The Movement for Ecological Truth

This blog was inspired by the following quote by Oystein Dahle, former Vice President, Exxon, Norway: "Socialism collapsed because it did not allow prices to tell the economic truth. Capitalism may collapse because it does not allow prices to tell the ecological truth."

Monday, May 01, 2006

How do we tell the ecological truth

There have been a lot of methods used to try to get us to be nice to the environment:

-- Rebates for buying efficient things (hybrid/electric vehicles, biodiesel, solar panels, low flow toilets and showerheads, etc.)

This is one of the most popular tools of lawmakers. Who doesn't mind being paid to buy things? On the other hand, this type of law encourages us to replace things prematurely, and doesn't help people who economize by using things less.

-- Standards for minimum efficiencies (CAFE standards for cars, building code requirements on insulation).

These are good, but lack the flexibility to handle individual situations (for example, because a company which produces only limousines has a different characteristic than one which produces mostly commuter vehicles, you either need to set separate standards for different types of cars or have weak standards which don't help).

-- Labeling of the efficiency of products (energy star certification, gas mileage stickers on windows).

This is very good, as it allows the consumer to make an informed decision about the actual costs of their purchases. However, it only tells people what they personally will save, and leaves it up them to calculate how it much will benefit society and how much of a sacrifice they are willing to make to help.

-- Polluter pays (Superfund, smog checks)

This the best one yet. It is the most efficient, and perhaps the ONLY way to get markets to tell the ecological truth is to have polluters pay.

However, it is done in a haphazard way (the superfund penalties, for example have never been enough to cover cleanup costs, have been delayed through various appeals -- and they aren't even collected anymore, so far as I can tell). Smog checks are not based on how much pollution you produce, only how much you produce per mile -- a relative penalty for people who drive less.

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