A Geogreen Stimulus

Global warming is a useful lie. The world is too cold anyway, and warmer temps probably would save lives. But it is important to reduce our use of foreign hydrocarbons (oil and natural gas), to prevent hydrocarbon-exporting Gap states like Russia, Iran, and Venezuela from interfering with the integration of the Seam and the Core. The sun and the wind, ethanol and biodiesel, and of course nuclear power and coal are all options for us.

With that in mine, here are the sensible parts of Tom Friedman’s latest, which call for the Economic Stimulus to include environmentally friendly spending:

Op-Ed Columnist – Bailout (and Buildup) – NYTimes.com
The 2 is back. Last week, U.S. retail gasoline prices fell below $3 a gallon — to an average of $2.91 — the lowest level in almost a year. Why does this news leave me with mixed feelings?

Because in the middle of this wrenching economic crisis, with unemployment rising and 401(k)’s shrinking, it would be a real source of relief for many Americans to get a break at the pump. Today’s declining gasoline prices act like a tax cut for consumers and can save $15 to $20 a tank-full for an S.U.V.-driving family, compared with when gasoline was $4.11 a gallon in July.

Yet, it is impossible for me to ignore the fact that when gasoline hit $4.11 a gallon we changed — a lot. Americans drove less, polluted less, exercised more, rode more public transportation and, most importantly, overwhelmed Detroit with demands for smaller, more fuel-efficient, hybrid and electric cars. The clean energy and efficiency industries saw record growth — one of our few remaining engines of real quality job creation.

But with little credit available today for new energy start-ups, and lower oil prices making it harder for existing renewables like wind and solar to scale, and a weak economy making it nearly impossible for Congress to pass a carbon tax or gasoline tax that would make clean energy more competitive, what will become of our budding clean-tech revolution?

This moment feels to me like a bad B-movie rerun of the 1980s. And I know how this movie ends — with our re-addiction to oil and OPEC, as well as corrosive uncertainty for our economy, trade balance, security and environment.

“Is the economic crisis going to be the end of green?” asks David Rothkopf, energy consultant and author of “Superclass.” “Or, could green be the way to end the economic crisis?”

It has to be the latter. We can’t afford a financial bailout that also isn’t a green buildup — a buildup of a new clean energy industry that strengthens America and helps the planet.

But how do we do that without any policy to affect the price signal for gasoline and carbon?

Third, an idea offered by Andy Karsner, former assistant secretary of energy, would be to modify the tax code so that any company that invests in new domestic manufacturing capacity for clean energy technology — or procures any clean energy system or energy savings device that is made by an American manufacturer — can write down the entire cost of the investment via a tax credit and/or accelerated depreciation in the first year.

Finally, if Congress passes another stimulus package, it can’t just be another round of $600 checks to go buy flat-screen TVs made in China. It has to also include bridges to somewhere — targeted investments in scientific research, mass transit, domestic clean-tech manufacturing and energy efficiency that will make us a more productive and innovative society, one with more skills, more competitiveness, more productivity and better infrastructure to lead the next great industrial revolution: E.T. — energy technology

The lower hydrocarbon prices go, the less influence that gap countries like Russia, Iran, and Venezuela have. And that’s a good thing.

12 thoughts on “A Geogreen Stimulus”

  1. The more I think about it, the better the idea of a massive mag lev train system sounds. I like it because it is doable; its been done in other countries. It depends on existing technology and we could see results in a relatively short time frame.

    The longer the talk of “green” jobs or “green” technology continues the more frightened I become that it’ll all come down to sinking tens of billions more into corn ethanol. Better to start sinking resources into something that works.

  2. Presuming Obama wins and things keep looking as they are, he will have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to dramatically shift our economy away from foreign hydrocarbons, in a way that doesn’t cause much pain.

    For instance, SUV sales are at catastrophically low levels and major companies are gearing up to delivery plug-in hydbrids. Now is the time for the government to further tax SUVs and subsidize plug-in hydbrids. Imagine if the government gave $5,000 credits each for hybrid technology, plug-ins, and E85 engines, for a total of $15,000 for a plug-in hydbrid running E85. The program wouldn’t have to last long to really change the economics.

  3. I like the idea. I do believe GM has a running a head start with E85, so the E85 tax credit should could be framed as both a “buy American” and a “green” tax credit. The easiest way to end to the SUV is to partially pay for the tax credit by creating Federal per pound tax on all vehicles over x pounds (~2000lbs?).

  4. Brent,

    The easiest way to end to the SUV is to partially pay for the tax credit by creating Federal per pound tax on all vehicles over x pounds (~2000lbs?).

    Fascinating!

    By subsidizing alternative engine technologies and taxing heavy vehicles, we can essentially get the geogreen gas tax in by the back door [1]. That’s fine by me, as long as we can capture the same benefits!

    [1] http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2005/04/01/a-modest-geogreen-gas-tax-proposal-5gal-gas.html

  5. I am uncomfortable in creating a GoGreen jobs program. It s just seems unlikely to manged in a successful way.

    I think the results you want go be achieved by a regulatory change. That is, USGOV should adopt Zubrin’s “Mandate all US vehicles as flex-fuel vehicles” [1].

    This estimated to have a marginal increase in production costs per car of $100.

    It would immediately create markets for alternative fuels.

    It would spur entrepreneurial profit-seeking activity while have the positive externality of presumable less US dollars be spent on Oil (less money for Putin, Hugo, and Islamic oil producing nations).

    Oh, and markets (the sum of individual choices and preferences) would decide on the winners not USGOVocrats.

    As far as Global a Warming as a “Useful Lie”, I fear we are at just the tip of a generation of upcoming bad policies and initiatives all based on the Global-Warming-save-the-earth-from-capitalism meme. Anything that reinforces that meme, might cause more harm long term. I don’t know how to measure that though.

    BTW, the geek in me loves the “massive mag lev train system”.

    [1] http://www.autobloggreen.com/2008/01/02/robert-zubrin-talks-about-requiring-all-cars-to-be-flex-fuel-cap/

  6. Purpleslog,

    I agree on mandating flex-fuel vehicles. [1]

    I just found out my vehicle is flex-fuel, so I can practice what I preach!

    Agreed on geekiness of massive mag-lev systems, though increased investment in standardized techs (like light rail) against novel ones (maglevs, monorails [2], etc.) might be wiser…

    [1] http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2008/10/28/mandate-flex-fuel-vehicles.html
    [2] http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=20040525&slug=kristina25

  7. My god, but my comment was filled with typos! I was only able to enter the comment bit by bit over about an hour as I frequently got interrupted. Its reads like I was drunk. Or high. Or functionally literate. Yikes.

  8. Courtesy of Instapundit, be sure to check out the greencar blog AutoblogGreen [2]. Especially good posts include thoughts on how all those plugin hyrbids will be charged [3], and a neat post on the first flexfuel vehicle [4].

    [1] http://instapundit.com
    [2] http://www.autobloggreen.com/
    [3] http://www.autobloggreen.com/2008/10/27/austin-alt-car-phev-opportunities-and-challenges-for-utilities/
    [4] http://www.autobloggreen.com/2008/10/29/alex-j-severinsky-wins-recognition-for-inventing-the-hybrid/

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