Monday, December 8, 2008

Christmas Wish List

This week's newspaper column:

Lately, one economic indicator after another suggests that our nation is in the doldrums. Corporations on Wall Street - newcomers to the financial strain - are being bailed out right and left. American car companies are next in line. But Main Street has been feeling the pinch for quite a while with no relief in sight.

Amidst all the gloom and doom, talk has swirled about the need for some kind of stimulus package to right the economic ship. The last stimulus package passed by congress and signed by the president involved sending out tax rebate checks in hopes that people would run out and purchase big screen TVs, thus giving a shot in the arm to our consumer-based economy. Some people did just that. Some socked it away in savings. Many just paid down bills.

But that strategy proved to be unsustainable. Like a New Years’ sparkler that blazes and then dies out, the economic benefits were short-lived and now we’re back in the same fix – only worse. Credit markets have seized up, companies once considered invincible have gone under, and the country has lost almost two million jobs since the beginning of the year.

Recently elected federal officials of all stripes are “feeling your pain,” and chances are there will be some form of economic stimulus package passed into law soon after the new Administration is sworn in. But what form will that stimulus package take?

What would happen if, in lieu of dropping hundred dollar bills out of a helicopter at a football game, we as a society took that money and invested it in building a sustainable future?

Sustainability, by definition, is the act of fostering a built environment that is self-sufficient and self-perpetuating, is healthy and inclusive, and is more responsive to the human condition than it is to market conditions.

We have the technology and know-how right now live sustainably. What we do not have is the infrastructure.

Targeted support for sustainable projects such as solar and wind farms, the development of electric and hydrogen powered cars, and streets with sidewalks and bike lanes would start the process of weaning us from our current fossil-fuel based energy system. And tax credits for energy-efficient building retrofits and the installation of alternative energy systems on homes and commercial buildings would result in a decreased demand for large-scale energy production.

This conversion to a green economy will not be cheap. To paraphrase Everett Dirksen, ‘a hundred billion here, a hundred b billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money.’ But look what we’re spending now to prop up the current system.

Investment in sustainable infrastructure will result in the creation of millions of new green-collar American jobs and, in the process, bring about a cleaner, healthier living environment for us all. So the question is not ‘can we afford to go green’ but ‘can we afford not to?’

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