“No policy – no matter how ingenious – has any chance of success if it is born in the minds of a few and carried in the hearts of none.”–Henry Kissinger
Policies, laws, and regulations are the foundation upon which every society is built. They bring order to chaos and enumerate the values of the people. But what happens when policies lack foresight? A foundation needs to fit the building above it, after all. In today’s rapidly changing world, it’s more important than ever that lawmakers keep one eye to the future or they risk implementing legislation for a world that no longer exists.
The question is particularly pertinent with regard to two key issues facing us in the twenty-first century: climate change and cybersecurity. In both cases, experts explain, lawmakers should be looking to take a proactive, rather than reactive, approach. Just as regular cancer screenings can reduce the ultimate cost of treatment, preventative policies on energy and cybersecurity will save society money in the long run.
From the student climate strikes spearheaded by sixteen-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg to the Global Engagement Summit led by United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres, and Ambassador Jonathan R. Cohen, Acting Permanent Representative of the United States to the UN, the growing threat of climate change and the urgent need to adapt efficiently, renewable energy sources are dominating conversations worldwide.
“We need greater initiatives,” says Oksana Prysyazhnyuk, an international business strategist and policy consultant. “Capturing emissions instead of switching to alternative sources of energy, such as solar and wind, is essential today. Due to the increasing levels of pollution and the low current rate of penetration of renewables, questions about the huge land footprint, transmission infrastructure, and intermittent nature of solar/wind resources need to be addressed.”While long-term promises are inspiring, they must be supported by practical, short-term policies that incentivize weaning off environmentally harmful energy sources and developing more efficient renewable energy sources.
The process is not without its challenges. Prysyazhnyuk notes that “in 2017, despite governmental support, wind and solar accounted for only 3.1% of total U.S. energy supply.” Part of the problem is infrastructure: “To replace a typical gas power plant of around 1000MW capacity with solar power, three to four thousand acres of land would are needed, an increase of 100 to 200 times the land requirement of a gas plant,” Prysyazhnyuk explains.
And then there is the matter of getting the energy produced to the consumers who will use it. Although countries like Costa Rica and Portugal have made headlines for producing nearly all of their power from renewable sources, the United States faces unique challenges, in part because of its immense physical size. The windiest or sunniest areas in the U.S.are located far from electric load centers (e.g., the windiest areas of the U.S. are in the Great Plains of North/South Dakota and Montana, while the highest insolation regions are typically in the Nevada/Arizona high deserts). These areas need to be connected to population load centers via thousands of miles of high voltage transmission lines, which in turn require a plethora of environmental permits that can surpass similar issues for hydrocarbon pipelines.
Nonetheless, supplying all of America’s electricity with renewable energy is not only possible but urgently necessary. Prysyazhnyuk clarifies that solar and wind do not provide 100% reliable energy nowadays and a full switch to these sources will take a long time. In the meantime, policies must also focus on limiting the impact of the most harmful energy sources, such as coal. Within the power sector, coal accounts for 98% of Sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions, 94% of mercury emissions, 86% of Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) emissions—while only accounting for 14% of all energy sources in the U.S. There is a great need to reduce energy produced from coal and ensure more efficient emissions capture from existing coal plants.
“Effective policymaking will have far-reaching effects and will bring innovative solutions to the most pressing environmental issues of our time,” Prysyazhnyuk says. She points to the improved success of the 1990 Clean Air Act when compared with the 1960 version as proof that well-designed policies can have profound effects on the ground. “For the first time, the 1990 Act gave businesses the ability to bank and trade emissions quotas. This new policy paradigm enabled environmentally friendly businesses to monetize their existing best practices, as well as to encourage other enterprises to adopt eco-friendly measures based on the market-based incentives”.
In addition to climate change, cybersecurity poses a novel and growing threat to American society. According to Ross Den, Security and Defense Solutions Consultant with Security Intel Inc. “We are facing an ongoing and increasing environment of Cyber Security attacks against the international affairs, energy, banking, and intellectual property sectors.”Most of the attacks are thought to come from countries who stand to make money off the incursions—Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, and other developing countries. Already, stealth attacks of Western infrastructure is a benchmark of many states’ policies. Although direct and expeditious responses to such attacks are a daily staple in the American security machine, there is a more sophisticated option available: prevention, via proper monitoring and proactive measures. Security controls can detect, avoid, and minimize risk to nearly every imaginable sphere, including physical property, information, computer systems, and other assets.
So what’s the hold-up? “While these ideas all have a nice ring to them, companies and governments rarely develop and revise their long-term policies. Pure bureaucracy is the main enemy of each entire system, from energy source diversifications to cybersecurity. We have the invariable problem of policies and regulations that cannot grasp the speed of the modern world,” Prysyazhnyuk contends. “When all these broader technical factors are considered, the complete switch to renewable energy and secure society might take longer to occur. A strict, one-size-fits-all policy to unilaterally reduce the use of fossil fuels, such as higher taxes on petroleum, can provoke chaos, as we have observed in France. Instead, a more nuanced approach that reflects a sound understanding by policymakers of the contributions and challenges of the diverse energy sources would be far more effective. It will play its advantage in preserving the long-term health of the global environment while simultaneously nurturing critical economic development for the world’s most vulnerable people in a responsible manner.”