Republican Candidates and Congress Quit Climate Change; Private Sector Counters, Creating Consumer Label

With climate change a non-starter in Congress and among Republican presidential candidates, it is becoming clear that something more than mere nation-state commitments will be needed to counter climate change and reduce global warming. With nations reluctant to recommit to another climate treaty (as witnessed recently in South Africa) replete with binding targets and a global trading scheme for carbon emissions, it will be up to the private sector to pick up the slack. Thankfully, some seem up for the challenge.

A new consumer label has been introduced by the private sector to encourage and increase demand in wind energy, a renewable energy that will be a critical component to any greenhouse gas emissions reduction strategy. It's called WindMade, the first-ever global label that identifies for consumers whether or not a company or a product used wind power in its operations or production. Much like the USDA's organic label created a more robust organics industry and consumer base, so too is WindMade's intent to generate an equally robust base.

Now, thanks to companies pioneering this global sustainability movement, a consumer who cares about climate security, energy security, or simply wants to reduce their environmental footprint by supporting renewable energy, can prioritize purchases that are complementary with their principles. This is a good thing. And according to polling done in advance of WindMade's launch, a solid 67 percent of consumers are already saying they would favor WindMade products.

Clearly the consumer demand is there, which will be helpful in lowering the price of wind energy as the technological leaders behind the wind energy movement -- be they in the U.S., EU or China -- ramp up production and produce cheaper wind energy and cheaper wind turbines.

All of this will be good for the environment. Yet more wind energy will not only help reduce our carbon consumption and carbon emissions; it will help the world become a more peaceful place. How, you ask? First, perhaps most obviously, as we wean ourselves off of fossil fuels and onto renewable energies like wind and solar, we dramatically reduce the propensity of nations to fight foreign wars over fossilized energy resources in the name of energy security.

Second, the more we transition off centralized, fossil-fuel based power grids and cumbersome production facilities that pose a security risk to potential domestic attack (e.g. nuclear and coal plants, gas pipelines or oil refineries), and transition to micro-managed wind and solar infrastructure, the less risk we will face in light of growing terror attacks. Imagine smaller grids that serve smaller communities and are thus less susceptible to sabotage.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, the more we enable and empower communities and citizens around the world to harness wind and solar energy at the micro and local level, the more we ultimately democratize energy and equip developing countries with the tools and techniques needed to develop more efficiently and effectively.

Take an example from mobile phones, which have become ubiquitous in the developing world (thanks to a ratcheting down of cost and a ratcheting up availability), serving as a critical lifeline to banking, agriculture, trade and commerce activities. Now let's do the same with renewable technologies by making them affordable and accessible. Think of what portable and affordable devices capable of capturing renewable energy could offer poor and underdeveloped villages.

Incidentally, this also helps ensure that resources are distributed equitably, at least on the energy front. In many countries, unfortunately, energy and energy utilities are in the hands of the powerful few, often to the detriment of the powerless majority. The democratization of energy changes that dynamic. It also increases the likelihood of less violence. One of the eight fundamental factors found in more peaceful environments, as reported by the Institute for Economics and Peace in its recently published "Structures of Peace", was the equitable distribution of resources. Energy equitability, then, should be a longer-term goal.

In the meantime, helping consumers know if their computer, car, or clothing, was made from wind energy is a great step in the right direction. We need more of this kind of innovativeness and initiative. The climate isn't cooling anytime soon and it's clear that climate talks will continue to be inconclusive. So companies and consumers, the ball is in your court.

Michael Shank is U.S. Vice President at the Institute for Economics and Peace.