Sunday, August 12, 2007

Technology Is The Solution

There are many debates about the best ways to address global warming, with most centering on whether a carbon tax or a cap and trade scheme is best (or some combination of the two). There are also some lively, though less extensive, debates about the extent to which we should balance our attempts to reduce global warming with attempts to mitigate its effects.

I propose shifting the focus and asking what to me is the key question: which policies would best promote technological innovation? This is crucial because simple demographics and economic trends make it impossible to significantly curtail greenhouse gas emissions without major technological advances.

By the end of the century the Earth’s population will likely be in the range of 9 billion, a roughly 50% increase. Even though most will be born in what are now developing countries, by century’s end these billions of people will have benefited from significant economic growth (as will those who already live in the developed world) and perhaps their now-emerging nations will have joined the ranks of modern economies.

These two facts alone mean that if we all we did was rely on today’s technology, the Earth’s population in 2100 would emit many more times the greenhouse gases than we do currently. And yet if we’re to tackle global warming we need reductions of 50-80% from current levels. Do the math and you’ll see that there are only two options: massive increases in technology or massive reductions in material living standards. This essential conclusion is inescapable (with one major exception--see below).

Technological innovations can come in many forms, including more fuel-efficient cars, greener buildings and new renewable energy sources. It makes sense to investigate whether the types of policies currently on the table are really the best at helping to promote innovations in these areas. We also need to think more creatively. For example, should prizes for discoveries play a bigger role? How can we best support the development of technologies that don’t even yet exist (but which history tell us will surely be a part of the mix)?

And we need to determine which policies can have the most direct impact on shifting consumption patterns. Along those lines, many experts have suggested that a reduction in per capita consumption of animal products might be extremely helpful.

Here’s why. When the price of carbon (and other scarce resources) is factored into the price of animal products, these staples of modern life will become much more expensive; as a result people’s ability to purchase them will likely decline sharply. Whereas most people would feel poorer if they couldn’t vacation as much or own as many playthings, they might come to realize that eating fewer animal products was in fact a blessing in disguise: it would dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve people’s health as well.

I know that some might look at this as a reduction in living standards. To me it’s a win-win we could all look forward to.

Jason Scorse

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June 25, 2006

Is Caring About Whales Frivolous?

Recently, Japan, Norway, and Iceland announced that they plan to dramatically increase the scope of whaling, extending it to species that currently aren’t hunted. Upon learning this I experienced a strong sense of anger and frustration. Part of this was due no doubt to my recent trip to Hawaii and the opportunity I had to get up close to Humpback whales, which are now slated for slaughter by the Japanese. These magnificent creatures pose no threat to humans, are highly sentient (their famous songs are as complex as symphonies), and every year take part in the longest migration on the entire planet.

After I called the Japanese, Icelandic, and Norwegian embassies, and sent out emails to my friends urging them to do the same, I took a moment to examine my strong reaction to this news. At a time of genocide in the Sudan, the ongoing carnage in Iraq, and the continuing AIDs epidemic, was the intensity of my feelings misplaced? Was I falling prey to the charge often leveled against environmentalists, that they care more about animals than about people? It took me some time to wade through my emotions; here’s what I’ve concluded:

1. In some ways I have become desensitived both to the cruelty that is an everyday phenomenon in today's world and to my inability to do much about it. But if this is so, then why did I react so strongly?

2. Part of the intensity of my feelings likely stems from the fact that it is some of the richest countries in the world that are killing the whales; this killing isn’t necessary for their survival, or even a major component of their well-being. The Japanese are actually the worst offenders; under the guise of “scientific research” they harvest whales and subsidize whale meat in order to increase domestic consumption, and seem more motivated by nonsensical claims of “cultural imperialism” than on actually wanting to support local industry. In short, for the offending countries, the whale industry is either a ridiculous extravagance or an expression of political stubbornness by those who want to cling to old traditions that fly in the face of moral progress.

