Friday, October 07, 2005

Friday Hope Blogging

Kevin Knobloch of the Union of Concerned Scientists points out that addressing global warming could reinvigorate the nation's economy. He'll get no argument from me; enthusiastic investment in new engineering, design, and manufacturing projects would create countless jobs and generate huge amounts of revenue.

Knoblach just as correctly sees accurate assessment of external costs as an essential step in improvong our situation:

What's needed, he said, is honest talk about the costs and benefits of our energy use.

All the costs of burning coal are not factored into its cost, from air pollution to respiratory problems to mercury in fish, he said, and the same is true with gasoline. Factor in the cost of defending the Middle East and the war in Iraq, and the price at the pump would be a lot higher.
The upshot - as we all know - is that business as usual under BushCo involves tremendous opportunity costs, in addition to its devastating external costs.

The logical solution is for states to ignore this administration's fanaticism and take the lead, both in terms of regulation and innovation. Fortunately, that's what's happening.
Dozens of states, frustrated over federal actions or inaction on the environment, are trying to fill the gap with their own green initiatives - or are filing lawsuits to block federal changes they say would weaken existing environmental regulations. In the past two years some 27 states have participated in at least a dozen major environmental initiatives - often lawsuits - in opposition to federal environmental policies....
As usual, California is the pace-setter; even our wildly unpopular, dumb-as-dirt Republican governor is comparatively forward-thinking on these issues. Yesterday, Arnold Schwarzenegger signed 29 environmental bills. Among other things, these bills require new cars to post their greenhouse gas emissions, forbid the use of experimental pesticides at schools, impose further restrictions on offshore dumping by ships, protect 31 miles of an endangered river, and stiffen penalties for drivers of off-road vehicles who trespass on protected wilderness. Not a bad day's work! (Rumors that all is not well in the house of repulsive anti-environment scumbag Richard Pombo are further cause for optimism...and not just for Californians!)

It looks as though California's modest expertise in energy conservation is proving to be marketable in China:
Last month, officials from the state Public Utilities Commission, the Energy Commission and Pacific Gas and Electric Co. signed a pact with Jiangsu province, a booming coastal region of 75 million people, and informal agreements with Shanghai province and the central government in Beijing, to provide expertise and training to Chinese regulators and utility companies....Barbara Finamore, the China program director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, a Washington D.C.-based environmental organization that helped organize the trip, cited a study by the council that found California-style conservation programs could reduce China's electricity consumption growth by 10 percent over the next decade. That would save enough electricity to avoid building 26 coal-fired power plants, and at one-quarter the cost of what it would take to build those plants, according to the study.
State agencies and businesses that can provide environment-oriented expertise and technology are likely to have a very bright future. Bush's attempt to fuel economic growth by gutting environmental regulations is exactly the wrong approach, and in my view it's destined for the same ash-heap to which Stalinism has been relegated.

Bush's lip service to "free market solutions" is pure cynicism; his "anti-regulatory" stance is actually an anti-competitive gambit to keep dead-end industries from having to adapt or die. Other countries have better ideas; if the United States keeps hobbling homegrown innovation, and fails to assume a position of leadership on green technology, it can look forward to a further loss of economic and ideological power.

I remain convinced that local involvement and global information-sharing are essential to defeating not just BushCo, but the right's false, dreary, counterproductive economic dogma. So I'm pleased to report that along with local resistance to the anti-environmental overreaching of BushCo's cronies, we're seeing a heartening increase in the number of citizen scientists, who are gathering data in collaboration with experts, and educating themselves and their neighbors about scientific issues that affect them:
As population growth continues to fuel development, issues like habitat loss, invasive species, and erosion literally appear in people's backyards, making neighbors into scientific stakeholders. And scientific questions outstrip the people power and resources of even the best-funded federal and local programs.

Nonprofit groups, scientists, and government agencies have begun to spend a few hours training amateurs to record data in a systematic way and allowing them to submit their findings over the Internet.
This article notes the importance of citizen scientists in early America, and explains the role of amateur scientists in environmental battles that are still being waged today:
Today's global warming predictions depend in part on weather observations telegraphed by hobbyist scientists to the Smithsonian Institute in the 1800s. Amateur ornithologists collected the bird eggs that helped biologist and writer Rachel Carson to understand that DDT was building up in the food chain and interfering with bird reproduction -- work made famous in her 1962 book, ''Silent Spring."
In somewhat related news, a new site called will pay you handsomely to use your ingenuity to help your fellow citizens.
Do you have a common-sense idea that will improve the day-to-day lives of everyday Americans? Or an opinion on how working families can succeed in the new global economy?

You have until December 5, 2005, to submit your idea and to weigh in. A panel of judges will select the top 21 ideas. All of America will be able to vote on the finalists, and on February 1, one person will win $100,000 — runners up receive $50,000 each.
There are lots of ideas posted on the site already; some are workable and clever, while others are entertainingly eccentric. I think we need more programs like this one. Perhaps we could replace "American Idol" with a show called "American Inventor," in which awards would be given for catering to a somewhat more engaged, community-oriented, and noble side of our nature? I'd watch it, for what that's worth.

Essential to all these projects is a recognition that econonic indicators are an inadequate - if not incoherent - measure of national well-being. In Bhutan, they prefer to measure gross national happiness, and this sensible idea is catching on:
Around the world, a growing number of economists, social scientists, corporate leaders and bureaucrats are trying to develop measurements that take into account not just the flow of money but also access to health care, free time with family, conservation of natural resources and other noneconomic factors.

The goal, according to many involved in this effort, is in part to return to a richer definition of the word happiness, more like what the signers of the Declaration of Independence had in mind when they included "the pursuit of happiness" as an inalienable right equal to liberty and life itself.

The founding fathers, said John Ralston Saul, a Canadian political philosopher, defined happiness as a balance of individual and community interests. "The Enlightenment theory of happiness was an expression of public good or the public welfare, of the contentment of the people," Mr. Saul said. And, he added, this could not be further from "the 20th-century idea that you should smile because you're at Disneyland."
That's a beautiful way of expressing this problem; we've been encouraged to see democracy as a spectacle to be consumed, rather than as a collaborative project more akin to a community barn-raising. The stories I've compiled this week suggest, I hope, that this stance is increasingly being recognized as untenable, and is on its way out.

Oh, one last thing...I'm always happy when a dam is destroyed. In Maryland, another one bites the dust.


Cervantes said...

GNP=Gross National Problem

Anonymous said...

Have people moved on from reading Herman Daly (Steady State Economics)to other, more modern pro-environmental economists, or is it time to bring him back?

juniper pearl said...

nothing's ever as noble or community-oriented as you wish it were once the american media gets its hands on it. i think one woman on this show invented some kind of platform-mounted bucket for a more comfortable vomiting experience. but thank you all the same for reminding us that there's a lot more than this nonsense out there.