Posted by Admin for Jeremy:
I’d like to (start a) conversation to discuss specifics a bit. I’m interested to know what specific policies we are all in favor of the government enacting to make headway in this problem, and which are to be deemed ineffective or unworkable.
Before listing my own picks, I’m going to qualify: I think it’s far more effective to petition a local or state government on these issues than it is to petition the Federal Government. Let me explain. The Federal Government is massive, unwieldy and sluggish when compared to its constituent parts. It is as if a battleship trying to turn itself around on a dime, whereas the states – scooners or yachts if you will – are more easily influenced. States have fewer demographics to appease, fewer ‘moving parts’; they are more vulnerable to political action than the hulking behemoths of the United States of America’s Legislative Branch, and its Executive Branch, which are solidifying, over time, into a non-zero sum game of two-party, nobody-finally-wins, nobody-finally-loses politics.
So my suggestions for policy will focus only on what has so far worked for city and town governments, though I have great faith in political action directed at the state as well.
I adamantly support government action, and organized activism to this end, that focuses on promoting the sorts of markets and plans of action listed below. All of them are conducive to massive reductions in GHG output:
* In Transportation:
– Subways: residents of cities without cars spend something like 1/4 or 1/3 the carbon of suburbanites on average, and public rail is one of the main reasons. The better the subways in cities, the lesser the footprint.
– Bike Riding: cities can support this by reserving clear bike paths, beautifying them, and even by implementing larger scale projects like bike-sharing, citywide… one company that does this is PBSC; they’ve installed infrastructure in Montreal, Toronto, London and Melbourne, among a few others, to great success.
– High-Speed Rail: high-speed rail is estimated to reduce carbon output to 1/3 of the amount of output necessary for traditional rail travel. Commuter rail, in particular, is used daily by millions of Americans. The project being pushed by the Obama administration is a jump start (to say nothing of Obama’s administration’s choices otherwise).
– Car-Sharing: Zipcar is the heaviest hitter on this, with 75% of global market share. Car-sharing is estimated to reduce driving hours by about 80% for the average urban dweller… government support of these systems could be a huge step in sustainable development.
– Plug-in Infrastructure (for hybrids and electric vehicles): California is already starting on this. The East Coast needs to get started, too. The electricity still comes from the wrong places right now, but once the infrastructure’s in place, we can later more easily transition to clean power, and then use it to drive. Cars on the road will continue to increase over the coming decades; this measure is indispensable.
– “Cash for Clunkers”: The government can offer tax breaks or direct payments to encourage citizens to turn in their fuel-inefficient car to be recycled for materials.
* In Water Use:
– Rainwater Capture: This is a huge one. Hundreds of billions of gallons of rainwater fall to earth every year, meanwhile, we expend billions of tons of carbon pumping water into cities from elsewhere. This is a massive failure of efficiency. The New York DEC is currently working on implementing this in several places – in the City, and at least in Onandooga County as well.
* In Energy:
– Homebuilding: the government has power to provide tasty rebates for homeowners for outfitting homes with new insulation, caulking windows, and otherwise improving home energy use. This almost happened in the form of “Cash for Caulkers” back in 2010, but it hasn’t seen the light of day yet…
– Government Energy Use: Most government buildings in the States don’t operate at optimum energy efficiency; they’re just old. In NYC for example, government and institutional buildings constitute almost 18% of total. The government has direct control, at the very least, over how much energy it uses; it can and should cut back.
* In Waste Management:
– Landfilling: Massive amounts of trash are managed my major cities every day, in the billions of tons nationwide. This trash has to go somewhere – in many places it is actually shipped out of state, and sometimes several states away. This could be avoided if local landfills or, better yet, Waste-To-Energy power plants were installed locally. If movements to finance these are available in our areas, I feel they deserve utmost support.
The U.S. EPA offers statistics on what parts of the country – what states and what cities – are responsible for the most flagrant GHG emissions. If political action is have lasting impact in the states – whether that action be directed at the local, the State or the Federal government – it will have to address emissions reductions especially in these areas. I submit that it would be easier and more effective to engage those governments directly, as opposed to engaging the much larger, much more powerful, and much more politically entrenched Federal Government, which would then be expected to handle the logistics of intervening in affairs of state governance, most likely also threatening the GDP-per-capita of those states’ populations, by regulating their economies against their will.
The Sagebrush Rebellion has established a precedence for states to rebel against the Federal Government on these matters. Substantial support for States’ rights exists in both houses of Congress. I doubt very much that legislation allowing the Federal Government to overrule states on the use of their own land has any hope of being passed in both houses… at least not in our current political climate.
By appealing to cities and states, not the Federal government, we appeal to less powerful, more easily-influenced political bodies. And should enough of these smaller bodies come around, it would indeed, then be more feasible to appeal to the Federal Government for more widespread plans of action.