didn’t involve sacrifice: California’s beer is just as cold, and its homes are just as large and as warm as elsewhere.

Many of these decisions were difficult.  California pioneered efficiency standards that increased the initial costs of buildings and appliances but saved consumers billions of dollars over time.  California was also a pioneer in creating utility-financed efficiency programs that increased utility rates, but lowered utility bills.  In the 70s and 80s these were hugely controversial public policies; there were bills introduced in the California Legislature to abolish the Energy Commission in 19 of the first 20 years of the Commission’s existence, but the CEC is still there.

But what is remarkable is that looking back, all of the difficult decisions were consistently supported by both Democratic AND Republican Commissioners and governors.  In fact, California had more years of Republican governors than Democratic, and hence more Republican commissioners.  So efficiency is not a partisan issue.

Even more remarkable is the change in perspective in the building, appliance and utility industries.  The building industry in particular was vociferously opposed to standards because they feared the additional initial costs, and because philosophically, as David explains, they opposed regulation.  Overtime there has been almost a 180 degree change in attitude, and now each triennial update of the standards are 10-15% tighter, with little opposition.  Industry has learned that efficiency is not anti-business or anti-growth, and in fact, is a value feature of their products.

David’s book shows us how this transformation can happen.  He examines the myths of anti-environmentalists as well as environmentalists, and the motivations of the many stakeholders.  As he says, no one supports pollution or wasting energy.  The California experience shows not only that efficiency works, but also that there can be broad consensus around the public policies that provide good regulation and economic growth.  If we are going to make dramatic changes in how energy is used in the U.S. and the world, we’re going to have to learn the lessons in David’s book.