Posts filed under ‘Government’

The Responsible Society

While I work on a new post, I thought I’d recycle one that hasn’t been viewed in a while. One of my other writing themes has been to find the magic argument that will convince the rest of the world that we need to become sustainable now. I’ve tried many different angles including religion (see Manifesting the Golden Rule). This post was an attempt to wake people up to being truly responsible for their actions. Hopefully someday someone will find that magic words…

The Sustainability Puzzle

We teach the subject of social responsibility in our universities, we lecture the topic to our children and I think many assume that society is generally responsible. But, are we? It seems to me that just as a person is responsible for their choices, society is likewise responsible for its collective actions. What does this imply? It implies that society is responsible for the failure of the systems it implements and that poverty, homelessness, hunger and inadequate healthcare are the manifestations of our system’s failures.

Throughout this blog, I’ve tried to capture the implications of responsibility by describing the essence of what distinguishes children from adults – taking responsibility for their actions. It does not magically happen at the age of 18, 21 or even 74. It is a state of mind that we accept when we are mature enough to comprehend it. And, like a teenager modern society wants…

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March 24, 2012 at 6:11 am 6 comments

Transitioning to “Cantilevered Sustainability”

My posts to the Sustainability Puzzle have focused on presenting a basic outline of how to re-organize ourselves sustainably. Now that we have a working design, how can we actually transition society into a cantilevered system of sustainability?  Well, I think there is no silver bullet, but a great deal of the legwork can be accomplished through the tried and true carrot and stick approach of tax policy.  Let me share my general thoughts with you.

One of the goals of a cantilevered system of sustainability is to cluster resources and communities around them.  It aims to densify cities and dramatically improve their sustainability.  These resource intense cities would be cantilevered by sustainable communities networked by smart rail systems in the space between cities.  Because these communities are sustainable and provide their own services, they would not require government services and would be tax free (see The Grand Bargain).

In order to prepare for the new built environment, one change I would propose is to reformulate property tax assessments to include the actual cost of services to a property as well as an “unsustainablity” assessment.  Properties that are less eco-friendly will be taxed at a higher rate than those that are resource-neutral.  The tax can increase over a period of time to make carbon-hungry buildings uneconomical, incentivizing retrofits or altogether replacement.  Another aim of the policy is to concentrate cities into a defined area — promoting vertical and green development while discouraging sprawl.  This will inevitably result in abandoning structures as well as areas that are not populated enough to make it economical for the resources required to keep them within the domain of the city. There will ultimately be a lowest tax rate in the city, but since it will be connected by roads, education and health systems, there cannot be a 0% rate within cities.  This 0% rate would be reserved for sustainable communities outside the city.

One of the greatest sources of our unsustainability is our transportation system (see Transportation Trap) and city sprawl encourages private car ownership.  By discouraging sprawl and encouraging densification through an “unsustainability tax”, we’re promoting the economics of public transport and undermining the need for the private automobile.  For example, currently malls pop up in suburbs that are only easily accessed by car and require new off ramps, dedicated traffic intersections, new sewage and water lines.  Such infrastructure sprawl will become uneconomic as its construction and maintenance will no longer be subsidized.

The traditional argument would be that increasing taxes will slow down economic activity.  However, it is also true that people will spend money to avoid taxes! If the policies are announced in advance and phased in over time, people and business will be able to make the physical changes and experience little change in their tax rate.  The benefit will be a surge in building and innovation of technologies, services and systems that will result from this planned change in our built environment.  This “call to action” will create a short-term boom of 10 years or longer during the transition into our new sustainable systems.

To read more on the wisdom of densifying cities:

http://environment.umn.edu/momentum/issue/4.1w12/steffen.html

March 11, 2012 at 7:16 am 15 comments

Effective Government

Government is an important part of how a modern civilization organizes itself.  While many americans very often treat it as a boogy-man, Abraham Lincoln described its purpose in very practical terms: “We should do together what we cannot do as well by ourselves.”  The problem today is that government has become a catch-all and as such is becoming ineffective — kind of the “jack of all trades, master of none” syndrome.  In a sustainable system, however, government’s role will be refocused.  The concept of sustainable communities is that they are self-governing and self-reliant and designed to resolve as many issues as possible at their local level thereby decreasing the responsibilities people place on a centralized government system.

Geography: At present, governments are responsible for everything, everywhere.  This is causing a strain on its ability to provide effective services to everyone.  By contrast, in a cantilevered system of sustainability, the role of government would shrink the domain of its responsibility to the consumption based economies of the cities, leaving the sustainable communities to self-govern and coordinate resources amongst each other.

Financial Liabilities: Currently, governments are responsible for social welfare programs for everyone that is resulting in huge budget deficits as well as inadequate services for those in need.  The structure of sustainable communities would actually eliminate the need for any social welfare programs since the design of the communities achieves the same results.  So, for example, if eventually 80% of a population emigrates into the sustainable system, the US Federal government would similarly decrease its future liabilities for social security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment and all other services.

Jobs: Economics is a fancy word to describe how people make a living – providing for oneself and one’s family.  Our “modern” system accomplishes this through jobs which government policies are forced to promote at any cost.  In a consumption-based world of 6+ billion people, near full employment is not possible and irresolvable.  However, if 80% of the population retreats into a sustainable system of living, full-employment within the consumption economy becomes possible and will in fact increase the value of labor in cities.

The systems in place that make the “world go around” were not designed, but evolved over time through trial and error.  And, while they may have gotten us to where we are, they are inadequate to meet the modern challenges we now face. The game has changed and we don’t recognize it yet.  And, while I’m not sure exactly what the game is, if it’s “who’s on top”, the United States is rapidly losing its place.  Moreover, right now the United States and the world are facing the new, great depression.  The course of action I’m proposing will prime the economic pump to keep the world going in the short term and lead us into a system that is sustainable for generations to come.

June 9, 2011 at 10:40 am Leave a comment



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