3. Another part of my frustration flows from the simple calculus of how easy or difficult certain problems are to address. Of course I would choose to end the AIDS epidemic over preventing whaling, but the former is infinitely more difficult. Ending whaling would literally be as simple as getting a few of the outlier nations to agree to stop it. And there is no opportunity cost of such an action; ending the slaughter of whales would not decrease the ability to cure AIDs. In fact, all of the effort now being expended to prevent whaling could be used instead for other causes.

4. On some level environmental issues such as the slaughter of whales (or dolphins, lions, tigers, elephants) are highly and importantly symbolic. The prevailing ethic on the planet is that animals exist for nothing more than to satisfy human desires; they have no worth of their own. Beside the fact that this ethic is arbitrary, and in my view immoral, I think it feeds into a larger worldview that leads to continual conflicts over the Earth’s natural resources: conflicts which are at the root of most major wars (if the Middle East weren’t home to the world’s biggest oil reserves, we would not be in Iraq today). While ending whale slaughter won’t turn us into eco-friendly societies overnight, the adoption of more enlightened environmental policies sometimes hinges on the cumulative effect of many seemingly small victories.

In summary, there are dozens of problems deserving of our attention, and perhaps some of the energy spent on environmental causes would be better spent on directly ending human suffering; but in the end, the moral deficiencies that lead some to shoot elephants for sport, others to kill whales, and others to kill people are more intimately linked than many of us probably realize.

Jason Scorse

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June 11, 2006

An Inconvenient Truth

I have not seen Al Gore’s new movie, but I have seen videos of some of his slide presentations that were the inspiration for the film. I don’t want to wade into the science of global warming, but one thing that I think the film gets wrong is that there is a scientific certainty that the effects of global warming will be catastrophic; it is a possibility, but there is no consensus on this point. Regardless, most sensible people believe that we should begin decreasing greenhouse emissions in order to reduce the chance of catastrophic effects.

The major criticism that has been leveled at the movie is that it is short on actual solutions, as well as actions individuals can take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That’s surprising since there’s a very simple thing almost everyone can do that would have a major impact on greenhouse gas emissions: eat fewer animal products.

British physicist Alan Calverd has calculated that if everyone switched to a primarily plant-based diet we could cut greenhouse gas emissions by 21% because of all the energy that goes into animal agriculture, in addition to the methane emitted by the animals (which is orders of magnitude more powerful than CO2 at trapping heat in the atmosphere). To put things in perspective, that’s more than four times the 5% reductions called for in the Kyoto Protocol . The 21% reduction is such a startlingly high number it’s amazing that it has not received more press; even more amazing, it is rare to hear anyone even mention the link between diet and greenhouse gases.

The reason, of course, is that people don’t like being told that their habits have negative consequences for society, especially habits as personal as dietary choices. I have witnessed this firsthand whenever the environmental benefits of moving in the direction of vegetarianism come up in conversation (apart from the animal rights issues); people often get defensive and resort to anecdotes about unhealthy vegetarian friends, their own inability to contemplate a day without meat, proclamations that we are at the top of the chain for a “reason”, that we need meat to be healthy, and without fail the question “but how would I get protein?” Although the irrationality of the majority of these comments surprises me, their root cause does not. People don’t like hearing inconvenient truths. But the person of reason must look beyond personal biases and focus on the facts.

The facts regarding animal agriculture aren’t pretty. Just as many environmentalists (and those who care about our oil dependency on Middle Eastern despots) look with incredulity at people who drive Hummers and other huge SUVs, so too could you look with incredulity at people who every day consume hamburgers, bacon and other meat products; these people are engaged in equivalent behavior with respect to the environmental impacts. In fact, the marginal benefit of switching from your average compact car to a hybrid is significantly lower with respect to reducing greenhouse gas emissions than switching from an animal-based diet to a plant-based diet. There are also myriad other environmental benefits of reducing meat consumption, including less use of pesticides, water, and fertilizer, less soil erosion and less sewage pollution.

