??! Where Do We Need The Action – The Feds, The States, The Cities ??!

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.

3 Responses to “??! Where Do We Need The Action – The Feds, The States, The Cities ??!”

  1. Jerome Wagner says:

    For me, the question of whether the climate stabilization effort is incepted and driven from some level of government goes back to: what gets us there faster and with greatest assurance of effective and permanent success. Beyond that is the question of how to represent ourselves to the world – they are party to this thing in bearing the effects and helping to compose the ultimate solution and they need to know that the whole of US society is taking responsible action to address the situation…

    On the first point of rapidity of deployment: I betray naivete– call it idealism – in suggesting the US government can really do this. Structurally, though, that is the “node” at which to establish policy, direct funding, establish the mindset – for a national program. Further, with their “tax-and-spend”authority, they generate the revenue needed for retooling of mass transit, subsidizing of essential infrastructure, funding of research. Not having data at hand, I can only speculate that the income from sales and property taxes at the municipal level are insufficient to make the physical changes needed here; further, those funds are in beneficial use already. I’d advocate a shift in spending from the federally-sponsored military industry towards renewables…

    Understood: Today, federal politics and legislative mechanisms are totally fouled up. If we have to rely on them, well, then, yes, the next best thing is local and regional politics. A parallel track needs to be the re-claiming of democracy; or, the re-unification of the American people;or, …

    On some hands, I’m not sure if Jeremy espouses doing away with the federal government – I mean, if it can’t deal with our critical problems, then why have it? If the “Nation” is broken, …

    One attribute of the current federal system is that monopolistic entities – e.g., the US Chamber of Commerce, the fossil fuel lobbies – can now influence policy and cash flow very effectively – they can camp out in DC and focus on the Congress. One thought is whether, if states started to wield more power and influence on such things as carbon-reduced services, those monopolistic entities would increasing corrupt those local processes and render them as ineffective as their federal counterparts. Where their interests remain un-tempered by overarching policy, won’t they just redeploy wherever they need to to assure their continuity? I suppose that my net statement is: at whatever level entrenched, old-guard, moneyed industries are allowed to disproportionately influence the political (majority rule) process, inaction can be expected. Besides the opportunity for tampering at the local level by industry concerns, there is the very real possibility that local benefits would be washed out, reversed, or even sabotaged by the federal government, whetherat the beck-and-call of industry or due to other inscrutable “logic” born out of swarms of competing interests.

    Another naivete: I wish we were all on the same page in the songbook, pulling for the same team, etc.

    To the extent that local-thru-state governments can function to the benefit of society, I say, “Great! Go for it!” I just don’t think that is enough. Many of the issues we need to break through are societal and national – cultural – in scope: our “disposables” mentality, national distribution models, de-regionalized food production, … There must be half a dozen examples to cite…!!

    Further, it’s not enough for individual towns, municipalities, and states to be “on-board:” the whole country needs to be. Modeling by the pro-active to the in-active isn’t compelling enough to kick the in-active into action: other pressures are needed…

    I don’t disagree with the projects and directions Jeremy suggests. However, some will involve large amounts of money to implement; e.g.,expansion of light rail and implementation of high-speed rail. Can these be effected in the absence of federal funding or guarantees (I don’t know the answer)?

    In comparing the carbon-foot-print of city-dweller with suburbanites, are we suggesting that we need to de-populate the ‘burbs? I’m OK with that (though I do enjoy my current wooded locale of Wayne NJ): I love a walk-able lifestyle. Or, replacing not just clunkers but also the 2011-model-year BMW’s with bikes? I know – I’m pushing the limits of civility here… To be clear: From a personal standpoint, I feel that the elimination of conspicuous consumption, simplification of lifestyle, forego-ence of (some) conveniences, limitations on personal income and financial holdings, equitable opportunity for all, humane supports for those in need, etc. – are all essential here and do enter into the vision for the New World…

    A technical note: On the subject of waste-to-energy projects, I would stipulate that all angles of such projects be adequately envisioned and solutioned – as for incoming material handling and avoidance of toxic emissions to the environment. We really don’t need the analogue of “scrubber slurry and ash impoundments” or mercury emissions as in the coal-burning power industry or “spent fuel holding ponds” as at Indian-Point-Nuclear-on-the-Hudson or “toxics’ laden frac fluids” of shale gas development.

    That was invigorating!

