Federal government has spread its tentacles far too deeply into our society and economy, but there are some areas where government has a duty to encourage moves in certain directions. Federal action is justified when it is directed at security and long-term sustainability. Indeed, the Constitution directs our government to “provide for the general welfare,” meaning to assure the well-being of the general populace. I believe at this juncture it is appropriate for our federal government to spend taxpayer money in the form of a “green” stimulus, to help transition our energy paradigm from one of inefficiency and fossil fuel dependence to one of energy efficiency and renewable energy. It is not enough to rely on market forces, especially considering the current turmoil.
A common charge against our government is that it “throws money” at things, with varying results. While this is often true, in some cases federal funding is beneficial. Consider funding of scientific research. Medical or drug research is motivated by industry profits, but there is little incentive in the market to understand our natural world. Understanding our natural world (physics, astronomy, biology, etc.) is beneficial to humankind and the environment which we depend on. While I am generally opposed to much of our military activity, it is well known that military research and development has given us many of our most valuable technologies such as the Global Positioning System. Market forces and business interests do not always provide the opportunity for society to advance, as short-term profits and stock portfolios are generally at odds with holistic sustainability. Business interests too often have a case of myopia and are not working in the interest of “the general welfare.”
Considering the absence of long-term vision and sustainability in the business world, the federal government should embark on a massive initiative to “green” our society and economy. The current climate of economic uncertainty, job losses, and geopolitical unrest is a good time to prod this kind of change. We know that fossil fuels are finite. We depend on other parts of the world, including the tinderbox of the Middle East, to run our transportation economy, and we cannot come close to satisfying our demand by domestic production. Coal is plentiful but still finite, and current extraction by “mountaintop removal” literally lays waste to huge areas of pristine environment. We are aware of all the negative consequences of fossil fuel dependence, so it is foolish to continue the status quo. But waiting on the market to cause a lasting shift will not be sufficient. The price of oil skyrocketed in recent years, which did cause us to reduce consumption and look to better efficiency, but look how quickly the price of oil dropped in 2008. This volatility is not a reliable catalyst for fundamental change. The change to efficiency and renewable energy sources will take decades to complete, and we cannot be left scrambling for a fix down the road.
By making large investments in a paradigm of renewable energy produced at home, we can spur the creation of jobs while gradually reducing toxic pollution and land degradation. Imagine the confidence that will build in this nation when we are producing most of our own energy. Imagine not having to spend billions of dollars securing and protecting oil infrastructure around the world. In the U.S.A there is a strong sense of “rugged individualism” or self-reliance, yet as a nation we have steadily moved away from this. If the government is going to spend massive amounts of money, let it be in the effort to regain our self-reliance. Let's put people to work in developing and maintaining solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, wave and tidal energy.
The other side of this “green” coin is energy efficiency. In the realm of development and construction, the normal business model seems to favor the cheapest possible starting cost in terms of materials and design. This means that efficiency is not a primary concern, which translates into more energy use and higher operating costs. With government measures such as incentives, grants, and possible regulations we can bypass this unsustainable practice while increasing demand for materials and services that provide efficiency. This would reduce our energy consumption and possibly alleviate some of the pain of high, volatile fossil fuel prices during the transition. It would ideally become a trend and eventually the norm to do things this way. There are current incentives for efficiency, but a massive increase in this, along with President Obama using the bully pulpit to promote efficiency, would help to bring us out of our wasteful, unsustainable mode of energy consumption. From what I understand, part of Obama's “green” stimulus would be to make government buildings and operations much more efficient. This, along with current organizations promoting efficiency, would provide a model for future projects.
In essence, I am saying that federal government should provide a jolt in the direction of renewable energy and efficiency. The technology is there; it just needs help being delivered. Once this paradigm takes hold, business in renewables and efficiency will become self-sustaining. In the current economic meltdown we are doing some soul-searching, as the business giants of yesterday find themselves face down in the dirt. A rebirth is coming and it needs to be prodded in the direction of long-term sustainability and energy security.Tweet