Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Bad Solutions to Complex Problems

One more building photo as an excuse to talk about something that's been on my mind lately. I recently approached a post office that I visit often from a different direction than usual, and came across this striking building:



even more striking on the side that faces the river. The reflections of the poplar trees that line the river put me in mind of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. The building looks green, but is it really?



- Just like the Emissions Trading Scheme that our government has been discussing recently. Actually, I believe the legislation was first passed by the previous government, and our current government is busy tinkering with it, and trying to get its amendments passed before the Copenhagen Climate Conference.

Some time back, it seems that the government decided that the choice was between an ETS and a carbon tax, and they rejected the latter. Are those the only two ways to reduce emissions? Both are ways of punishing the high emitters - a trading scheme is perhaps slightly better in that it provides rewards for those who reduce emissions, as they can sell their carbon credits. But there are already inherent rewards for reducing emissions. For instance, I would be very happy to be able to halve the fuel bill for my car, or the power bill for my home. Paying less is a reward for being more efficient. To buy a more fuel-efficient car, however, would cost me a good deal more short term than I would save (maybe I would save in the long term). And to reduce my power bills - after we have tried all the easier and more obvious measures - might cost tens of thousands of dollars in modifications to my house - installation of double glazing, solar heating etc, rearrangement of rooms to catch the sun, more insulation and so on.

Financial penalties will bring about changes in behaviour, sometimes. For instance, when our supermarket started charging for plastic bags, it's amazing how many people found it easier to remember to take their reusable bags along on each shopping trip. But they had an easy choice - buy a bag or take one of their own. On the other hand, the ETS, we are told, will add three and a half cents a litre to fuel prices at the pump. But most of us drive because we need to drive to get where we are going. (I walk to work on the days that I work close to home, and it's not raining - and on the other days, I calculate that it will take me four times as long to get to work by bus, and cost me as much in bus fares as in petrol). Here in New Zealand, our fuel prices rise and fall by much more than three and a half cents as our exchange rate fluctuates, and it doesn't affect behaviour very much. Higher fuel prices will also mean more expensive food, but we still have to eat. So we will have less left over to save, which means less to invest in new companies, which may develop new energy efficient technologies.

OK, I'm being a little simplistic here. Still, I don't believe reducing emissions means a choice between two "punishments". And we have to remember that reducing emissions is the goal, not just punishing polluters. One thing that our government has done that I believe will make a difference is to bring in a subsidy for home insulation. There are many more things that could be done. What about ensuring all new government buildings, schools, etc are designed for energy efficiency? What about buying only fuel efficient cars to drive our politicians around in? What about investing more in scientific research into energy efficient technologies? This might not only reduce our country's emissions, but prove an excellent export earner. Our current record of support for scientific research is so dismal that few young people are going into science, and most of those who do have to travel overseas to find work. I'm sure a little brainstorming would come up with many more ideas, at least some of which would be workable.

It's not even a matter of whether man-made global warming is a reality or not. If it isn't (and I somehow doubt that is the case), we will still benefit from warmer houses, from lower government costs in the long run due to more efficient buildings, from the increased export earnings from technology, and so on.

Let's discuss the real problem and find real solutions.

(and visit Carmi's Thematic Photographic for more photos of buildings. Carmi is an excellent photographer and also usually has something thoughtful to say, to go along with his photos.)

2 comments:

Cioara Andrei said...
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Essay said...
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