It’s the Economy

Or the Environment, Stupid?

green_worldIn the Talk of the Town section of this week’s New Yorker, the age old Economy Vs. Environment situation is brought to question by David Owen. After pointing out that 2,500 delegates from some 70 odd countries met in Copenhagen (with very worried faces) to deal with the broken Kyoto protocol, he reminds us that the only nations set to effectively meet their targets are those of the former Soviet Union. Considering that the baseline year for reductions was 1990, when the Soviet Skies were as grey as their concrete buildings, that was a simple achievement. Bad news for Copenhagen, bad news for creating “prosperity” and conservation simultaneously. 

There is an extremely interesting analogy used in the short piece which likens fossil fuels to the credit market. “…and we are borrowing against the world’s dwindling store of inexpensive energy in the same way that we borrowed against the illusory equity in our homes.” True story. Both are bound to end in a heart breaking rude awakening. The former illusion was exposed only to return to secrecy once gas prices went back down and the latter, well there are lots of people with mortgages worth more than their homes. And that, is no longer a secret in any way.

Only, Owen then continues onto some other math, which appears rather fuzzy to me. He states that increasing fuel efficiency is the same as lowering the price of fuel for the purposes of carbon emissions. It offers no incentive for people to drive less, which he later says will only be achieved by implementing a carbon tax, which would raise gas costs back to their summer 2008 levels. And the problem with this is? Perhaps it is the eternal optimistic in me, but I think that most people driving hybrids are INDEED concnerned about how much they drive and emit. They are certainly not driving them for their uh, classic look or appeal. A carbon tax along with the hybrid sounds right to me.

Perhaps the eternal optimist in me is getting frustrated with this concept that there is no way to bring ourselves out of recession in a green way. “Creating green jobs…is different from creating new jobs, since green jobs, if they’re truly green, displace non-green jobs–wind turbine mechanics instead of oil rig rough-necks–probably a zero sum game, as far as employment is concerned.” But according to the London based Energy Institute,”one megawatt of solar PV capacity creates 7–11 jobs, compared to 3 for every megawatt of wind power and 1 for every megawatt of coal and gas-fired generation.” Numbers are numbers and it is possible that calculations will vary. But I’m not sure it is true that this is a zero-sum game.

What I am sure of is, evoking the old environment vs. economy argument just seems old fashioned in a time when we need fresh ideas. Sure, there needs to be pragmatism, but a new capitalism, one not so credit based (read:fossil fuel) will have to leave this behind.


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Comments (1)


  1. Gas prices these days are just getting higher, i think the government should focus more on alternative energy.”~-

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