Meet the Pacific Rim’s new environmental superpower

The planet of the future is here.
The planet of the future is here.
Image: George Rose/Getty
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In Ernest Callenbach’s 1975 novel Ecotopia, northern California, Oregon and Washington secede from a US in financial collapse to form an ecological superpower fueled by renewable energy and electric cars. Yesterday, California, Oregon and Washington, along with British Columbia, signed a pact to form an environmental alliance powered by renewable energy and electric cars. The future is now.

The Pacific Coast Action Plan on Climate and Energy calls on the states and the Canadian province to set common mandates for cutting carbon emissions and link their programs for doing so. Among other things, the governments agreed to adopt low carbon fuel standards and ensure that 10% of all private and public vehicle purchases are zero-emission cars by 2016. Unlike California’s move to join its carbon trading market with Quebec’s, the west coast eco-alliance is voluntary, non-binding and comes with not a dollar to fund its implementation. “This is not a revolution,” California Governor Jerry Brown said yesterday at a ceremony in San Francisco to sign the pact. “These are modest steps.”

Modest, yes. It would be a mistake, however, to dismiss the effort as a feel-good public relations stunt. Together, the west coast of the US and Canada boasts a population of 53 million and would form the world’s fifth-largest economy, a Pacific Rim center of technological innovation with a gross domestic product of $2.8 trillion.

Rather, think of the climate change pact as another move to create transnational carbon markets and policies as global governments continue decades of dithering. “Meaningful coordination and linkage between states and provinces across North America and the world on actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions can improve the effectiveness of these actions, increase their overall positive impact and build momentum for broader international coordination to combat climate change,” states the Pacific Coast Action Plan.

If you’re a business executive, yesterday’s action should give pause. Success at creating common renewable energy and efficiency policies—for appliances, buildings, cars—across the states and British Columbia will create a market far too big to ignore. And one that will likely create de facto national standards in the US, just as the long-standing alliance between California and northeastern states on automobile emissions led the federal government to impose similar national clean air standards.

The pact may not be good news, however, for climate-denying states seeking business investment. The Pacific Coast plan calls for the signatories to develop common permitting standards for renewable energy projects and to integrate the their electrical grids. That will make the Pacific states a far more attractive and predictable investment for solar and wind developers and financiers as well as even more of a magnet for green technology entrepreneurs.

In other words, Ecotopia is all about the economy.