Some people point out that the source of the problem is that animal agriculture is based on feeding grain to livestock. They argue that feeding grass to livestock is actually efficient, because livestock are the only animals that can digest grasses and turn them into protein. They are correct, but a couple of significant caveats weaken their arguments. First, there is no way that grass-fed animal agriculture could come close to providing the quantity of meat that is currently consumed. The price would be significantly higher, and the system would still lead to significantly more greenhouse gas emissions than from plant-based agriculture (due both to animal manure and to the energy required to refrigerate meat). So in the final analysis, while changing the way we produce meat could certainly make a significant contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, only a major reduction in overall meat (and dairy) consumption would lead to dramatic reductions. The best part is that these reductions would not only not be costly, they would probably save us money and could be accomplished with existing technology: an amazingly rare win-win situation that stares us in the face.

Because meat-eating is so much a part of the American psyche, it is doubtful that you will see many politicians, environmentalists, or climatologists speak out encouraging people to transition to a plant-based diet in order to combat global warming. Let’s be frank: in our macho culture meat is (wrongly) associated with virility and strength. In addition, the animal industry lobby is powerful; like all agricultural lobbies in this country, its power is vastly disproportionate to its share of GDP, mostly due to the perverse realities of the electoral college. This is unfortunate because moving away from our reliance on animal foods would not only help to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it would have tremendous health benefits as well.

Jason Scorse

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May 14, 2006

Sea No Evil

(Mother Jones is running a great series on the ecological destruction we are inflicting on the world’s oceans. This piece takes some of their arguments a step further.)

In environmental economics, much of the theory and many of the policy applications involve areas in which people’s individual choices have negative environmental consequences (“negative externalities” in econ-speak) for society at large. Individual freedom is sometimes pitted against the general social welfare because so much of what we consume and the ways in which we live have broad consequences for regional environments and the global ecology. One area where environmental policy faces particularly challenging problems is the harvesting of fish and seafood.

The oceans are for the most part the world’s preeminent “open access” resources; that is, resources where there are few if any property rights, and where anyone with basic equipment can enter an industry and participate. This has led to the so-called “tragedy of the commons” scenario in many parts of the world where people over-fish and fisheries become severely degraded or completely collapse. Economists have advocated creating property rights systems in which fishermen (and women) share quotas that are set and enforced at sustainable yields; this gives fishermen economic incentives to preserve the resource for the long-term, instead of getting as much fish as possible before someone else does. These systems have had some success in the U.S., Canada, Iceland, New Zealand, and other regions. As an environmental economist I should be applauding these successes and pushing for more of them (which I do).

But it is not so simple. Even these programs hide a disturbing fact that most people do not want to acknowledge: commercial fishing is an inherently ecologically damaging industry no matter how well it’s done.

No matter how good the technology, or how conscientious the fisherman, catching fish in large numbers almost always includes killing marine mammals, tons of fish that are not economically viable, and severely damaging fragile underwater ecosystems. Farmed fish are no better since the farms rely on wild fish as feed for the farm-raised varieties. In addition, with so much fishing taking place thousands of miles from shore in areas that are essentially impossible to monitor, environmentally nefarious practices are commonplace. Add to this the many instances of acute environmental damage perpetrated by fisherman (e.g., shark finning, the wanton killing of sea otters, pelicans, turtles, dolphins, whales, and other marine creatures who compete for fish) and one doesn’t have to be an animal rights activist to recognize that commercial fishing involves cruel behavior that is almost impossible to regulate. (Despite the similar damage and cruelty inflicted in other forms of animal agriculture, these are much easier to regulate since they are fixed, on land, and concentrated; the only thing stopping such regulation is the lack of political will.)

I often comment that if people actually saw what really went on to bring them the fish on their plates, they probably wouldn’t eat it. And when we finally recognize the extent of the damage we have done to the oceans in our pursuit of food, it will be viewed as a catastrophe that could’ve been avoided.

