Friday, January 30, 2009

Different Shades of Green

In our society, the word green tends to engender one of two concepts: environmentalism and money. I often find that, because of my philosophical viewpoint, these two images constantly butt heads.

On the one hand, I'm an avowed environmentalist -- what some derisively call a treehugger. I believe that global warming and climate change are incontrovertible facts and that our society is set up to operate in an unsustainable manner.

On the other hand, economic justice is just as important to me. I find it vulgar and profane that a small minority of the world's population lives in opulent splendor while the vast majority struggles to get by each day. I embrace the mantra Live Simply So Others Can Simply Live and I believe that, if more people followed this rule, our world would not be so poisoned by such economic inequality.

In essence, I believe many of the world's ills could best be solved by a marriage of environmentalism with economic justice. Unfortunately, neither concept has been embraced by the powers that be and, when one of them partially is invoked, it always seems to be at the expense of the other.

For example, here in the U.S., various levels of government recently have created a variety of tax incentives to encourage people to utilize renewable energy and/or make use of less-polluting technology. Here I'm referring to tax credits for installing solar heating/cooling systems in your home or purchasing hybrid or plug-in electric vehicles (to name but a few).

On the surface, these seem to be excellent mechanisms to encourage folks to lead more sustainable lives. While it is certainly unfortunate that far too many people seem motivated to do the right thing for our planet ONLY when it benefits their economic self-interests, at least these types of strategies seem to get many people moving in a better direction.

When our elected leaders promote these various schemes, they do so in a way to make it appear that ANY citizen can take advantage of the tax credits or allowances. But the truth of the matter is that only the well-off will have the wherewithal to make these sorts of investments and, thereby, receive the economic benefits.

So, in reality, working class folks are giving money (taxpayer dollars) to rich people to induce them to buy a Prius or install solar panels on their roof. This is yet another example of the insidious transfer of funds from the least wealthy to the most wealthy (Robin Hood in reverse)!!

In the end, while such tax schemes sound laudable, they truly don't address the problem in a meaningful way. And the main reason they don't truly address the problem is that the vast majority of Americans are in the middle and working class -- the very people who can't afford to take advantage of these tax breaks, in the first place.

So, while a very small minority are driving hybrids or heating/cooling their homes from renewable energy, the majority are driving clunkers and heating/cooling their homes with coal-fired or nuclear energy. The overall positive impact is minimal.

If our government was truly serious about moving this nation toward sustainability, then we must pursue strategies that ALL Americans can take part in. For one idea, government could provide subsidies to the middle class and working poor to purchase hybrids and/or wind and solar heating/cooling systems.

1 comment:

  1. So-called Economic Justice is nothing more than taking money (by force if needed) from people who earned it and giving to those that did not.

    We are approaching that now in this country with over 50% of adults paying zero in taxes - and many of them getting a net refund beyond what they have paid in.

    As appealing as the idea of Economic Justice is, it is very corrosive - and will lead to overall of economic output by incrementally removing the incentive to produce. There will be even less to go around.


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