Too little too late, or baby steps before giant steps?
Seven advances on the long road to eco-librium
We trim, blend, and append seven 2008 articles.
by Jeffery J. Smith, June 2008“A thousand mile journey begins with a single step.” To sustain our species, many steps need to be taken. Encouragingly, some governments have gotten started.
Some poor cities have brought in gardens while a rich city tries to squeeze out cars.
Cuba's urban farms, many of them on tiny plots, supply much of the nation's vegetables, have expanded people’s diet beyond rice and beans and canned goods from Eastern Europe, and pay relatively high wages. From 1989-93, Cubans went from eating an average of 3,004 calories a day to only 2,323, as shelves emptied of the Soviet goods that made up two-thirds of Cuba's food. Then the government let enterprisers cultivate vacant lots. Today, Cubans eat 3,547 calories a day, more than what the US government recommends for American citizens. Farmers use compost as natural fertilizer and ward off insects by surrounding delicate spinach shoots with strong-smelling celery. Such measures have ecological benefits but were born of necessity: Neither commercial fertilizer nor herbicide is reliably available. (The Associated Press, Jun. 8, 2008)
Toronto's posh shopping strip on Bloor Street West is ending all on-street parking, narrowing the road, lining it with trees, and installing wider sidewalks. The city is borrowing the money up front then charging the businesses along the ritzy strip for whom the benefits outweigh the costs and are therefore willing to pay. As Nobel laureate William Vickrey showed, all governments could use increases in land value, rather the general fund, to pay for new infrastructure, transit systems, etc. (Globe and Mail, June 11)
Even the US government, even under Bush, is getting into the act. Four of the nation's largest homebuilders agreed to pay $4.3 million in fines for polluting streams and lakes with dirt from their construction sites, 71 of them in Georgia. Muddy runoff harms wildlife and vegetation dependent on those waterways, including fish and river otters. Builders can prevent dirt from leaving sites by using silt fences, hay bales, rock filters, and detention ponds. The consent decree ended a six-year federal investigation of hundreds of subdivision sites in 34 states. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, June 12)
To win more such victories, a new book by J. “Gus” Speth, “The Bridge at the Edge of the World” urges “greens” to ally with other movements to win all rights, including economic justice. The time is ripe; polls show most Americans agree that our society’s too materialistic, too focused on shopping and spending. Speth wants to take back polluting corporations’ charters and curb the tax favors to certain businesses. Economic incentives, not regulations, should be the leading tool. Environmental taxes are now some 2.5 percent of GDP in Western Europe. Germany is moving to shift the tax burden from work and wages to energy consumption and the pollution it triggers. (Reviewed by Neal Peirce of the Washington Post Writers Group, June 15)
The Green Tax Shift is pushed even by the high and mighty. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy asked the European Union to cut sales tax on green products even though the head of the European Commission voiced strong reservations about the idea. (Reuters, March 14)
Down Under, a government is promoting the capstone of the green revenue shift – a society-wide sharing of natural value. The New Zealand Government is looking at compensation for price rises and help for households to become more energy-efficient. The compensation could be funded from an estimated $140 million in windfall profits reaped by power generators. Proposing a sharing out of high energy prices should win support of two parties, NZ First and the Greens. The bill would set up a scheme to put a price on greenhouse gas emissions and likely drive up the price of power and fuel. (The Dominion Post, June 18)
The Wall Street Journal published the moral underpinning for collecting and sharing the value of nature. Robert Reich, the former Clinton Secretary of Labor, wrote: "Our atmosphere belongs to all of us. It seems only reasonable that corporations should have to pay to use it. The citizens of Alaska and Alberta Canada, get yearly dividends from the oil companies that take away their natural resources. Why shouldn't the same principle apply when industries use the biggest common resource of all?" ("How About a Cap-and-Trade Dividend?" June 4)
The Kiwi article continued, noting Greens oppose a rebate based on energy use and would prefer a flat "citizens' dividend", a term coined by this editor who in the 1980s was a co-founder of the Greens in the US.
Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics.
Environmental Tax Reform Meetings
World Economy: What Does Carbon Cost?
In Ontario, Sprawl Rampant Despite Greenbelt
Email this article Sign up for free Progress Report updates via email
What are your views? Share your opinions with The Progress Report:
Page One Page Two Archive Discussion Room Letters What's Geoism?