There are now seafood watch cards which indicate what types of seafood are harvested in a supposedly sustainable manner, and some fishermen’s groups are arguing for better practices. Nevertheless, the bottom line is that commercial fishing represents an tremendous burden on the ocean and the creatures that live in it.

The economist in me will continue to advocate for better management policies and incentive schemes to protect the ocean, because this is the sensible thing to do. But another part of me realizes that sometimes freedom means the conscious choice not to engage in certain acts, or indulge certain desires. This part of me will continue to use moral persuasion and reason to advocate that everyone give up eating fish and seafood from commercial sources (or even completely).

At the end of the day, regulation and public policy can only go so far (and should only go so far in free societies), leaving it up to us to take the final, perhaps most difficult, steps to protect the environment and the non-human world. Ultimately, only our individual choices, guided by our consciences, will lead us to a more expansive moral sphere where the non-human world is treated with greater respect and empathy. And the sooner we take a hard look and examine the chain of events behind the products we buy, the sooner we can end some of the most egregious forms of environmental destruction.


Update: It seems like I sparked some debate at Patrick Henry College based on my piece from a couple of weeks ago (A Call for Conversational Intolerance). I look forward to seeing what they come up with and will keep you posted.

Jason Scorse

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November 27, 2005

Addressing Climate Change in America: Practical Steps For Real Policy

Climate change is real and human activity is partly to blame. That much is indisputable, but the question remains what to do about it. On one extreme you have environmentalists who call for a radical altering of the economic system to dramatically reduce carbon levels. Such a move, if done within a short time frame, would undoubtedly lead to a major world recession and diminish living standards for billions of people. On the other end of the spectrum is the belief that basically we should do nothing, as evidenced by the actions of the Bush Administration; any costs associated with addressing climate change are believed too high (for the moment at least).

Unsurprisingly, there is significant room for a middle position, which is the one I am advocating. While assessing the future costs of climate change as well as the costs of mitigating it are highly speculative and therefore imprecise, the underlying approach should still be premised on some form of cost-benefit analysis, at least to a degree. As always, arguments regarding economic efficiency (which is what CBA is) are not the end of the story; uncertainty and equity issues also come into play.

Before outlining my recommendations, it is important to note that currently the lack of political will at the federal level to treat CO2 as a pollutant (one of Bush’s broken campaign promises) has created confusion and litigation at the state level. Many state governments want to act on CO2 emissions but are limited in what they can legally do since the federal laws don’t explicitly classify CO2 as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act. California, which is the only state that has authority to enact its own more stringent air quality laws (because it passed legislation before the federal statute) is being sued by car manufacturers because it has proposed significant curbs on future CO2 emissions. At the same time, California along with seven other states and New York City have sued the nation’s top CO2 emitters in order to force them to make mandatory cuts in CO2 pollution. Only with leadership at the federal level can we get out of this mess.

Below are my recommendations for moving forward on U.S. climate change policy from the top down:

1. Set a target for modest CO2 reduction a few years in the future that will then gradually decrease to levels that scientists believe will dramatically reduce catastrophic risks by 2050 (i.e. a 30-50% reduction)

In a recent report put out by the Bush Administration regarding its “Clear Skies Initiative” it is shown that a large segment of U.S. industry could already reduce CO2 for as little as $1 a ton, which is much lower than previously believed. This should serve as the wake up call for those who have been arguing that modest reductions in CO2 will cripple the U.S. economy.

The best way to begin to substantially improve the efficiency of CO2 reduction is by creating permanent incentives to do so. Accompanying a cap in CO2 in the near future (reflecting say a 5% decrease from current levels) should be the establishment of a CO2 trading system which would immediately create an economic value for CO2 mitigation, as well as carbon sequestration. As the caps on CO2 decrease over time, this economic value would increase and create even greater incentives. American ingenuity is up to the task of mitigating CO2 but the economic incentives need to be in place to help move the process forward.

