The first thing the government should have done with respect to the environment was put a price on carbon through a carbon tax, cap and trade system or some other genuine meaningful methodology, but unfortunately that seems unlikely in the current political environment. However, the following five things are positive steps that can be taken to improve the environment and/or better prepare for scenarios that will more than likely develop in the future. None of these elements should draw legitimate opposition due to political affiliation.
1. Farm subsidies have always been a controversial issue, especially those subsidies which award farmers for leaving their fields barren of crops or ‘encourage’ growth of a certain staple crop due to market economics. Millions of dollars are given to owners of thousands of acres, which are inherently unproductive because unregulated growth could easily drive down prices for certain crops making it more difficult for agrobusinesses and independent farmers to turn a profit. It would be very difficult to eliminate the subsidies because of the powerful agricultural lobby in Congress, but the operational condition of the subsidy could still be changed. For example instead of growing nothing or some forced specific crop, the owners of land receiving these subsidies should be compelled to grow switchgrass in order to continue receiving the subsidy.
After growing to maturity, the switchgrass can then be harvested and burned in a slow pyrolytic process to create bio-char. This bio-char can then be recycled back into the original field to aid future switchgrass growth. Once the given field has attained bio-char saturation, additional bio-char can be transported to other fields and the process can continue. Not only will the application of bio-char in fields increase the overall yields and potentially increase soil quality, but it will also take a bite out of the total amount of carbon dioxide that human release into the atmosphere, the major element that drives global warming. This cultivation of switchgrass does not require the use artificial fertilizers (natural is fine) or pesticides nor does it interfere with the original purpose of the subsidy which is to stabilize a certain market price range for a given crop.
2. One of the lesser talked about, but more important elements of the American Energy and Security Act (ACES) passed by the House of Representatives in 2009 was the new proposed building regulations with regards to energy use. At least 40% of U.S. energy use involves buildings and while not all of the energy use is waste, a significant amount is wasted where most of this waste is derived directly through how buildings are constructed. The steadily increasing efficiency scale for energy use proposed in the ACES is well-designed and should go a long way to increasing overall national energy efficiency as well as reducing carbon emissions. In fact without a new national building code, any real movement on the energy efficiency front is severely handicapped because it is not in the financial interest of electricity companies to rein in electricity use regardless of how many smart meter pilot programs they advertise. Defining a long-term set of building codes will also benefit the construction industry because it will demonstrate a clear price signal which will allow for intelligent and confident investment and planning for the future of the home building and planning sector of the construction industry.
However, there are two issues that need to be addressed regarding new building codes. First, an objective and transparent measure of efficiency needs to be made with a standard model of operation. Basically the measurement of efficiency improvement requires a universal application of how people would interact with and in the building to confirm the legitimacy of the design. If the interaction differs then one building may receive an unfair advantage over another when meeting these efficiency standards unless compensated. Second, the government needs to have some authority to regulate cost of any items that are deemed ‘high-value’ in the design and construction of new more efficient buildings in effort to avoid any price gouging from suppliers taking advantage of the new requirements. Finally there may be some resistance to the development of these new codes, but such resistance is fruitless unless it cites meaningful rationalities and/or flaws in the code. To address these issues all state agencies should have the ability to create a report regarding any potential flaws in the current proposed code and a reasonable counterproposal containing appropriate solutions.
3. As previously mentioned in this post, it is time for the government to pick winners and losers in the electricity sector of the energy industry because with continually decreasing resource availability with regards to construction materials deriving success from piecemeal solutions will become more and more difficult. Remember while normally selecting winners/losers is not the government’s role, the free market has been corrupted and is unable to effectively select the most viable choice(s).
4. Although it is debatable when the era of cheap oil will end, the fact that it will end soon is not. Therefore, it is important for the government to develop or at least aid in the development of new operational infrastructure and transportation for the agricultural sector. Clearly hybrid and 100% electrical passenger vehicles have been developed, but little work has been done on heavy machinery for agricultural use. While there are a small number of options, clearly more planning and work need to be done. With profit margins for independent farmers already quite thin, a steady increase in gasoline price due to increases in oil prices and a possible increase in fertilizer price due to rising natural gas demand will more than likely remove food from the marketplace. Agrobusinesses, which devoutly care about profits, will raise their prices in lockstep with any long-term increase in operational costs due to increasing oil prices, effectively removing food from the marketplace for poorer Americans. With that in mind it is up to the government to drive the development of heavy machines that can perform agricultural tasks which are not impacted by future rising oil prices.
5. Work to develop a national water conservation strategy. For far too long water conservation has been viewed as a luxury instead of a necessity. With drought conditions perpetually affecting the Southwest and the Southeast portions of the United States and the increasingly warming climate soon to exacerbate conditions it is about time a cohesive and thorough national water conservation strategy is developed to effectively deal with future shortages. While some individuals break out in hives whenever the government proposes anything, administration of intelligent and reasonable water conservation for 300+ million people is something only a centralized government has the ability to effectively manage. The ongoing droughts have unfortunately demonstrated that states have been unable to rein in water usage and private enterprise is not appropriate or equipped to do so in an ethical and reasonable way. Therefore, it is important for the government to begin action on not only an appropriate conservation strategy, but also future water generation technology, deployment of greater waste treatment technology and water storage facilities to ensure an adequate and fluid (no pun intended) water supply.