Arlington Goes Green

In a push to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Arlington County will buy more wind-generated electricity, give tax breaks for hybrid cars and require new public buildings to be green-certified, reports Annie Gowen at the Washington Post. The county also will provide a number of home energy audits, plant 1,200 trees and hand out 2,000 energy-efficient light bulbs at public events.

The county, which has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 2.6 percent since 2000, aspires to shave another 10 percent in the next five years. Board Chairman Paul Ferguson says he was inspired by Al Gore’s movie about global warming, “An Inconvenient Truth.”

Ferguson estimates that the program will cost about $5 million in capital costs, while other initiatives like energy audits and handing out compact fluorescent bulbs will run less than $100,000. The initiative comes at a time that the county faces a projected $20 million budget shortfall due to the downturn in housing values and anticipated property tax revenues.

I’m torn. I’m all in favor of energy conservation. I favor policies that reduce pollution, shift consumption from depletable to renewable resources and wean the country from its crippling dependence upon overseas energy sources. But I’m a skeptic of the more hysterical claims made by global warming alarmists (for reasons explained in previous posts on this blog). Even if the entire world followed Arlington’s example and aspired to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent over the next five years, the impact on global temperatures would be too small to measure.

If a private company wants to indulge its ideological convictions by investing its own private capital to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, that’s the company’s business. When a municipality commits its resources to do the same thing, it’s the taxpayers’ business. If Arlington County can demonstrate that its investment in energy conservation can pay for itself, then I applaud Ferguson and the board for its vision. If the initiative fritters away tax dollars for an objective that provides no measurable benefit to its taxpayers, then I’m very dubious.

Ferguson lays out the county program, Fresh AIRE (Arlington Initiative to Reduce Emissions) here. From an environmental perspective, it appears to be ambitious and comprehensive. But it’s also a statement of faith. There is no budget impact analysis whatsoever. There is no Return on Investment analysis whatsoever. There is no way for taxpayers to see how much bang (reduction in greenhouse emissions) they’re getting for the buck. If Arlington really wants to cut greenhouse gas emissions, as opposed to engage in moral preening, there may be ways to spend its money more efficiently, such as purchasing European Union CO2 emission rights. But those options are not discussed.

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8 responses to “Arlington Goes Green”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    What’s your source for, “Even if the entire world followed Arlington’s example and aspired to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent over the next five years, the impact on global temperatures would be too small to measure”?

  2. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Miles, I don’t have a source for predicting the results of a 10 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, and I can’t back up my statement. Consider it short-hand for a complex set of thoughts.

    Here are my concerns: Even if the U.S., Europe, Japan and other nations with advanced economies met the goals of the Kyoto treaty, there is nothing to constrain China, India or other developing nations, which are accounting for an increasing percentage of manufacturing activity globally. Furthermore, there is nothing to constrain rampant deforestation in Indonesia, Congo, Brazil and other havens of the rain forest. Net CO2 emissions are probably going to increase regardless of what the U.S., much less Arlington, does about it.

    Will that be the end of the world? Will we see the catastrophic scenarios suggested by Chairman Ferguson in his speech? That’s a subject of intense debate. The impact of CO2 on global temperatures is still disputed. A number of scientists have pointed to other factors that may have a greater impact on global temperatures.

    Furthermore, the impact of higher temperatures is much debated. Global temperatures have been fluctuating widely during the scope of recorded human history, and even more widely within the scope of human evolution. Somehow, the polar bears survived even warmer temperatures than those we’re experiencing today. Indeed, an argument can be made that warmer temperatures will be beneficial (to humans at least) in many parts of the globe.

    Should I have phrased my concerns differently? Yes, I did. You are right to question what I wrote.

  3. Anonymous Avatar

    No sweat, the statement just caught my eye and I wondered if there was any link or anything. I went to the board meeting and even I, card-carrying tree hugger, was uncomfortable with how gloom-and-doom Ferguson was on global warming. Yes, worst-case scenarios are catastrophic, but I think it’s much more effective in a public setting to pitch the positive — cut emissions here in Arlington to clear the smog here in Arlington. As Monty Python once said, always look on the bright side of life.

  4. Ray Hyde Avatar

    If the initiative fritters away tax dollars for an objective that provides no measurable benefit to its taxpayers, then I’m very dubious.


    Good post.

    A few weeks ago Time magazine had an article about how we worry about the wrong things. This weekend the discovery channel had a show on ten ways the earth could come to an end.

    If we manage to save the earth from global warming and half the population starves or freezes in the process, what have we gained? Should we spend the money protectingurselves from asteroids instead? Has the war on terror really made us safer? Has the war on poverty made us richer? Has the war on drugs prevented significant drug use? drug use?

    Who knows? But surely we are better off for trying, aren’t we? Maybe, maybe not. Depends on how big the waste, how small the gain, and what other priorities might have worked better.

    But it isn’t just global warming where we are frittering away tax dollars for no measurable benefit. We spent how many billion to make Arlington a showcase of Metro oriented development, and now more people than ever are driving out of the county to work.

