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Practical planet care

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Rolls-Royce customers rarely ask for fuel-efficient cars, but by 2017 the company will unveil a plug-in hybrid of its behemothic Phantom. Sure, it was necessitated by government-mandated fleet fuel standards, but fuel efficiency will nevertheless soon be part of the Rolls experience. 

Item 2: The world’s third biggest oil producer, Kuwait, is building parabolic solar facilities in its deserts, aiming to derive 15 percent of its energy from renewables by 2030. Item 3: While oil and gas projects are booming in the heartland of the United States, solar energy now has the second biggest share of new energy generation capacity.  

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Item 4 is probably you or your neighbor considering solar panels from Home Depot or a dozen other purveyors. You don’t have to believe in the detrimental effects of human industry on the environment to be green today. Reducing dependence – on big government, big utilities, and big energy – appeals to rugged individualists as much as to tree-huggers, as United Nations climate chief Christiana Figueres observes in Clara Germani’s cover profile (click here to read it).

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Green can be an almost spiritual cause, a marketing tool, a salve to a guilty conscience, or an insurance policy against higher energy prices. Most often it is a practical decision because of the work of individuals like Ms. Figueres who have helped change laws, regulations, and incentives around the world to make green good.

There is a big idea behind this: Common sense says that reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a way to make sure that our civilization is better safe than sorry. But achieving that reduction can’t be done with the stroke of a pen. It takes, first of all, thousands of pens wielded by indefatigable negotiators like Figueres. That has an effect. A recent study by the London School of Economics indicates that countries that account for almost 90 percent of emissions have now enacted laws to reduce greenhouse gases.

We can all agree that policymaking isn’t pretty. Even so, it influences decisions by the billions of businesses and individuals whose actions are required to turn the temperature down. The goal for those seriously concerned about climate change is to hold temperatures to a 2-degree Celsius increase over preindustrial levels. A start has been made, but going the distance will require more – in particular, an agreement next year in Paris on a far-reaching global climate treaty.

Many people are not concerned about climate change out of indifference or doubt that humans are the cause (see the Pew Research Center chart that accompanies the Monitor cover story). It isn’t necessary that they be persuaded for them to embrace practical environmentalism. It is necessary to make climate stewardship in everyone’s interest. That is what Figueres and others are trying to do. 

As Earth’s nations increasingly acknowledge that they have a common responsibility for the planet, they affect the choices of individuals, businesses, and organizations. You and I might never consider a Rolls-Royce hybrid, but even in that rarefied world it begins to make sense.

John Yemma is editor-at-large of the Monitor. He can be reached at