Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Holiday from Real

Why can't we have a real discussion about energy and alternatives in this country? As we continue to talk about worthless alternatives like gas tax holidays and price caps, real solutions to our energy problems get tossed aside. Today Thomas Friedman writes in the New York Times that the United States passed on giving tax breaks to alternative energy. Soon we will have tax credits for oil companies that are making record profits on the market while alternative energy credits run out. While this would not really help in the transportation sector that uses the most oil, it most certainly would have the effect of getting the ball rolling on ways to get us off the sippy cup. Even carbon taxes as Ezra Klein points out would help give us a push.

But there is another problem that plagues us now and long term. The Gizmo Green. This is the hope that technology alone and not also behavioral modifications will save us from ourselves. Barack Obama even has an ad out discussing what we can do including:

Raising fuel efficiency standards
Alternative fuel research
Middle class tax cut

Whew. Once we do that the problems will be solved! Not. That is all about cars. What about modes of electric transit? What about development patterns? Walkable, bike friendly communities? Anyone? Bueller?

Matt at track twenty-nine says it best:
Still, Mr. Obama's message leaves a little to be desired. He recently reiterated his support for Amtrak and for building a better high-speed rail network in this country, but he has not yet asked Americans to change modes, nor has he promised to significantly change the way we build transit in America.

In all of President Bush's States of the Union, he called for us to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Not once did he ask Americans to try the bus. Not once did he promise a spending package that would start a wave of new transit construction across the nation. Instead, he called for new fuels (to be delivered sometime in the future) and a switch to biofuels (also to be delivered sometime in the future).

Asking Americans to switch to transit would produce an immediate reduction in oil usage, especially if it was coupled with subsidies to reduce fares and the construction of new lines.
Seems to me we did this with the Interstate Highway Act. Not to mention that more transit means more jobs in an ailing economy. Perhaps a new program is in order to change our possible transport and neighborhood choices, not just what powers our cars. Now when buying your first house, you can choose between suburbs. It's annoying to hear folks say that the market prefers suburbs when downtowns are so expensive because of the market for living in them. I wish those people that hated living here in dense ole San Francisco would move out because its dang expensive due that pesky market demand for a transit-oriented lifestyle people sure don't like.


CityKin said...

I wish they would talk about it too, but none of the candidates would benefit from discussing public transportation because they are all chasing the suburban voter.

Erik said...

Agreed. Also, I think that if a politician says that we have to take public transportation, etc, it will have little bearing on what we actually do. What a politician CAN do however is foster rail and transit construction like HSR and provide a convenient, reliable infrastructure for Americans. So when more and more people are paralyzed because they cannot afford gasoline, there will be that transportation backbone for people to fall back on.

Also, I think that people "cling" to their cars and telling them the unfortunate truth does not garner very many votes.

Adron said...

I still think it would work much better if the federal & state guv'ments just stepped back. Put it in the hands of the people and place the responsibility back on our shoulders to fix the mess we have now.

Throughout the history of the US the people did a vastly better job at building system than the Government. With simple guidelines, plans, and some basic (very basic) oversight and coordination by the feds for cities that need connected, companies willing and able to do ti, we'd have a decent system again within 10-15 years.

With subsidized and manipulated this and that, it's gonna be anothher 30-40 years before we get any a decent level of balance again, and by then it'll definitely be a problem, and most likely vastly under the demand of what our society will place on it.

I personally must say, I do not want to stand up on a train everywhere I go. Generally Government handling these matters gives us exactly that, standing cattle trains.

Santa Fe, Burlington Northern, Great Northern, Key System, Portland Electric, New Orleans Streetcar, New York Central, and Pennsylvannia Central to name a few, provided us VASTLY SUPERIOR service compared to what we currently have today.

I'd also like to see road systems actually bear their costs. If that was to occur when it was absolutely necessary to use private transport for work or other need the roads would be much more usable. This continous traffic jam the Government has built us into is a joke.