Bush announces climate change plan: throw money at the problem:
The Bush administration Wednesday proposed to address climate change through a new program that would provide billions of dollars to accelerate development of technologies needed to reduce emissions of Earth-warming pollutants.
In a vacuum of ideas, this would be better than nothing. But we’ve heard essentially the same rhetoric from him for decades. And here we still are. Apparently the plan sets goals for limiting atmosphere heating emissions, but doesn’t actually have an enforcement mechanism, other than the hope that everyone will just jump on the techno-bandwagon.
Meanwhile, Al Gore is out proposing that we replace payroll taxes with a carbon tax. And economists seem to think that would probably be pretty neutral in its societal effects. I’m not convinced that the swap is a smart idea, but it is at least cost-neutral, may have some benefits by shifting costs from poorer workers to wealthier industries.
People may object to even a cost-neutral tax, since everyone hates taxes. The problem is, billions of extra dollars of deficit spending (I’m not enough of a budget geek to wade through the full proposal, but I don’t see anyone talking about where this money is supposed to come from). Deficit spending is taxation deferred. Unless you invoke some sort of magical thinking, money you borrow today is money you have to pay back, with interest, tomorrow.
Which perfectly exemplifies the problem.
Climate change is a problem that won’t really hit for a few decades (though early signs are already upon us). It’s cheap to keep doing the same old thing now, and it’s expensive to change. The benefits of changing won’t accrue for a long time. So lazy people and short-sighted people don’t bother to invest in cleaner technology.
“Leave it to people down the road” is the mantra of this administration, and of many, many people. We are all, after all, lazy and short-sighted. We all exercise less than we should, we put less money into our IRAs than we should, we leave the lights on when we leave a room and we drive when we could just walk, or bike.
A little laziness is good, Perl hackers consider it a virtue. Of course, they recognize something important about the practice of laziness. Randal Schwartz explains in the beloved Camel Book that laziness is:
The quality that makes you go to great effort to reduce overall energy expenditure. It makes you write labor-saving programs that other people will find useful, and document what you wrote so you don’t have to answer so many questions about it. Hence, the first great virtue of a programmer.
Driving when you could walk isn’t actually lazy by this standard. It doesn’t actually minimize overall energy expenditure, it just defers or transfers the energy expended from you to your car, or more precisely to decomposed plants from millions of years ago. Perlish laziness requires you to invest time up-front to save effort down the line.
This is so obvious that even congresscritters get it:
Representative Sherwood Boehlert, Republican of New York, chided Mr. Eule about the long time horizon envisioned for some technologies, saying that the administration’s plan “is silent on the deployment of technologies already out or near the end of the pipeline” of research efforts.
“What are we doing about deploying these technologies next year” Mr. Boehlert added, “not 15 years from now?”
And when will we think beyond widgets and address the actual issue, that we are profligate in our energy use. Before people mess with techno-fixes, why not try simple behavioral shifts that tie into existing technologies, like replacing incandescent lightbulbs with compact fluorescents?