Once again, in the absence of national leadership, the states are taking the lead.
Coloradans Vote to Embrace Alternative Sources of Energy
Colorado utilities will have to sell a lot more electricity from wind power in years to come under a statewide ballot initiative approved by voters on Nov. 2, and if they want some pointers they might talk to Adam T. Kremers, a 19-year-old sophomore at Colorado State University here. He has been there and done that.
Mr. Kremers sold wind power to the occupants of individual dormitory rooms this fall, under an agreement between the university and the local utility that environmentalists describe as one of the first such programs in the nation.
Mr. Kremers, an environmental engineering major and the associate director of environmental affairs in the student government, gave out stickers and pinwheels shaped like turbines and threw a "wind power party" to celebrate clean energy, complete with a cake connived from the dining hall.
He ultimately got 187 students - nearly 4 percent of the university's residence-hall population of 5,000 - to sign up, paying an additional $17 to $52 a year to buy green power to run their computers and lava lamps.
"It's a start," Mr. Kremers said. "Now it's my duty to keep it going."
Colorado voters said much the same thing when they approved, over the vehement objections of most energy companies, a proposal mandating that 10 percent of the state's electricity must come from wind and solar power by 2015.
The law, Amendment 37, makes Colorado the 18th state with an environmentally friendly energy standard, but the first one to have bypassed the Legislature and put the rule into place through referendum. An energy bill similar to the one the voters approved was defeated by Colorado's Legislature three times in the last three years.
"Because it's a conservative Western state with a strong fossil-fuel industry, as well as the first one passed by a popular referendum, Colorado represents something of a breakthrough," said Alan Nogee, the energy program director at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit research and advocacy group based in Cambridge, Mass.
More surprisingly, most states have given up looking for guidance on global warming from Washington, and are instituting their own efforts to crack down on the industries that produce greenhouse gases.
Nearly every U.S. state now has programmes to reduce global warming pollution, and many have moved to the next step by working together in regional blocs. The most prominent projects include a cap-and-trade system for carbon dioxide emissions from utilities, developed by nine northeastern and mid-Atlantic states, and an alliance to boost energy efficiency and the use of renewables in the power grids of 19 western states.
State initiatives tend to frame climate change as an economic opportunity to produce alternative fuels, become renewable energy exporters, attract high-tech business, and to reduce other kinds of pollution as well, according to a Pew analysis that will be released in early December.
”The issue of global warming can be polarising when it's put out there all by itself,” Greenwald said. ”There has been a lot of public support for these (state) initiatives, partly because they are integrated with other things people care about.”
Some states are seeking technological innovations to solve the problem. For example, the Ohio Coal Development Office funds projects that capture and sequester carbon dioxide emissions from coal combustion, while the South Carolina Hydrogen Coalition is promoting economic development by building expertise in hydrogen technology.
Others are taking even stronger steps: for example, 16 states have mandated that electric utilities -- which account for nearly one-third of greenhouse gases -- generate a certain amount of power from renewable sources.
Last week, the governors of California, Oregon and Washington -- all west coast states facing the prospect of rising sea levels -- announced 36 recommendations to fight global warming, including tightening emissions and energy efficiency targets, investing in fleets of hybrid gas-electric vehicles, and boosting retail energy sales from renewables at least one percent a year through 2015.