Sunday, April 22, 2007

Earth Day

Today is Earth Day. It seems to be one of the few holidays which doesn’t inspire department store sales, which is probably the reason it sort of slips by us. I mean, how many of us would care about Presidents Day without furniture sales? Hell, without the advertising, we would just be upset about the lack of mail deliveries.
I don’t think this is controversial, but I feel the need to say it – I like the Earth. All things considered, it’s been a pretty damn good planet. Sure, there’s no need for hurricanes and earthquakes and the like, but let’s face it, it’s the best planet around, between the atmosphere, water, and gravity, it’s been pretty damn hospitable. And we really don’t do much for it, do we? We dump garbage in the ocean, overwork the land, and God only knows the damage we’ve done to the atmosphere. We call it Mother Earth, yet we never call and never give it anything it wants, like a sound ozone layer. And except for the seven people who compost their garbage, we never take it to lunch.
We do seem to take it for granted. We insist on using our limited water supply on huge golf courses and lawns in areas of the country which rarely get enough rain to sustain them. For a while we seemed to stop tossing industrial waste into our rivers and streams, but not this century, since it allegedly would hurt our economy to tell businesses to do or not do, well, anything. Assuming global warming is happening and the effects of it will be significant, it seems to be time to get to work on water. Out here in the West, the problem could be severe. Population increases alone will put more pressure on the Colorado River than it can bear. Even if global warming is not as severe as expected, the decrease of the snow pack in the Sierras is inevitable, the only question is how bad it will be. This doesn’t just have an effect on the West – the price of food will not be limited to where it’s grown. To his credit, Arnold Schwarzenegger is talking about the situation and trying to find solutions, including dams. This is going to be a national crisis and requires a national solution, since it won’t be limited to one part of the nation. We need to work on desalinization and any other solutions which come to mind.
Speaking of minds, we need to give all the assorted Earth-related problems the mind power they deserve. We need to be prepared, we need to put think tanks to thinking and researchers to researching. This is more important than the space program, it’s more important than missile defense, it’s more important than anything. We can’t just plant trees and recycle anymore. We need fundamental change here. We need to change our cars, so they produce fewer hydrocarbons and, not coincidentally, use fewer fossil fuels. Ethanol is the solution the oil companies and agribusiness love, but it’s a sham, ridiculously expensive and affecting a minimal change on pollutants, when its manufacture is taken into account. We need to increase mileage standards on cars now – not a few miles per gallon, but 20 miles per gallon. We have to count every transportation vehicle sold, no exceptions for light trucks or SUVs when computing mileage standards. We need to make this country the engine of clean fuel and high mileage for the world, It’s good for the planet, good for our security (less oil) and even good for our economy. A couple of billion dollars a year dedicated to this could produce trillions in long term savings – it’s insane to just assume someone will figure this out. Bush talked about hydrogen cars in a State of the Union address, yet there has been no government involvement in this, just words.
We need to deal with power generation. Our fossil-fueled based system is not sustainable and while coal is fairly plentiful, the environmental cost there is huge. Renewables such as wind and water have a place, but can’t replace what we use. It’s time to think seriously about nuclear power. We need to put the best scientists in the world in a well-financed, intensive research project to deal with nuclear plant safety and even more important, nuclear waste disposal. When the Sierra Club starts talking about nuclear power as an option, you know that its time has arrived, but at this moment, the technology has not caught up with the need.
All these things require political will and all of us must join together. The environment can’t just be a liberal or Democratic issue, we all are part of this planet, we all have to make our leaders understand that this is as important as any issue they care about now. Hell, it’s more important – if Mother Earth dies, the only funeral will be ours.


Blogger sam.gurka5 said...

It is hard to find anything there with which I even remotely disagree. Conspicous by its absence is an increased tax on gasoline and I know why you left it out. Still, tax laws have always been used to effect social behavior e.g. real estate tax deductability to enhance home buying and higher education cost deductability to help send kids to college. An increased gas tax would cause consumers to drive less and/or buy more fuel efficient cars.

12:45 PM  
Blogger Barry Rubinowitz said...

There are a number of reasons I oppose higher gas taxes, which I have enumerated previously. I believe it to be the single most regressive tax imaginable, hitting the poorest Americans the hardest, to the point of being destructive. Therefore I considerate not merely ill-advised and economically unsound, but immoral.

3:49 PM  
Blogger sam.gurka5 said...

It is no more regressive than any other sales tax placed on a necessity and there could be ways to ameliorate the impact on the working poor. Part of the premise for the tax is that, with lower demand for oil and incentive to buy more fuel efficient cars, consumers would not be paying more per gallon than they would be without it.

11:54 AM  
Blogger Barry Rubinowitz said...

But the poor, the working poor in particular, will be hit very hard and don't have the option of buying a more fuel-efficient car. This is a tax proposed by elitists which totally ignores how working people live. It's another sign of a party which has lost touch with its working-class roots and should it become a Democratic party position it will lead to a crushing and well-deserved defeat.
And sales taxes placed on necessities are regressive and should not be used -- I have always been opposed to those as have most liberals.

1:12 PM  
Blogger sam.gurka5 said...

I am also not in favor of a sales tax on necessities but gas is a differnet item. It is a finite resource, whose use pollutes the enviroment and requires the U.S. to import it from unstable countries thereby projecting an interest in those regions where one would not otherwise exists. There are, as you mention in your original posting, alternatives which should be encouraged through taxation or tax incenives, if that is the only way to achieve the end result. I agree that the Democrats don't propose a tax increase on gas because it would be a losing issue. It is the same reason they don't propose gun control legislation with teeth or changes to the social security retirement ages all of which are morally defensiable positions but electoral losers. Therein lies the weakness of democracy i.e. the need to satisfy voters short term self interest at the expense of the country's long term health and welfare.

12:51 PM  
Blogger sam.gurka5 said...

I understand that Arnold is threatening to sue the EPA if they do not permit CA to move forward with new regulations reducing emission of CO2 gases from automobiles. While I do not know the details of the regulations, it seems, in principle, to be the right thing to do (the new regulations). Presumably, this imposes new standards on car manufacturers which are likely to increase their cost and the sales price of new cars. If so, how is this any different, or less regressive, than raising the tax on gas?

9:07 AM  
Blogger Barry Rubinowitz said...

First, the price increase on a new car is minimal relative to the overall price of the car. Second, poor and working poor people don't buy new cars, so it is an irrelavncy to them economically.

7:43 PM  

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