    Let’s hear other voices…

  2. Jeremy Simpson says:

    I’ll try to respond a little shorter this time around (though I don’t think it’ll work 😉 ):

    “For me, the question of whether the climate stabilization effort is incepted and driven from some level of government goes back to: what gets us there faster and with greatest assurance of effective and permanent success.”

    – THIS is the perfect question to begin with. This can actually be determined by some very large calculation of Expected Utility, though at the moment I don’t have the tools to construct more than the general skeleton of it. The concept behind it (for those not acquainted with the concept) is to calculate the expected utility derived from several different plans of action, based on the likelihood (probability) of their respective possible payoffs.

    My hypothesis is – and am still open to being shown the error of my logic, by way of some research – that the probability of achieving small results on the local- or state-levels are higher than those of achieving large results on the national level, and that the calculated expected utility for these two courses of action – which would require much more research than I presently have on the subject, and a more mathematical tools – weigh in favor of more local action. That is, the expected payoff for fighting climate change is higher by focusing on where we are more certain our energies will be useful. This is actually a basic, risk-averse investment concept: lower returns that are more reliable tend overall to lead to higher success rates – note the word ‘rates’, not values – than higher returns that are statistically unreliable.

    “Structurally, though, is the “node” at which to establish policy, direct funding, establish the mindset – for a national program. Further, with their “tax-and-spend”authority, they generate the revenue needed for retooling of mass transit, subsidizing of essential infrastructure, funding of research.”

    – I agree that the federal government has great power to set examples, but I think it’s rather true that investment in state government is literally “more direct” – the money has to be used in collaboration with those government’s existing policies anyway; I think it more efficient and direct to outsource the choice of program and the logistics thereof, to them, though we could certainly benefit from the federal government stipulating that all states have to do ‘something’. It also need be noted that states have “tax-and-spend authority” as well (we pay taxes to them too), though perhaps I’m missing your meaning by this term.

    Remember that this is not so much a problem of “the red states (or the capitalist leaders of our major corporations, or whoever) are idealistically opposed to sustainable practices”, but rather one of “it is not economically lucrative for them to do so, so they’re choosing (self-servingly) to work in the interest of their bottom line rather than of our children’s future, and are using idealism as an excuse in some cases”. I view this as if they actually (hard as it may seem to see it this way) need our help, as progressive thinkers, to figure out HOW to make their businesses run sustainably.

    Also – to reference Jeffrey Sachs – the importance of geographical differences are key. Every state has a different set of geography, resources, demographics, and existing problems to manage. I think they understand these dynamics, as a rule, better than the federal government does – there is less of a learning curve for them, and therefore less cost.

    “I’d advocate a shift in spending from the federally-sponsored military industry towards renewables…”

    – I agree. It’s beyond me to construct the epic calculation required to determine how much utility is actually gained by that present military budget right now. Remember that the States basically foots the bill for a huge portion of international defense – in particular for Europe – worldwide, despite obvious and unacceptable encroachments in some places – like Vietnam, Panama, and Iraq. Maintaining the present balance of power does, however prevent entire economies from crashing, allows for improved trade and wellbeing between regions, and prevents lesser-developed nations from committing mass genocides, etc. – remember Rwanda; this resulted from a failure of military intervention on behalf of NATO, and intervention wouldn’t be possible at all without the existence of said standing military in the first place.

    Remember also that our national deficit is out of control right now; the government is already deadlocked on how to cut down enough to make us credit-worthy (we’re AA+ now with S&P because of this). Congress is trying to make headway on this, without even taking into consideration spending money on climate change. How much hope does it seem there will be for headway to be made considering a whole slew of additional costs to boot, if they can’t even balance their budget without considering these massive outlays that are assumed to be necessary for the government to meaningfully combat climate change?

    This is why I advocate making these policies economical for government, by formulating cheap business-style plans – including large-scale, multi-regional business plans – around sustainability.

    “On some hands, I’m not sure if Jeremy espouses doing away with the federal government – I mean, if it can’t deal with our critical problems, then why have it? If the “Nation” is broken, …”

    – I certainly do not advocate the dissolution of the federal government. (By espousing a heavily economy-centric, not government-centric view of solutions to climate change, I’m often mistaken for a Republican, and I am certainly not one, especially on social acceptance issues.) However, the federal government was initially designed not as an overarching system of control over the states; it was designed – if you read up on the creation of the constitution, regarding which I can provide several resources – to smooth relations between the mostly autonomous state governments, and to handle ‘international’ politics. At the time, the creation of even the first National Bank was controversial; most state administrations didn’t trust this.

