Conserve, NOW: Goverment Would Pay Families and Individuals to Limit Their Annual Greenhouse Gas Emissions
I wrote this proposal in November 2000, after my twin brother, Pat, and I had first become concerned about the seriousness and scientific evidence surrounding the issue of global warming. Pat was a senior employee at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Weather Service’s (NWS) Midwest Regional Office located in Chanhassen, Minnesota, and was assigned to forecast snow melt and flooding levels for rivers, lakes and stream in Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota and North Dakota. Prior to working for the NWS’s Midwest Regional Office, Pat worked for the NWS’s Kansas City office for a number of years.
I worked for the Wisconsin Departmental Resources Natural (DNR) in several different capacities from 1974 to 2008 and in 2000 was the DNR’s environmental liaison coordinator for Wisconsin Department of Transportation long range plans and proposed highway construction projects. Both Pat and I decided it was important to let others know of our concerns, in particular our employers, who we agreed should both be informing the public of the problems of a continuously warming environment, how it might impact future public and private human and natural resources, what the Government should be doing now to better incorporate the likely reality of global warming into its plans and policies for the future, and what might be done to reduce the causes behind it.
To view my currently proposed “Conserve, NOW plan, which I delivered to the Wisconsin Legislature at a public hearing at the State Capitol in February 2014, read on. A threefold expansion of the 2000 plan has now become necessary due to a continuing reluctance of our governmental representatives in Wisconsin, the U. S. and other countries, as well as ourselves, to take the necessary actions to meaningfully reduce our additions to the growing quantities of global warming gases in our atmosphere and the oceans.
My proposed Conserve NOW program would be administered by Government (preferably at the state level), and it would not discriminate on the basis of color, creed, physical or mental ability, sex or sexual orientation, age, nationality or an individual’s or family’s level of income. Participation would be voluntary, and there would be ample sources of money to fund it, with the overall purpose being to minimize the county’s greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning – in transportation; electricity use and household heating – yearly. Due to the worsening income inequality in this city, state and nation, which has undoubtedly adversely affected our African-American population the hardest, African-Americans should be eligible for up to 4 times the original per person suggested in the 2000 Conserve, NOW proposal each year, as reparation for slavery, which is clearly long overdue and still woefully inadequate.
Under this revision, African-Americans would be eligible to earn a maximum of $30,400 per year rather than the otherwise applicable maximum of $22,800 per year ($22,800 would still be the maximum available as a positive financial incentive to reduce greenhouse gas emission and other cost for all others that are not of African-American descent) – provided they don’t drive, fly or use fossil fuel-derived energy in their home during the designated year of their voluntary enrollment.
At the same time, as part of my responsibilities working for the DNR, I was responsible for assessing the environmental impacts of transportation alternatives proposed by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) to address the mounting highway congestion that was expected on Wisconsin’s highway system for the oncoming decades. Predictably, and based on its projected and so-called “need” to accommodate the increase in projected driving, the DOT would accordingly nearly always propose solutions to congested highway and freeways that would add lanes of concrete and right-of-ways at the expense of the loss of productive agricultural lands, environmentally sensitive wetlands, prairies and woodlands, many times building the entire expanded highway segment around communities, as well as leaving the old highway through the communities in place. In some cases, the expanded highway system would create additional demands on the newly constructed highways, resulting in increased traffic, more air emissions (including greenhouse gas from fossil fuel burning) from the increased traffic, as well as the emissions resulting from grading the land and manufacturing cement and asphalt laid to create the new highway lanes and interchanges. Of course all these options necessitated the “investment” of billion of dollars of the public’s money into the highway system, with most of the money paid to private road and bridge building and consulting companies to build the new lanes of highways and wider or new bridges. The Wisconsin DOT thus predicted there would continue to be an increased need for more and more lanes of highways, throughout the state, and that the “needs” for the continuously expanded highway system would continue to grow. requiring that an even larger quantity of the state’s dwindling acres or agricultural land, wetlands, prairies and forests. I said to the DOT and highway and bridge construction representative that this assumption of continuous growth in the state’s highway system was unsustainable, both from a financial as well as from an environmental standpoint, and that they had to change things. I offered my plan for changing things to them at a systems planning meeting in December 1999.
I said I had developed a transportation plan that, instead of continuously expanding the highway system, the instead would direct the State of Wisconsin to offer financial incentives to Wisconsinites who drove fewer miles on the state’s highway system over the year. I said that, assuming enough Wisconsinites participated in the rewards program, and signed up for the reduced driving (or no driving) program, that there doing that would reduce the traffic on the highway system by a sufficient amount to save the money that would have otherwise gone into building the many new and costly highways, freeways and bridges that the construction industry wanted to see the Wisconsin Legislature and the Wisconsin DOT fund to them. I argued that not only would my reduced-driving strategy result in fewer lanes of steel, cement and asphalt needing to be laid on the Wisconsin landscape, at a considerable and perhaps unsustainable amount of public financial cost, but also the financial and natural resource costs of the resources lost to the highway construction (such as prime agricultural land, wetlands, woodlands and prairies, as well as the wildlife species dependent on those), the the potentially human costs of increased volumes of particulates and greenhouse gases and other emissions that would result from the increase in motorized use of the new highways in Wisconsin each year. Under my proposal, fewer miles would be driven on the stat’s highways over time, assuming Wisconsinite’s followed through by reducing or eliminating their need to drive on the state’s highway system during the year, thus making them eligible to receive their annual low-driving rebate.
I decided to add a similar approach to reduce the number of airline miles traveled in a year by each person, since aircraft emissions also cause significant amounts of greenhouse gas emissions from Wisconsin. Finally, I included an incentive for individuals and families to use less fossil fuel derived energy in their home, per capita, and to reward those individual and families who used lower energy amounts over the year with annual rebates.
