April 02, 2005

'That's it... come on... you've almost got it. Oh, dear...'

In Orion, Bill McKibben has some blunt words on not quite getting it.

Consider, for example, how California is reacting to climate change. On the one hand, its government is saying all the right things....

But when the rubber literally meets the road, it's another story. As more Californians began to drive fuel-efficient hybrid cars, the people charged with collecting state gas taxes began to notice that they weren't taking in as much money.... Instead of celebrating that as a small nugget of hope in the dismal global picture (as a sign that California is heading, ever so slightly, in the direction of western Europe), officials in the state's transportation department are viewing the news with great alarm.

Why? Because they may not have the money from the gas tax to repair as many roads. And to them, and doubtless many Californians, that seems like the real problem. Their response? According to the Los Angeles Times, it's a proposal to place a box in every car that will record how many miles each vehicle drives and then to tax the owners accordingly... [Under] the new scheme, owners of a Hummer and a Prius who drove an equal number of miles would pay the state the same fee each year for the privilege of using its roads.

This is precisely the type of blind alley that humans drive down when they focus on the wrong issue. Here you have a proposal that solves the lesser of two problems (road repair) by making the larger one (climate change) worse. Not to mention raising truly wild privacy issues—do you want a GPS-connected box in your car that reports your movements to the government? Anyone giving it ten minutes' thought could come up with wiser solutions. What about raising the gas tax, for instance, so that revenues went up and the incentive to buy a Hummer was further reduced?

But since that would require selling the idea of a "tax hike" to voters, it's easier to invent a whole Rube Goldberg system of trunk-mounted boxes and GPS satellites and so forth. It's like the astronomers who spent a thousand years trying to repair the impossibilities of the Ptolemaic cosmology—adding epicycles to orbits to explain away the actual observation of how the planets moved—until Copernicus finally stood up and said what was going on. Where the future of this planet is concerned, we're not quite there yet.... Take, for instance, the conclusion of an Oregon panel working on the same issue of fuel-tax revenues: "While it is good policy to preserve our environment and our resources, it is not good policy to let transportation revenues decline."

When the day comes that a statement like that is laughed out of the room, you'll know we're finally beginning to evolve.

Via Gordon.Coale.

Posted by Magpie at April 2, 2005 04:36 PM | Environment | Technorati links |