    I’m just saying that “we can’t judge a fish by how well it climbs trees.” I feel the federal government is designed, much as the EU is, to merely cement together our state governments, to support their own efforts to improve the welfare of their people, and to handle foreign affairs. I support some social welfare programs – I’m honestly not explicitly sure which ones yet; I’m holding out for more info – and I support government intervention in particularly heinous crimes against humanity AND nature – and yes, this is one of those heinous issues. I merely lack faith in the federal government, from a mechanical standpoint, to make headway on this; for at least two decades it has demonstrated its inability to move on the climate change issue. I think OUR energies are better spent pushing on a different part of this wall if we intend on knocking it down.

    “I suppose that my net statement is: at whatever level entrenched, old-guard, moneyed industries are allowed to disproportionately influence the political (majority rule) process, inaction can be expected.”

    – I wholly agree. However, most state governments are simply smaller than the federal government, and many are controlled by literal aristocracies cloaked within representative politics. My hypothesis is that their relative simplicity compared to the national government – and their relative privacy, and lower responsibility to make the entire population of the States, and the population of the world as a whole, happy – make them easier to manipulate from OUR vantage point, and that of our respective activist groups.

    “Another naivete: I wish we were all on the same page in the songbook, pulling for the same team, etc.”

    – I’d like to make clear that we ARE all on the same team! It may, in fact, be more efficient – a diversified approach if you will – that we hold different opinions on how to go about solving this problem, and that we are severally committed to aggressively carrying our our respective approaches.

    These debates exist within a sort of ‘dome of silence’ as far as I’m concerned. As far as federal-directed activism for the environment on anyone’s part is concerned: I fully, publicly support this. I merely debate its usefulness here, in this relatively enclosed forum, because I feel we are all indeed on the same team, and that we are critically strategizing to best achieve our goal. In public, I will of course sign or verbally support any endeavor, by anyone, to pass meaningful federal-level legislation to support environmental sustainability.

    “To the extent that local-thru-state governments can function to the benefit of society, I say, “Great! Go for it!” I just don’t think that is enough.”

    – I agree, and fear for this. It may not be enough. The question remains: if we must rely on federal-level action, how do you propose we, as citizens, engineer this massive overhaul of the existing system, if not incrementally, on more local levels? (or at least beginning on the local level) I’m interested in the technical plan for getting the federal government to change its legislature; I want to see how this movement to significantly alter the system can work in the real world, if I am to support it… My research indicates that seismic change in government only happens in two ways: through war (be it external or internal) or in times of great prosperity (wherein there is much less pressure on the government to remain as it is and rely on what’s proven to work). We are presently not in a time of (perceived) great prosperity, and I do not support internal war.

    “Many of the issues we need to break through are societal and national – cultural – in scope: our “disposables” mentality, national distribution models, de-regionalized food production, … There must be half a dozen examples to cite…!!”

    – I agree. Again: How, if not incrementally?

    “…expansion of light rail and implementation of high-speed rail. Can these be effected in the absence of federal funding or guarantees…”

    – They currently – at least under THIS administration – ARE supported by money from the federal government. But they require states to agree to the program. If you look up news on the high-speed rail, you’ll see that some states have agreed to the rail, others have not (I think Florida has refused).

    “In comparing the carbon-foot-print of city-dweller with suburbanites, are we suggesting that we need to de-populate the ‘burbs?”

    – I believe we should encourage urbanization. Far smaller carbon-footprint for urban-dwellers.

  3. Tara says:

    “I believe the children are our are future
    Teach them well and let them lead the way”

    We may never change the brittle minds of rich old men but if we can boil the message down to reach the minds of the very young, change will flow. It doesn’t hurt to have a simple message to reach the average person either, think about how smart the average person is, well, half of the population is even not that smart.

    Maybe imagine a campaign of animated characters who “get” the challenge and come up with creative answers can make the power of an individual a heroic quest to change the world.

    The other place to focus on is TV news and newspapers. Conservatives have been planting their version of things successfully for years. They take advantage of the cutbacks on reporters and writers, offering the already produced segment that can be woven in to look seem-less to the viewer.

    Getting some young professional or hopeful filmmakers and animators on board would be a fine thing. Also video games.

    Don’t forget, Michael Moore got Walmart to stop selling bullets.

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