I sent copies of my proposal (Conserve, NOW!) to all my elected governmental officials at the time, and I met with my two elected state legislators to ask them them if this was something they would like to support it. Unfortunately, I received no legislative support for the proposal, as well as no indication of support by the governor of the idea.
Now we have lost 14 years of fighting global warming because no action was taken to reduce greenhouse gases from the state in a significant way, and the amount of paved highways and airport runways has continued to grow;. Reducing compounding and rising greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere back to a safe level (350 ppm carbon dioxide (CO2), for example) will be that much more difficult now as a large majority of the greenhouse gases have projected lifespans exceeding hundreds of years. Worse yet, the greenhouse gas “Methane”, which is also called natural gas, while it burns cleaner and more efficiently than coal, the process of burning it produces more carbon dioxide, and that which escapes un-burned, is 37 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas when it is released to the atmosphere as methane.
The country is now seeing a boom in mining for natural gas as a result of the new technology of frac mining of shale at many locations in the U.S.. This kind of natural gas mining can also result in the release of methane (not burned) to the atmosphere. The unintended consequences of increased frac sand mining and processing in the U.S. upon local communities, and the additional emissions of greenhouse gases and other particles of combustion to the atmosphere from frac sand and water transport, and the eventual distribution of the natural gas to the eventual user, may also be significant. (For a more detailed discussion of natural gas mining in the U.S., please see the December 2012 and March 2013 issues of the National Geographic magazine.)
Unfortunately, the U.S. government and its states and municipalities lag behind many countries of the world (such as Denmark and Germany) in widely implementing technologies and government policies that result in reduced-fossil fuel burning by its people, municipalities, and industries. Rather than build and/or fund large scale solar, wind or other emerging renewable energies, our government continues to fund more new multi-lane highway projects, new airport runways and modern airline terminal projects. It’s publicly funded high speed rail projects are extremely expensive, and the trains still rely on heavily on the burning of fossil fuels for locomotion. Ultimately, these projects and subsidies will deplete our public budgets and worse. They will add to the immense global warming burden we know we are now imposing on all our world’s future generations, and have been for some time now.
Most U.S. communities are lacking in having sound land use policies that reduce the need for people to do long-distance commuting to their place of work or doing other business. Our U.S. government and states all fail to offer financial incentives that would otherwise encourage people of the U.S. to reduce their heavy reliance on expensive, heavy ecological footprint causing and excessively subsidized airplane flying, highway travel and rail transit. Our U.S. federal government also provides massive public subsidies to the fossil fuel industries in the U.S., which only serves to encourage more and more fossil fuel burning and faster global warming because it keeps the price of those fuels artificially low than it otherwise would have been had it not been for the subsidies. dump massive amounts (millions of tons) of very potent greenhouse gases into the earth’s atmosphere from fossil fuel burning, annually, which, together with the increasingly large volumes of greenhouse gases that are being released to the atmosphere as a result of “positive global warming feed backs” – which occur naturally in the earth’s systems – such as the melting going on at the North polar ice cap that results in a less reflective snow cap being replaced by darker ocean water, which absorbs more sunlight energy, and thereby causes the oceans’ water to warm and expand. In addition, the sea level is rising as a result of the melting of thousands and thousands of cubic miles of snow and ice that are located on land surfaces which were once in a permanently frozen condition but are now melting ever more rapidly (eg. Greenland ice sheet, Antarctica and the vast majority of the earth’s glaciers and mountain tops such as Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain.
The combustion of fossil fuels such as gasoline, jet fuel and diesel oil to transport people and goods is the second largest source of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from human activity in the U.S., accounting for about 31% of total U.S. CO2 emissions and 26% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2011. This includes transportation sources such as highway vehicles, air travel, marine transportation, and rail.
In lieu of not receiving funds elsewhere, my proposed solution would be for our Government: (1) to levee a carbon tax on burning the burning of all fossil fuels – gasoline, jet fuel, natural gas, diesel fuel, fuel oil, etc., and electricity produce in burning coal and natural gas, and using other things that, when used, (eg. free-on from air conditioning sources) result in the release greenhouse gases to the atmosphere; and then (2) to take all that money that is collected from these sources and use that money to fund a program that REWARDS individuals and families via giving annual rebates to individual and families who add only minor amounts of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, by their minimal (or no) annual driving, flying, and consumption of heating fuel and electricity that is generated from burning fossil fuels.
Measuring annual driving, flying and use of energy over the year would be done through car and truck odometers and home/business the FAA, and electric country metering.This program would solve a lot of other problems (global warming, highway congestion, air pollution, fossil fuel supplies and development and transportation and possibly urban sprawl), in addition to the food crisis situation. Legislation that increases the price we all have to pay for carbon-based fuels would encourage us to better insulate our homes and businesses, drive more efficient cars and use fewer products depended on the burning of fossil fuels. It might even encourage some of us to drive and fly less, activities which require the large scale burning of fossil fuels in the aggregate in this country.
Revenue collected from the added price (tax) on carbon fuels should be returned to households. In particular, this money should be awarded back to those members of the public who drive and fly less miles, annually, and who use less energy that is derived from fossil fuel burning energy in their homes over a year. Enacting such legislation would ensure the public is on board with this approach and is also well aware of its importance – which is to slow down the warming of our climate. Our legislators should enact this plan into law as soon as possible. Other states and countries should then ideally follow suit. We all need to be working toward the goal of reducing our carbon emissions and other known greenhouse gases before our climate gets completely out of wack!