After Oil Peaks, Geonomics Wins the Next Wave
by Jeffery J. Smith
It seems we must run out of oil -- and not a minute too soon, if there is any chance of stopping harmful climate change. While oil is not the lifeblood of industrial economies, energy is. Machines don't care if their power comes from fossil fuel or chicken manure -- but the ecosystem does.
To hasten and ease the transition to alternative energy sources, we could use geonomics. That is, we'd collect the annual rental value of oil, of all natural resources, even of surface land -- trillions of dollars each year -- use the proceeds to pay ourselves a dividend a la Alaska's but heftier, and meanwhile quit taxing our efforts and quit subsidizing social services (albeit corporate welfare is not exactly a true 'service'). Geonomics -- replacing taxes with land dues, and replacing government subsidies with “Rent” dividends for all -- lets industrial economies cure themselves of their addiction to oil both economically and politically.
First, the elimination of subsidies. Since fossil fuel industries win more subsidies, like syn-fuel research funds, than do the various solar/wind powers, zero subsidies totals a far bigger loss to the entrenched ways. Advantage, alternatives.
Government's failure to defend our right to a healthy environment constitutes a subsidy to those industries that now pollute the environment. Make government dependent on “Rent” (all the money we spend on the nature we use), and government will take a stronger interest in protecting the source of its revenue -- nature. Redirect “Rent” from oil companies and their brethren to the public treasury, and those firms won't have the political clout to circumvent the law; government wouldmake polluters pay. Conversely, the solar powers, which do not pollute, would not have any extra charges to pay. Advantage, alternatives.
Second, the elimination of taxes. Since fossil fuels dodge more taxes with gimmicks like the oil depletion allowance than do the various solar/wind powers, zero taxes will mean a bigger saving for the new technologies, more burdened by taxes on wages. Advantage, alternatives.
Third, the presence of land dues. With the public recovery of “Rent”, oil companies would pay society each year to claim oil fields. Owners of oil fields would not hoard any easy oil in accessible wells but use that first and would sell off any fields that they are not using or not using efficiently. Losing these unearned billions of “Rents”, oil companies would lose their unholy hold over politicians and policies. Since most alternatives -- geothermal, wave, wind, photovoltaic, etc -- occupy sites of lower value and consume very few resources, they'd pay little or no “Rent”. Advantage, alternatives.
Fourth, the presence of dividends. Paying out recovered “Rent” as a Citizens Dividend would democratize investment dollars, so newly endowed oil workers and penny investors could form their own companies and co-operatives. They'd have the wherewithal to buy, and the land dues for oil fields would urge present owners to sell, thereby helping break up giant oil companies into smaller firms, perhaps one per field. Smaller, they'd have less political power and in competition, they'd keep supply up and price reasonable even as untapped reserves dwindle. Meanwhile the solar technologies, not exactly awash in cash, would benefit from every extra dollar coming their way via the Citizens Dividend. Advantage, alternatives.
Together, all four of these fiscal shifts mean fossil fuels become less profitable, losing that artificial advantage over alternative energy sources. On this new level playing field, the older entrenched industries -- minus those cost-plus government contracts, etc, while paying higher land dues -- would drive investment dollars away; at the same time, the newer cleaner technologies of unchartered potential would attract investors' money, regardless of their political views, simply because the new bottom line would be better. Redirecting this huge flow of funds would speed up the pace of techno-progress in energy production.
Besides bringing more oil to market while leveling the playing field for the alternatives, geonomics also reduces demand for oil as petrol for private cars, meaning there'd be less oil usage for alternative sources to replace.
- First, land dues motivate landowners to use their sites, not to speculate or procrastinate, so they in-fill cities, which reduces parking and provides more riders for mass transit, bicycles, and walking shoes.
- Second, “Rent” dividends let people shrink their workweek and spread out “rush hour”, which is when most oil gets burned. If a transit system need not serve a huge peak load twice a day, it need not have a huge fleet that sits idle for long stretches or usually moves around almost empty.
Thus geonomics -- sharing Earth's worth while axing taxes on efforts -- would both reduce demand for oil and expand the supply of alternatives.