Saturday, January 1, 2011

Common ground on climate change policies?

I'm not going to waste my time debating climate science with people who wish to remain willfully ignorant (and there are lots of them!).  But that doesn't mean we can't find some common ground between the "greens" and the "deniers" and work to enact policies that will benefit all.  To boil the whole issue down, there are those who want us to reduce carbon emissions to lessen mankind's impact on the climate and those whose primary interest is increasing economic activity with little or no regard how it might affect the climate.  Currently, the main green initiatives involve making energy more expensive to force reduced consumption.  It would accomplish that, but in doing so it would kill off a good chunk of the economy, which is why many on the other side want to derail this agenda. But perhaps there is a strategy in which both sides could acheive their goals; Lower consumption of energy and economic growth.  

This will require a different focus than just making energy more expensive for consumers via fees and taxes.  The key is to focus on reducing waste in fuel usage.  Reducing waste will lead to lower consumption.  Taken far enough we could create downward price pressure on the energy market. Lower prices on energy would benefit all individuals and companies that buy fuel and it could also help generate investment for a new energy infrastructure to help us wean off the ICE and ring in the era of the electric vehicle.  We need to invest enormous sums of public and private capital into new efficient facilities and energy infrastructure but there won't be any capital to invest if Government approaches this problem by simply increasing energy costs to consumers.     

But how can the Government actually do anything to help reduce waste in energy usage?  To date, the Government has focused on forcing vehicle manufacturers to design, build and sell more fuel-efficient vehicles.  The problem with that approach is that it takes many years to turn over the fleet and as vehicles get more efficient, there will be diminishing returns in efficiency gains.  Its a very slow process and time is something we don't have.  To reduce waste quickly, we need to identify how fuel is used in a non-productive manner right now and find ways to reduce or eliminate those causes. These efforts would provide immediate benefits to the environment and to consumers and Government can play an important role here.

I've listed a few low-tech but far-reaching strategies that would go a long way to reducing waste and cutting our Nation's fuel consumption and carbon emissions.  There won't be any silver-bullet solutions, rather hundreds of small ideas that chip away at the waste.  Here are a few:
  • Get the local road crews in cities across the USA to time the stoplights at the major intersections to improve traffic flow.  All those cars and trucks stopping and starting at successive red lights wastes fuel.  This would also make our roads and intersections safer.   
  • Reduce the US Mail delivery from 6 days per week down to 3 days a week.  Every other day would be adequate.  What arrives in the mailbox mostly ends up in the trash anyway.      
  • Promote 4 day school weeks where feasible to reduce busing costs and building utilities.
  • Promote 4 day work weeks where feasible to reduce commuting costs and utilities. 
  • Improve traffic flow around highway construction zones.  The long traffic back-ups can be prevented if there is a good plan for merging lanes efficiently.
Shouldn't people who call themselves conservatives promote policies that actually conserve something?  Wouldn't it be beneficial to the USA to reduce our dependence on foreign oil?  If anyone should be on board with the green agenda, it should be conservatives.  Perhaps if they can be shown how reducing energy waste will put more money in their pocket, they will stop dragging their feet and join the effort.

An interesting point is that to enact initiatives such as these, Democratic Party leaders would upset part of their traditional voting bloc.  To date the Democrats and the Left have conveniently laid the blame for excess energy consumption and carbon emissions with unscrupulous "greedy" corporations, but the truth is if we want to reduce carbon emissions, it will eventually affect the employment status of a number of core constituencies of the Left.  It remains to be seen how committed the green political leaders will remain to this cause when the elimination of waste starts to affect the union rank and file. Perhaps that is one more reason conservatives might decide to promote waste reduction efforts, to see just how committed their political opponents are to this mission that allegedly transcends politics.

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