Posts filed under ‘Politics’

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

Would Jesus be a Republican?

The American political dialogue irks me in several different ways. Among the most needling is the debate among conservative Christians about which Presidential candidate to support and has led me down some interesting thought experiments. While they presume many of their beliefs, they likewise might presume that were Jesus here today, he would definitely be a Republican. But, would he? And, more importantly to my readers, how does this relate to sustainability?

First, for the purpose of full disclosure, this is not my first trip down this particular thought experiment. A couple of years ago I wrote a screenplay investigating a similar idea. If a modern day prophet lived among us with all the answers to our problems, would anyone pay attention to him or his message? While I gave the story a happy ending because people like happy endings and that’s generally what Hollywood buys, we have a real-life example from which we can draw a more rational conclusion.

As I understand the situation, Jesus and most prophets were problem-solvers of their time and culture, so likewise he would be concerned with today’s problems in the context of today’s culture. Being pragmatic, he would not have any party loyalty, but support the one which best tackles the problems he believes most pressing. In a way, the prophet does exist through the concept of sustainability – it explains to us dispassionately the problems humanity faces as well as the solutions, but no one is paying attention – particularly conservatives.

Growing political will for sustainable alternatives is a factor of time and we are at the start of that change in consciousness. While our biggest obstacle to change lies in our culture of presumptions and assumptions, there are signs of hope. For example, among young, conservative Christians, “creation care” is a movement gaining ground that prioritizes the issues of social justice and environmental care before politicized concerns. Pragmatism is reaching solutions and requires everyone to start sleeping with strange bedfellows by crossing political, religious and philosophical lines — democrats with conservatives, conservatives with democrats, and most likely both democrats and republicans with some out of the box ideas that are hard to identify where they fit on the political spectrum.

So, would Jesus be a Republican? No, he would be as apolitical as is the concept of sustainability. And, like a concept, the prophet has no power to change anything. It’s through the billions of choices we collectively make every day that we create our own fate. And, when will we mature as a society to achieve this solution-oriented ideal? I don’t know, but from this perspective it feels like we are not changing fast enough. One thing is true, if we are to find sustainable solutions, change is inevitable.

February 18, 2008 at 7:11 pm 1 comment



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