Archive for the ‘Policy’ Category

Hans Rosling on global population growth | Video on TED.com


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Are you a High-GDP person or Low-GDP person? Does it matter? Is GDP a good measure of the overall well being and happiness of a nation or the world? When positive and negative economic events are both counted towards a measure that people equate with general well being maybe it’s time to reconsider.

Consider that it is a good thing (for GDP) when forests are clear cut, when you have open heart surgery, and depending on your income, when you go to prison. Obviously we need a better indicator of general well being. In fact, while GDP has generally increased since America’s golden age, other indicators of remained flat or even declined. See “Capitalism: A Love Story” by Michael Moore for an interesting look at the last 30 years.

Jon Gertner explores the salience of this issue in a recent NY Times article: “The Rise and Fall of the G.D.P.” I was excited to find out the US is also working on our own version called “The State of the USA.”

Hopefully we can learn to look at social and environmental development with as much intensity as we do economic growth.

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This disaster has happened in a very visible way and allows us to make some connections to the larger industrial system that created it. In a way, this is just the event we needed to kick start more environmentally sound policies. With at least 6 million gallons of oil spilled or leaked so far, this is shaping up to be the worst oil spill in US history. However dreadful this is, we should remember that each day our current socioeconomic system wrecks far more damage to the vital ecosystems that support us.

Since babies are on my mind I’ll give you just one example of our overly wasteful system. In an earlier post, I noted it takes over 7 billion gallons of oil each year just to make disposable diapers. Our use of these environmentally destructive diapers ever year is at least 1,000 times worse than this spill, yet it’s not making the headlines The fact that Americans throw away 18 billion diapers per year (570 per second) that last for another 300 years, is a travesty, but yet just one example of a myriad of environmental shockers. Where do we think these diapers go? Worse yet, some waste facilities incinerate them and put all of their chemicals and toxins into the air, which find their way back into our food chain. Ahhh….!

As oil becomes scarcer, we are going to ever greater lengths to get our hands on it. This is because our entire industrial system relies on this cheap and abundant source of prehistoric sunlight. A crisis like this can be an opportunity to make connections that people otherwise would not have though about. Most of the time, our impact is obscured and not visible enough for anyone to care. The environmental movement of the 1970s succeeded in part because we were fighting against pollution that we could all see and agree was bad. However, the movement now underway is much more difficult to see and act on because the toxins, pollutants, greenhouse gases, and piles of trash are not seen or felt on a daily basis. This makes it tough for people to understand why things are so dire.

We need to take this opportunity to rally the changes that must happen at all levels of society: we need new laws and business models to create a sustainable future. Do we really think we can keep consuming at this rate? Do we really think the entire planet can munch through resources the way Americans do? We need to rethink our society and this is as good of an event as any to do so.

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I was disappointed by the Hawaiian business community’s simplistic reaction to the recent passage of the barrel tax. Pacific Business News in particular lamented that this tax will be bad for Hawaii’s businesses. If the status quo was maintained, it would in fact raise the cost of everything in Hawaii. However, this is a tax that is designed to encourage people to change their behavior by using less oil and factoring in the true cost of the energy they consume.

We already import all of our oil in Hawaii and the true cost of burning up that oil is not factored into the cost of the goods and services in our economy. The $7 billion we send out of state every year is only the extraction and transportation value of the oil we consume. There is no accounting in the cost of oil for the environmental damage it causes. Climate change and the recent gulf spill (leakage?) are two major examples of how profits are privatized while the costs are spread to general public (also known as the tragedy of the commons). On top of this, most of the money spent on oil is sent to governments that do not support democracy and good governance.

So we know oil is BAD.

Knowing this, how do we get people to stop using it? If we want to change behavior we need to start factoring in the true cost of the oil we import. The Hawaii barrel tax hardly makes a dent, but it’s a good start. It’s the equivalent of about a $2.50/ton price on carbon. There are countries in Europe that have over a $100/ton price on carbon and enjoy a higher standard of living than us. How is this possible if it’s “bad for business?” It’s because the people in countries with a high carbon tax have changed their behavior and tapered the unnecessary burning of fossil fuels to support their highly consumptive lifestyles. They discovered methods to use more renewable energy, take public transit, and walk or bike more often. The structure of their society has begun to change.

Although this piece of legislation is not perfect (and they never are), it’s a step in the right direction. Lawmakers could have made the tax more progressive and revenue neutral by giving off-setting tax rebates to the lowest income tax brackets. We could have also created a schedule over the next 10 years to step up to a very high price on carbon. This market signal would give business enough time to invent solutions and would be extremely good for businesses and the economy, not bad.

If we really want to get off of our fossil fuel addiction, stop climate change, and grow our economy, it’s time to start taxing carbon at progressively higher rates. As has proven to be the case in other countries, we can find a way to live with less oil and have a cleaner, safer, and more prosperous state because of it.

Brian Bell

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March 15, 2010, 3:00 P.M.
Room 229


Chairs Hee, Gabbard, and Fukunaga and members of the committees:

I’m writing to voice my support of the proposed $5 surcharge on each barrel of oil entering Hawaii to be used to fund our clean energy future.

These funds could be used in a variety of ways:

1 – For energy efficiency projects with a particular focus on low-income energy efficiency upgrades and solar water heating.
2 – To incentivize clean energy investment, smart grid infrastructure improvements, and leveraging federal stimulus dollars for energy projects.

This tax shifting policy will discourage the use of fossil fuels while providing a source of revenue for clean energy planning and implementation. We can also create badly needed green jobs locally.

These sorts of policies have worked elsewhere to help loosen the grip of oil dependence. Let’s put it to good use here.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify.

Brian Bell

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