- M. Harrington wrote:
Seriously, I believe the way to get through the coming money/energy
transition is to go back, in certain respects, to 1940, at a lower BTU
per capita ratio.
Although it would be dramatic to most people (at least in terms of the
amount of motoring), going back to 1940's level of per-capita energy
consumption sounds like a reasonable start to me. That is based on my
belief that high levels of consumption are unhealthy for both the
environment and people.
The only ways such a reduction in energy use would happen are
1) a great increase in the real price of using energy,
2) near universal changes in what people value,
3) or some strict system of rationing.
(Ending the special plum of a tax write-off for the most polluting
SUVs and ending agricultural subsidies are necessary policy changes
that also come to mind.)
Giving people the option of bus or train travel doesn't significantly
reduce the number of miles driven. That is the safe assumption. Even
as some people learn to appreciate these alternatives for their daily
lives, others are always ready to start driving, drive more, or drive
something bigger to take advantage of any freed up space on the road.
I'm not in favor of using 3) because rationing is generally an
inefficient way of achieving goals and we have no very recent
widespread experience with it. I don't know of any success with 2),
although I'm not opposed to a bit of preaching. The idea that less
for one's-self could be good runs counter to cultural conditioning and
probably our evolutionary inheritance.
That leaves 1), increasing the real price of using energy. While an
increase in taxes on energy would be popular with environmentalists,
taxes are unpopular with the broader public. Environmentally
justified taxes seem to be under vigorous attack by influential
special interests. (Consider Bush's lobbying of Putin to withdraw
from the Kyoto protocol. Consider the Swartzeneger governorship).
Despite the opposition, diverting motor fuel tax revenues away from
road building and into health and environmental remediation is such a
good idea, that its opponents may lose in time.
Parking fees, tolls and congestion pricing also increase the cost of a
polluting activity, but their main purposes are the more efficient use
of land and peoples time.
Perhaps we aren't hearing one another. I think that much scarcer
fossil fuel would be a good thing. That would relieve us of part of
the big problem of making its responsible management (for the
environment) a reality. It would also relieve us of some of the bad
potential consequences of failing.
Higher energy prices wouldn't the problem; they would be part of the
solution. However, if we mistakenly think the price increase will
occur naturally, we are losing much of the motivation for difficult
and, likely, necessary political fights.