NOTE: In recent years, thousands of cities, colleges, and companies have joined with states and nations in pledging to achieve deep (net zero) reductions in GHG emissions. Global GHG emissions exceed 45 billion tons (or Gigatons) annually — the equivalent of a large volcanic eruption occurring every 10 hours throughout the course of a year — and has been called a super-wicked problem. The social cost of atmospheric emissions (referred to as SCARs) is estimated to exceed $5 trillion per year. Many institutions have yet to make the pledge, and even among those making the pledge many are falling short of their targets. There are two key items essential for successfully achieving the pledges: timely, high-quality information for wise decision-making and sufficient capital resources to finance the necessary changes. The following 4C initiative highlights a win-win-win partnership opportunity for campuses, cities, companies and citizens to realize these two key items. (The national security importance of this opportunity is addressed in a separate article, Real Homeland Energy Security — National Critical Mission for the Decade).
The proposed 4C initiative is anchored in a multidisciplinary college course which utilizes Internet networking platform tools (and platform ecosystem thinking) to harness the human, social, civic and knowledge capital found in colleges and cities to solve a critically important societal problem — climate chaos from atmospheric emissions (see Table 1). It incorporates the academic objectives, resources and processes to design and employ this tool to assist local governments in analyzing, redesigning and deploying economically viable, secure, renewable and environmentally-sound autonomous energy systems for their communities. The objective is for students and faculty to partner with local energy providers and governmental agencies to acquire and analyze relevant data to redesign and deploy ultra-efficient, locally distributed power solutions. Every city is awash in the world’s three largest energy resources — solar, geothermal and efficiency. Along with onsite and distributed energy/battery storage, and regionally available wind power, these renewable resources and technologies can cost-effectively eliminate emissions and pollution, while delivering reliable, safe and clean power to the community.
1. Addressing the Super-Wicked Climate Problem
The infectious COVID-19 pandemic crisis presents a unique opportunity for communities to wean themselves off the use of noxious fossil fuels and combustion technology and to adopt distributive, beneficial electrification systems that eliminate a myriad of atmospheric emissions.
An immense scale of action has become a critical imperative given just a dozen-plus years to achieve unimaginably deep reductions in atmospheric emissions. This is all-important to prevent triggering global tipping points that lock-in the planet’s temperature rise 3 to 5 times higher than the 1.5 degree C temperature maximum increase considered below the dangerous level by the most recent IPCC Fifth assessment.
2. Application to Local City Autonomous Power Systems
Facing this new global imperative, cities have an opportunity to reconfigure their power generation and delivery systems, given the local well-being and long-term prosperity actually to be gained from deep emission reductions. More than 80 percent of global CO2 emissions can be eliminated straightforwardly worldwide by taking advantage of the expansive pool of financially attractive investments in solar and wind powered, ultra-efficient electrification and energy storage systems.
As clearly shown by nearly half a century of efficiency gains delivering energy services while saving hundreds of billions of dollars per year on energy bills, best-in-play market practices and aligned policy measures have driven greater economic and ecological outcomes with declining inputs of money and natural resources and outputs of waste and pollution.
Notably, reductions in global energy intensity between 1990 and 2016 saved more energy and money in 2016 than the oil burned in 2016, while providing cost-free deep reductions in emissions and pollution! Moreover, the global economy still consumes nine times more energy to deliver an energy service, 85% of which could be practically avoided using current knowledge and available technologies. Indeed, the pool of lower cost-and-risk efficiency, plus solar and wind electrification opportunities has become staggeringly vast and affordable.
3. Campus and City Climate Collaboration
The Campus and City Climate Collaboration (4C) is a city-scale energy services assessment, open-source platform network comprised of a suite of tools and resources (apps) to assist local governments in accomplishing the mission of economically beneficial, emission-free local economies. The proposed course would be designed to utilize a prototype 4C platform model, technically known as a Collaborative Innovation Network (COIN) and demonstrate its value-adding utility in a real-life case application. The 4C would be based upon the same technical, organizational, and social dynamics of such incredibly successful Internet (cloud-based) network platforms as Wikipedia: a self-organized, expanding network maintained by ad hoc clusters of geographically dispersed, self-motivated individuals all focused on achieving a specific mission. Wikipedia’s mission is to be the world’s largest open-access encyclopedia, built and operated by volunteers — and more than 50 million citizens have participated to date.
Launched in 2001, the Wikipedia network grew exponentially in volunteers, content, and users. Within 60 months and six employees, Wikipedia surpassed by 10 times the size of the Encyclopædia Britannica, and now ranks among the top five most-accessed web sites worldwide. As of 2017, there were 40 million free usable articles being translated into 293 languages, and now exceeding 60 times the size of the Encyclopædia Britannica. This volunteer-crafted civic asset has an estimated worth exceeding tens of billions of dollars.
4. Collaboration Cooperative for Generating Emission-free Assets
The mission is intended to operate as a primary go-to authoritative and trustworthy cloud-stored multimedia resource library on how cities and towns are becoming emission-free. Each course utilizing 4C would contribute their solutions, data and evaluation of its success in meeting the energy needs of the communities with which they have worked.
Eventually, 4C would strive to engage numerous college campuses because of the immense pool of available capital and intellect that can be harnessed — human, intelligence, civic, and social capital, as well as technological, physical and financial capital. For example, as of 2017 some 36,000 students in the U.S. and Canada have edited Wikipedia as a class assignment, adding more than 30 million words. This is equivalent to two-thirds of the last print edition of Encyclopædia Britannica, on a range of academic subjects that were either underdeveloped or entirely missing.
