Although some local business leaders say Long Island has already begun the shift toward more "green" practices, and a new report by an international panel of scientists emphasizes that affordable tools to slow global warming exist, others say that these policies and technologies face significant hurdles before becoming widely accepted.
"We are not a mass transit society," said Desmond Ryan, executive director of the Association for a Better Long Island, a developers' lobbying group. "We are basically tied to that gas-guzzling beast in our driveways. And when you look at the amount of fossil-fuel plants generating electricity, we are basically juice junkies."
The report, released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, analyzed the costs and benefits of numerous methods, studying everything from renewable energy sources and nuclear power to taxes on fossil fuels. Major policy and lifestyle changes would have to happen in order to cut greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 85 percent of 2000 levels, the report said.
Many of the methods studied are available and affordable, but these technologies and practices need to happen on a much larger scale, the analysis noted.
In many ways, businesses and governments in the region have begun to work together on the issue of climate change, said Michael J. Deering, the Long Island Association vice president for government affairs. The association, a businesses organization, has been working with the New York League of Conservation Voters to develop and advocate legislative proposals addressing climate change.
"Here on Long Island there's an acute awareness to constantly improve upon our environment," Deering said. "In the air quality area, where there is a crossover with good economics, you are seeing investments being made by businesses, developers and governments," such as Nassau's use of compressed natural gas to power the county's buses.
Those economic opportunities do exist, according to the National Wildlife Federation. The organization calculated that even with aggressive measures to slash emissions, the U.S. economy would more than double by 2030.
Another business and government consortium addressing global warming documented 27 large corporations that have reduced emissions an average of about 18 percent in recent years at cost savings, said Jeremy Symons, executive director, National Wildlife Federation's Global Warming Program. "Energy efficiency and renewable energy are the 'go to' options of choice."
The recent report from the climate change panel notes that more than $20trillion will be invested in energy infrastructure between now and 2030. Symons and his organization hope to persuade government and companies to shift those dollars from polluting technologies toward clean ones.
The report mentions "vested interests" as an obstacle to enacting policies that reduce fossil fuel subsidies or impose taxes or carbon charges on fossil fuels. Experts say economics also plays a large part in persuading people to change their lifestyles.
"It's nice to talk about and philosophically makes a lot of sense," said Matthew Cordaro, acting dean of the College of Management at Long Island University. But he said that when the cost of slowing global warming "hits the pocketbook," and the consequences are not immediate, consumers become unwilling to foot the price up front.
For example, a large number of consumers aren't buying hybrid cars because it takes years to make up the difference in the initial costs through savings on fuel efficiency, Cordaro said. And the system of trading credits for carbon dioxide emissions, a policy mentioned in the report, could work only if the system doesn't just displace the problem but provides "true benefits, not just paper benefits," he said.
The nuclear power plant built but never opened in Shoreham would have been one of Long Island's best methods of slashing carbon dioxide, Cordaro said. The Shoreham facility could have reduced the discharge of more than 3 million tons of carbon dioxide a year, he said.
"From an economic standpoint, to achieve the levels that they are suggesting, there's a lot of technological development that will be needed," Cordaro said. "And there's got to be much more acceptance of nuclear power."