Protecting the environment cannot be at the cost of people’s livelihoods

With the exception of the fringe right, most of us will agree that we have an obligation to preserve earth’s resources for the benefit of the future generations. With the exception of the fringe left, most of us will agree that such environmental concerns cannot be tackled at the cost of our livelihoods, our ability to keep food prices affordable, or by the government wasting tax payer funds. The environment is best protected by individual behavioral and consumption choices starting with switching off the lights and the television when one leaves the room—a second nature to many of us who grew up in India!

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In the name of economic stimulus, the government decided to play favorites in the alternative energy industry and awarded Solyndra Inc. with a whopping $535 million. While governments at all levels should and must incentivize behavior and consumption choices that lead to a cleaner earth, the Solyndra fiasco is a classic example of overzealous and misguided government intervention in the private sector. According to the Washington Post, the $36.8 billion federal green loan program has created only 5 percent of the 65,000 promised jobs—with each job costing more than $5 million!

Another egregious overreach is the ban on incandescent bulbs scheduled to go into effect Jan 1, 2014, a bill signed by George W. Bush into law. While reducing pollution is a laudable goal, a better way to achieve that will be through allowing consumer choice and providing tax incentives for both the manufacture and purchase of energy efficient compact florescent light (CFL) bulbs. CFL bulbs do present some risk of mercury contained in them with safe disposal concerns. Consumers should be allowed to best meet their lighting needs with a choice of a light bulb evaluating the costs they can afford and the risks that they can tolerate. In September 2010, the last GE incandescent bulb manufacturing plant in the United States closed in Virginia, resulting in the loss of hundreds of jobs.

“Congress created dust bowl” screams signs all along the Interstate 5 corridor; the central valley is fertile ground for a variety of produce but much of the land is arid today thanks to a ruling that deemed the smelt fish to be endangered if water was released south from the Delta estuary.

Yes, we must protect the environment but a supposedly 1.5 degree increase in global temperatures in 100 years does not license any government to rob us of our tax dollars or our livelihoods. Only a concerted global effort led by intelligent consumer choices and the private sector meeting that demand with tax incentives can achieve meaningful stewardship of the environment. Since 2007, China has had the highest CO2 emissions in the world, with India in the 3rd place—these countries must pay their fair share in the cleanup.

Rameysh Ramdas, an SF Bay Area professional, writes as a hobby.


Protecting the environment is an act of self-defense for the survival of our species

The United States should aggressively support renewable energy through government assistance and mandates not just because it might help reverse climate change, or because peak oil production will be reached in 2015, or because of inherent safety and health concerns. Aggressive government intervention is needed for fundamental innovation to take place.

For individuals to adopt energy efficient practices is a worthy objective. However, 84.9 percent of total energy consumed in the United States and 86.0 percent of energy consumed by American individuals and households results from fossil fuel combustion. Only a Manhattan Project-like directive to develop renewables and move away from foreign oil and coal can make a significant impact here. Depending on free market and private funding to enact major shifts in policy is not realistic as a) the absence of short term profit is a deterrent, and b) private sector is at its most risk-averse during these economic times.

Detractors of renewable energy claim that renewables are viable only because of subsidies. In reality even mature sectors of energy are heavily subsidized. According to the Environmental Institute coal enjoys a $3billion/year subsidy with an additional $1.5 billion in healthcare spending on tackling black lung disease. So unless we strip ALL subsidies off all energy sources we cannot say it is a level playing field. We should also note that, with economies of scale slowly improving,  the costs of renewables, especially solar, have been steadily declining. From my personal experience a well-sized photovoltaic  array has 8-10% return on investment. And an energy efficient car like the Prius can reduce gasoline consumption by 30-50%.

One favorite argument of naysayers is that we cannot compete with the highly subsidized solar industry in China. If we set renewable energy targets, price carbon consumption correctly, and provide the support for investment in the industry, it can be a great source of jobs. After all, we invented solar panel technology!

As a last ditch effort, conservatives, whose campaigns are often bankrolled by oil and gas companies, point to the failed Department of Energy investment in Solyndra. Failure of such investments is normal before winning ideas emerge. Extremists in Congress have found time to open an investigation into this matter, conveniently forgetting that the loan guarantee process was started under the Bush  administration, while they remain silent on Wall Street’s shenanigans.

If there was political will for ending our costly wars and reducing our defense budget, we would have the funds to invest in industries which can have a longer lasting impact on our health as a country. While the politicking continues, do yourself a favor and consider investing in a solar energy system for your home or purchasing an energy efficient car.

Mani Subramani works in the semi-conductor industry in Silicon Valley.

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