    Until we at least spend enough money to measure things accurately, we will be forever swimming in wonk soup with no hope of real answers. Copernicus and Newton were right, indisputably, but it took how long to get a concession?

  5. Anonymous Avatar

    Dear Jim:

    Arlington County is recognized internationally for what
    it has accomplished. Good planning linked to transit
    developments are recognized as solid products of the
    county. It does not suprise me they are now tackling
    a key environmental issue relative to the future for
    our children and grandchildren.

    I have seen Al Gore’s movie and have his book “An
    Inconvenient Truth.” The need to reduce CO2 is a real
    challenge for us.

    It is tragic that our state does not have the leadership
    to tackle such issues in the state government nor are we
    doing enough about these issues in our national government.

    Those who are critical of such efforts are really out of


    Rodger Provo

  6. greenfuture Avatar

    Return on investment calculation? Tell me, what is the return on investment in a new school? A new sidewalk? Streetlights? If we’re quantifying crime prevention activities, how do you assign dollars to robberies averted, car thefts reduced, or lives saved?

    The notion of global warming may be fuzzy to you, but in the absence of federal leadership the imperative to take action now is driven by local governments that recognize the hazards posed by climate disruption and unchecked energy use (more frequent and potent storms, brittle electric grid, air and water pollution, etc.) and their consequences are borne by local governments in emergency aid to residents, aid to businesses, and public health outreach. Difficult to quantify, yes.

    Furthermore, smart investment in energy efficiency DOES pay for iself and reduce CO2 emissions. Energy smart decisions are a ‘no regrets’ approach to climate change: they save government money which is a good thing even if climate change doesn’t happen.

  7. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Greenfuture, If you read my back posts and columns, you’ll see that I, too, am an opponent of “unchecked energy use.” I fervently support energy conservation, development of renewable energy resources and evolution to distributed-generation power grid. I base my support on the desire (a) to curtail local-impact pollution such as acid rain, mercury, nitrogen deposition, ozone, etc., and (b) to bolster U.S. energy security. There is nothing theoretical about the impact of the types of pollution I cite — they are real and empirically verified. They don’t depend upon global climate models based upon imperfectly understood meterological science and projecting 50 years into the future.

    Yes, I am skeptical that the global warming threat is hyped and overrated. I also acknowledge that we have limited resources to apply to cleaning up the environment. I believe in investing our scarce resources where they can generate the great “return on investment” — as in, the greatest pollution clean-up for the dollar.

    I think it’s great that Arlington supervisors are taking a leadership position in going green. But I’d like to see them be more hard-nosed fiscally in the way they go about it. To employ a phrase outside its original context, we need to make green policies politically sustainable. If we can show that Arlington’s green policies pay their own way through energy savings, they become totally uncontroversial — hence, politically sustainable.

  8. Hello Euygene Trani !!!!

    University Presidents Promote Higher Education Climate Commitment
    by Jeff McIntire-Strasburg, St. Louis, MO on 01. 4.07
    Business & Politics (news)

    Individual colleges and universities around the globe have been at the forefront of addressing climate change and other environmental pressures. Now, several university presidents want to create a joint effort modeled on the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement. According to the University of Florida’s press office, UF President Bernie Machen has joined Arizona State University president Michael Crow and Ball State University president Jo Ann M. Gora in “becoming the first to sign the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment. They hope 380 other presidents and chancellors will do the same by June.” According to the American Association for Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE),

    Building on the growing momentum for leadership and action on climate change, the Presidents Climate Commitment provides a framework and support for America’s colleges and universities to go climate neutral. It recognizes the unique role of presidents and chancellors in providing leadership and guidance in their institutions and to society. Presidents joining the Climate Commitment effort understand that taking a leadership position will improve their institution’s position in the competition for research funding and for the best students, faculty, and staff.
    The initiative seeks the commitment of at least 200 presidents and chancellors by June 2007 and over 1,000 by December 2009.

    The Climate Commitment itself (in PDF) requires signatories to set specific, measurable goals within a definite time frame, and to incorporate proven models for achieving a lighter carbon footprint, including LEED building standards and ENERGY STAR certified products. While the goals have quite a bit of flexibility built in, each institution signing the Commitment promises to have a concrete action plan in place within two years. It’s an ambitious effort, but sets a standard for action that other types of institutions and organizations would do well to follow. ::University of Florida News and AASHE

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    [3] Comments | Related Tags: arizona+state+university | climate+change | climate+commitment | college | initiative | university | university+of+florida | us
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    Comments (3)
    Yes, new steps have been taken in the educational fields and there are more events are going to rage later in the year 2007.
    January 4, 2007 11:31 AM | flag a problem
    vps hosting says:
    Also see Worldwatch’s compilation of universities’ efforts:
    January 4, 2007 11:36 AM | flag a problem
    Anonymous says:
    I’m in Arizona and plan to pursue a B.A. in Sustainability when ASU begins it’s Bachelor’s program in 2008. I can’t wait. It’s so exciting to see that Arizona and other colleges are stepping up to promote global responsibility in the only way we can – through Education! Thanks for the info, Jeff!
    January 4, 2007 11:42 AM | flag a problem
    Tammi says:

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