Editor’s note: Written 8 years ago but timely as ever.
Environmentalists may not be happy with some of the solutions to climate change. In a recent article in Wired Magazine, “Inconvenient Truths: Get Ready to Rethink What It Means to Be Green”, the top 10 ways to save the planet are likely to drive environmentalists crazy. Calling for Greens to unite around the issue of greenhouse gasses, the article makes the case for public policies that favor nuclear energy and urban density. The outcry from readers was memorable as they criticized the single mindedness of the article, its lack of supporting data, its in-your-face sensationalism, and overall creepiness. Yet, the discussion of climate change and public policy does and should raise these most difficult issues as new reports show irreversible damage.
This article was joined by a piece by Paul Krugman, “Stranded in Suburbia”, offering a similar analysis of Going Green. Krugman is a well-known economist and columnist for The New York Times, but not widely know for this kind of article. Krugman talks about the Europe where gasoline can cost $8.00 per gallon and how Europeans are dealing with the challenge. Urban density is one answer, housing people where economies of scale can be applied and services can be centrally located.
Americans, Krugman argues, are fixated on the joys of suburban sprawl, with large houses, large lawns, large cars and large bills. Density for Americans is apt to evoke images of poverty and crime, decaying neighborhoods and lack of privacy and independence. When we are told that saving our environment and perhaps the planet could be expensive, there is a both a removal of personal responsibility and a willingness to do small things to help. We assume that there will be a tax burden, but it should be borne by faceless corporations and governments, not our own individual families.
That is not to say that we are unconcerned. Many of us are willing to buy the required light bulbs, take public transportation if available, buy a smaller car or a hybrid next time, buy organic produce and plant a tree on our property. Small acts will no doubt make a difference, but what about the bigger questions that the Wired Magazine article poses as it states, “Winning the war on global warming requires slaughtering some of environmentalism’s sacred cows.”
Here are some of the “tenets of the new environmental apostasy” that the magazine proposes: 1.) Move to the City: Urban density is better for the environment than suburban sprawl. 2.) Eat genetically- engineered Food: Super efficient engineered crops use fewer resources and produce more food than organic farming. 3). Ditch Carbon Credits: There is little evidence that the benefits of trading carbon credits are worth the effort. 4.) Buy a Used Car: It’s easier on the planet to recycle cars than to create new ones. 5.) Invest in Nuclear Power: Nuclear power is more planet-friendly than other fuel sources. 6.) Plan for Global Warming: It cannot be avoided. There are other comments that will no doubt infuriate readers, for example: use your air conditioning, it emits less carbon dioxide than heating.
These provocative ideas provide food for thought. In the interest of stirring up more debate, here are a few ideas related to public policy to consider: a.) Should we give tax incentives to communes that shares resources and grows food? b.) Should we tax suburbanites with a “sprawl tax” in order to encourage urban density? c.) Should we discourage cars of more than one or two per family with a luxury tax? d.) Should we raise the minimum driving age? e.) What kind of tax breaks should we give to individuals with solar panels, windmills, vegetable gardens?
Few of these issues were on my list of how to Go Green. Yes, I appreciated even more that the TVA is phasing out its coal production. But is their alternative of nuclear energy going to save the planet? I would have been totally mystified by the connection of nuclear power to going green. I’m still not happy about this but maybe it’s a case of ‘be careful of what you ask for.’