Green power:
We must embrace incentives to promote sustainable living

How do citizens of desert cities like Albuquerque and water-poor states like New Mexico cope with a climate crisis that's truly global and beyond their control - citizens who realize, for instance, that about 25 percent of the smog in Los Angeles comes from China, all the way across the Pacific Ocean?

Many folks succumb to despair and denial. "How can we do anything at all about global warming?" they ask. I know how they feel. But I'm heartened when I read about America moving toward a "Green New Deal," as it was described recently by Thomas Friedman in an essay called "The Power of Green" in the New York Times Magazine.

Friedman recalls the words of John Gardner, the founder of Common Cause, when he looked at hopeless situations and saw "a series of great opportunities disguised as insoluble problems."

Just as all politics is local, all global warming is local, too - China's smog, India's smog, Brazil's deforestation and the like not withstanding.

So, what are reasonable steps for localities to take?

First of all, we must make our own boat shipshape. Without that, we have no chance of surviving what might be ahead. But what does shipshape mean in a capitalistic society in which the market is said to be in control?

It means we have to elect local leaders who are committed, as big business likes to say, to "incentivizing" conservation of land and resources, water and energy efficiency, public transportation, infill development and local agriculture.

To make ourselves shipshape, we have to do for local businesses and local resources what we've been doing for urban sprawlers and industries looking for a cheap ride: incentivize. That's the only way the market really works, with government incentives and goal-oriented regulations.

If your goal is to build an uncoordinated, inefficient, sprawling place dependent on big-box stores, long-range shipping, fossil fuels and the automobile, then do what we're doing now.

If you want to build an efficient city that works for all, base your regulations and incentives on that goal. Make the process transparent and fair, and be tough on cheaters.

What do we need to regulate and incentivize? Initially, we have to go with the five basics:

We must make sure the ground water we have left is clean and that existing pollution remediated.

Water consumption and "ownership" must become an understandable and honest reality, removed from the realm of pipe dreams, myths and land-grab promotions.

We need to drastically increase the amount of local food we grow and eat. And spend our money helping to grow local businesses. An America that runs on 18-wheelers is coming to an end.

We have to elect tough, fair-minded, visionary people who will regulate and incentivize a "Green New Deal."

We must practice rigorous household conservation and purchase only products that make a good-faith effort at efficiency.

V.B. Price is an Albuquerque free-lance writer, author, editor and commentator.
May 4, 2007