2. Work to mitigate the likely effects of climate change

Since some level of climate change is already occurring and is only likely to accelerate, policies should be aimed at helping the world adjust to these changes. This is one area where I think the environmental movement should take the lead. Here are some specifics:

2.1 The U.S. should work with other nations to expand and monitor the world’s biodiversity hotspots and other large natural corridors so that wildlife can have space to migrate as the climate shifts. Much of this work would also include reforestation of deforested areas and ecosystem restoration more generally. It will cost a good deal of money but climate change presents a unique opportunity since addressing it will also bring myriad other environmental benefits such as the preservation of habitats and species, and all the environmental services the world’s unique ecosystems provide.

2.2 As the country that is most responsible for the current loads of CO2 in the atmosphere, we should establish an international relief fund for climate-related disaster relief and mitigation. Many island nations are going to face enormous costs as the sea levels rise and the industrial countries have a moral responsibility to help them cope. In addition, if it is demonstrated that increased hurricanes and floods are due to the impacts of climate change then we also should increase our aid for this reason as well. Some of this money should be directed to the development of technologies that can help people adapt to rising sea levels, such as the new floating architecture being developed in Holland.

3. Probably most controversial (but necessary) is a significant increase in the CAFÉ standards for car fleets

Critics of such a move claim that higher fuel efficiency means smaller cars means more dead soccer moms. Despite evidence that large SUVs are actually less safe than sedans and compacts (because they roll over more frequently and kill more people they hit), the belief that somehow car manufacturers are incapable of maintaining safety while improving fuel efficiency defies reason. The basic structure of the automobile has remained essentially the same for almost a century; close to 100% of the energy consumed by cars is used to propel the automobile, not the passengers. During the 1990s, with U.S. gas prices at the lowest levels in the world, hovering around the $.50 a gallon (in 2005 dollars) car manufacturers played to consumers’ desire for big cars by simply adding tons of steel. There was no economic incentive for manufacturers to take fuel economy into account.

In some sense this represents a tremendous market failure because not only is the burning of gasoline linked to climate change, but also to air pollution and our dependence on rogue regimes in the Middle East. The government has two options to correct this failure: either dramatically raise gas prices through taxes or mandate that car manufacturers start developing more fuel-efficient cars. Since even an increase of a few miles per gallon on the average American fleet would save billons of gallons of gas the latter option is more sensible. It too can be accomplished through a market trading system: manufacturers who want to continue to specialize in gas-guzzlers could pay more innovative companies to absorb their fuel efficiency requirements. Once again, such a move would immediately create a greater economic value for fuel efficiency and we can rest assured that firms would take advantage of it.

In summary, while everyone may disagree on the extent to which we should be addressing climate change we should be doing something, which we are currently not. I have not tried to justify my proposals with any detailed cost-benefit analysis nor assigned specific dollar amounts because those should be left to the many scientists and economists who are much more versed in the specifics than I. What I have proposed, however, are the outlines of a more comprehensive climate change policy. My guess is that the immediate positive externalities (cleaner air, increased wildlife, greater R&D, new hi-tech jobs, increased international goodwill) of addressing the future costs of climate change would be significant and would be well worth the investment.

Jason Scorse

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May 4, 2005

A Little Rain on the Prius Parade

As an ardent environmentalist, it may surprise you that I am not entirely sold on the hybrid revolution that has been initiated by the wildly popular Toyota Prius. Before I explain why, let me be clear that I think the Prius is a great car and there are many reasons to buy it independent of its fuel efficiency (e.g. it’s very quiet, it drives well, and who can’t appreciate the button instead of the key ignition?). The fact that the Prius is now somewhat of a status symbol while sales of Hummers have dropped precipitously is an unambiguously great thing.

The Prius (and other recent hybrids) are being touted as extremely fuel efficient and therefore, as an effective means of decreasing our dependence on oil and our CO2 emissions. Sales are way up and a wide variety of government-sponsored rebates for the purchase of “green” cars are currently in the works. The fact is, however, that hybrids are not really much more efficient than many conventional gas cars that have been around for decades. At this point, from a strictly environmental standpoint it’s likely that the added cost is not justified.