There are 20 million students attending 4,100 college campuses nationwide, and 200 million students attending 11,000 colleges worldwide. Harnessing just a fraction of a percent of student time could result in 4C providing visually fine-grain, detailed GPS mapping of cities’ readily achievable and financially attractive emission-free opportunities. Available apps and large data sets already enable identifying a city’s solar-capable rooftops and ground spots, while calculating various financing metrics (e.g., IRR, ROI, NPV). Such inventories allow for innovative city-scale initiatives like aggregated purchasing deals, prosumer and prosumager revenue streams, Co-op credit platform, green bank bonds and energy securities, and others.
4C would seek to go beyond existing passive Internet sites that largely fail to catalyze ongoing user interaction, transactions and scaling. The 4C platform could be populated with an ecosystem of apps that enable undertaking the myriad aspects and facets that encompass a city becoming emission free. For example, integrated with the GPS inventory and asset mappings are continuously updated technical assessments and economic benefits, new financing options, assessing local and regional job generation, and monitoring emission, pollution and waste reductions. 4C also can readily incorporate the digital tools for monitoring numerous metrics and indicators, as well as serving training needs, tracking diverse results, gathering evidence-based insights, and sharing a multitude of new, proven innovations (technical, marketing, organizational, policy) displayed with user-friendly interfaces and dashboards to facilitate and catalyze interaction, sharing, and communication.
4C could also serve as a highly effective way to rapidly advance revenue neutral carbon fee-and-dividends, as well as the “Conservative Case for Carbon Dividends” that an eminent group of leaders have called for through the Climate Leadership Council. 4C could help rapidly advance the case to campuses and cities, as well as communicate its salience to the far larger number of citizens, many of whom will be users of 4C to become effective local change agents.
5. Reasons for Success
There are numerous reasons inspiring confidence that 4C can respectably succeed, and with luck, potentially experience a “viral spiral” exponentially driving super-successful results:
· Consistent polls show the majority of citizens are now concerned or worried about climate destabilization, and support actions to reduce risks.
· There is overwhelming public support for solar and wind power (even people indifferent to or skeptical of climate risks), and 4C provides the platform network to assess how much community-scale solar power and ultra-efficient electrification are locally available.
· Young people express and demonstrate more concern than older folks.
· Young people are the adepts at using the Internet and apps as a normal part of daily life.
· Upwards of 10,000 cities and campuses worldwide are signatories to achieving deep emission reduction targets, and are now figuring out how to do this in a fiscally prudent and financially attractive manner. That is a core part of the 4C mission to make such knowledge available.
· Hundreds of non-profit organizations and consulting firms are focused on promoting climate solution services, but none have harnessed the power of a COIN distributed network for scaling and accelerating results. All will benefit from access to and interaction with the 4C COIN.
· Thousands of businesses offer highly competitive climate solution products and services, and hundreds of corporations are committing to go 100 percent renewable powered given the economic benefits. 4C offers a robust communication network for distributing the lessons learned so others can take advantage of best-in-play procedures, practices and products, while avoiding reinventing the wheel with outdated and sub-optimal approaches.
· Military services are the most aggressive in converting all bases, installations and facilities to “islandable” microgrids, capable of operating even when the grid or pipelines collapse, whether due to climate-triggered disasters or from malicious cyberattacks. This is a resilient economic security model (and a rich source of knowledge resources) for civilian institutions to emulate that 4C helps catalyze.
· More than 630 institutional investors with $37 trillion in assets have stepped up action on climate change, and are seeking best available knowledge on where and in what to invest, which 4C can provide up-to-date insights.
· $100 trillion is going to be spent on new energy services in the coming decades, and it is in the vested interests of campuses and communities to make the case for investing the majority in locally based solar and wind powered, ultra-efficient electrification systems. The 4C knowledge library is pivotal to helping local campuses and cities in this decision-making process.
6. ROLL OUT
4C is designed for scaling while enabling it to dynamically adapt and evolve as experience and evidence indicate additional best-in-play opportunities. While seeding and nurturing the platform’s growth is stored in the cloud and accessible by anyone with a smartphone or computer, it gets anchored on and flourishes through campuses and cities.
While there is no need for a centralized location, 4C growth would be greatly assisted by locating on campuses already immersed in the pursuit of emission-free campuses and surrounding cities (e.g., 700 signatories to the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, representing 6 million students).
Table 1. Pollutants examined and their major impacts
Prepared by Michael P Totten, founder and CEO of AssetsforLife. He is the co-author of Climate For Life: Meeting the Global Challenge (2008), and author of Energy-Wise Options for State and Local Governments (1990), The Road to Trillion Dollar Energy Savings (1984), among many others. He co-led development of the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Standards in 2010. Totten wrote the 220pp Global Warming Prevention Act of 1989, introduced by U.S. Congresswoman Claudine Schneider (R-RI) ,and cosponsored by one-third of the U.S. House of Representatives. He received the 1999 Lewis Mumford Prize given by the Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility, for pioneering the use of digital media and the Internet in the 1990s to catalyze ecologically sustainable practices and policies city-wide to worldwide. Totten served as Executive Director of President Carter’s Clearinghouse for Community Energy Efficiency in the late 1970s.
 In the technical terminology of platforms, delivering “value through interactions, content curation, value orchestration, networks, etc.,” Infotech Research Group (2020) Drive Digital Transformation with Platform Strategies: Innovate and transform your business models with digital platforms.