Vanderbilt Professors Michael Vandenbergh and Jonathan Gilligan’s new article “Beyond Gridlock” (advance version available here, publication in the Columbia Environmental Law Journal in Summer 2015) finds enormous potential for carbon emissions reductions from voluntary private actions by businesses and households despite governmental gridlock. Mobilizing such private initiatives could buy additional years to enact comprehensive national and international climate legislation and agreements before we reach a 2oC rise in global temperatures.
The authors examine a wide array of private initiatives, ranging from corporations requiring carbon-emission disclosures from the suppliers in their supply chain (as Walmart, Cisco, and Dell have done), to drivers shutting off their cars when they idle for more than 30 seconds, to a private climate registry wherein individuals can register their actions to prevent climate change for future generations. They conclude that these and other private initiatives together could lead to a reduction in annual CO2 emissions worldwide of a gigaton or more.
Beyond Gridlock is an important counterweight to the excessively narrow focus of many in the climate movement on carbon pricing and other forms of governmental action. Many sectors of society are ready, willing, and able to make major reductions in their carbon footprint without any governmental involvement whatsoever. Corporations, foundations, and people concerned about climate change should deploy their creativity, resources, and energy towards voluntary efforts now, regardless of what our politicians are doing (or not doing) on climate.
The authors suggest that private action may accelerate the likelihood of government action, by enlisting broader participation in the climate mitigation effort, and by reducing the negative impacts of a carbon tax on businesses and individuals.
Beyond Gridlock points the way to further research. What conditions activate dormant citizens and corporations to reduce their carbon footprint? What can foundations, universities, advocacy organizations, and others do to promote and support private action? What role can local, state, and even the federal government play in expanding it? How can a culture of private action be fomented?
Beyond Gridlock is an important work because it marks a path for citizens and organizations to realize major reductions in CO2 emissions despite a gridlocked political system.