The Prius is listed at 60mpg city and 51mpg highway, but these numbers are for “ideal” conditions and are not realized in practice. I know two people who own a Prius and they get low 40s on the highway and mid-high 40s in the city (I’ve been told that the Honda Civics hybrids get slightly better mileage). While very good numbers, particularly when compared to SUVs, this mileage is not much better than for conventional compacts. Many Hondas and Toyotas get close to 40mpg and even a number of American brands get in the mid-30s. So for a Prius we’re only really talking about a 10-20% increase in efficiency over many other less expensive models when driving on the highway. While the city mileage is certainly better, people drive far fewer city miles, and there are many more public transportation options in cities. So the improvement in city mileage doesn’t cut into the bulk of gasoline demand, which is for highway commuting.

Let’s look at an average commuter who drives 12,000 miles per year. If we’re comparing a Honda Accord to a Prius the savings in gasoline is in the range of 30-60 gallons a year. A gallon of gasoline emits about 5-6 pounds of carbon and I’ll round that off to 10 since there’s also energy used in gasoline production. So that’s 300-600 pounds of extra carbon a year.

(Note: I am ignoring the possibility that once consumers purchase a highly fuel efficient car they may actually increase their amount of driving since it has now become cheaper, and therefore, cut into some of the CO2 reductions brought about by the higher mileage. Also, I am not taking into account the extra energy that goes into producing the lithium battery for the Prius and the CO2 that results.)

Now the question is: With the sticker price of a Prius roughly $4,000 more than a standard Accord with similar features is this a good deal for 600 pounds less carbon? (I’ll go with the high number)

(Note: while hybrid owners save money in gas they also have to pay a lot for battery replacements so I’m going to assume these costs and benefits cancel each other out.)

The way to answer this question is to determine how much it would cost to decrease CO2 emissions by an equivalent amount in some other fashion. One excellent way to accomplish this is by planting trees. Although estimating the precise amount of CO2 sequestration from trees is extremely complex, the amount of trees needed to annually absorb 600 pounds of carbon is very small; a tiny fraction of an acre.

So here’s my conclusion: If decreasing CO2 in the atmosphere is your primary motive it’s much more efficient to forego the Prius (and buy an Accord, Civic, or Corolla- perhaps even a used one) and spend the extra money on tree planting and the general preservation of open space.

This takes us to a general point on the issue of CO2 emissions that seems to have gotten lost in the larger debate these days. With such a focus on hybrids and the complete lack of political will to increase mileage standards (which is the most important thing we should be doing on this front) the role of forests in carbon sequestration is no longer at the forefront in the public’s consciousness (when was last time we heard about preserving the Amazon Rainforest?). This is unfortunate because not only do forests and open space decrease CO2 in the atmosphere, but they also provide a host of other environmental benefits (such as biodiversity preservation and watershed protection), and payment for these services can be an excellent way to help the poor in developing countries (although of course we can also plant trees here as well). Some amount of global warming is now inevitable and many species are going to need large areas to roam in order to adapt to the shifting climate; therefore, habitat preservation and expansion should be a top priority.

In addition, there are literally dozens of home energy conservation options (retrofitting windows, purchasing more efficient appliances, better insulation) that would cut down CO2 by as much as driving hybrids for a fraction of the cost. Unfortunately, much of the resistance to implementing these commonsense and relatively simple fixes is due to the shortcomings of human psychology; it’s much more sexy and feels more substantive to buy a hybrid car than to make basic home improvements.

None of this is to suggest that fuel efficiency and hybrid technology are not important; they are. People who are investing now in hybrid cars are fueling the demand, which will hopefully lead to successive generations of new technology that will have much higher mileage, perhaps even approaching 100mpg. When this happens hybrid cars will clearly be worth the added cost on every dimension. In the meantime, I recognize that what’s optimum from an economic standpoint is not always what’s politically or socially most practical; consumer trends and human psychology are powerful forces. That said, I think the money being spent on consumer rebates for hybrids would be better spent on direct public investments in R&D for hybrid technology, the protection and expansion of the world’s forests and critical habitats, and paying people to make energy conserving home improvements.


*Thanks a lot to James Manley, Duncan Callaway, and Meredith Fowlie for their insightful comments and to Molly Norton for reminding me to write about this issue.

P.S. For a really good use of hybrids check out this article on NYC taxis.

Jason Scorse

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May 2, 2004

An Environmental Platform for the Future

Polls have consistently shown that Americans care deeply about the environment but this has not translated into sufficient action on the part of our leaders. It is time for a Presidential candidate to put forth a strong vision for environmental stewardship that favors conservation, the public interest, and long-term concerns over the whims of special-interest lobbyists, an over-reliance on free markets, and the overblown opposition of automakers and auto unions (remember, these are the same people who opposed seat-belt laws, didn’t believe Americans would buy compact cars in the 1980s, and are already falling behind the Japanese in the production of high-demand hybrids). Here’s what this new environment platform should emphasize:

1) Energy independence as the key to America’s long-term national security. Despite another major war in the Middle East and our growing awareness that a portion of the proceeds from oil revenue ends up in the hands of terrorists, Bush has proposed an energy bill which amounts to little more than a multi-billion dollar giveaway to the fossil fuel industries (a bill almost exclusively written by the companies in Dick Cheney’s Energy Task Force- which by no coincidence are many of Bush’s largest campaign contributors). It would do little to nothing to decrease our dependence on foreign oil and at a tremendous cost to society. We need to focus instead on moving toward an economy based on renewable energy and far greater energy efficiency. This would produce huge environmental benefits, and in addition could lead directly to millions of new jobs: a true win-win situation. It will also allow America to become competitive in the new energy technologies that will ultimately define the 21st century. Think of what the markets for these technologies are eventually going to be in places like India and China.

2) Environmental protection is a moral issue. All of us are stewards of the world we inhabit. No matter what God we believe in (or don’t believe in), it is our responsibility to protect Earth’s resources for future generations, and out of respect for the other forms of life with whom we share the planet. Environmental protection is the fundamental “pro-life” position.

3) Almost all natural resource subsidies are a lose-lose situation, and they must be stopped. Currently, U.S. taxpayers spend tens of billions a year paying farmers, ranchers, miners, and timber companies to exploit our environment, leading to large-scale pollution and destruction. Much of these are illegal under international trade agreements and often the subsidies are greater than the value of the resources on the open-market; signifying the height of inefficiency. The money saved by ending these subsidies could be used for environmental research, to support health care and education, or even for targeted tax cuts.

4) The Federal government should support the work of conservation groups who have identified biodiversity "hotspots" in their efforts to protect these areas before they are lost forever. These regions represent our evolutionary heritage and they are being lost at an alarming rate. It is not imperative that we save every square inch of natural habitat or that we reject economic development, but allowing the earth’s most biologically richest areas to be despoiled is bad for our own future as well as the species that are lost.

5) More than half of the nation lives in areas with poor air quality and addressing this situation should be a top priority. Many of these people are young children and the poor, who suffer from respiratory diseases at disproportionate rates, so this is an issue of basic fairness and justice. We are the richest nation on earth and this situation is more than an embarrassment, it’s a disgrace. Much of the improvements in air quality could be achieved within the larger issue of renewable energy technology and greater automobile efficiency.

6) Bush reneged on his campaign promise to regulate CO2 emissions as a pollutant but this is essential for seriously addressing global warming. Although there is still a degree of scientific uncertainty surrounding the “greenhouse effect”, the overwhelming majority of the world’s top scientists believe it merits serious concern and it is something we need to address sooner rather than later. Science will never give us exact answers nor perfect predictive power but uncertainty is no excuse for inaction.

Jason Scorse

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