4.26.2009

Green, Green Everywhere


Thursday here in Philadelphia was the scene of not one but two green-related conferences, one by the Drexel Engineering Cities Initiative and one by the American Cities Foundation. Mark Alan Hughes, Mayor Nutter's sustainability czar, spoke at both, and invited everyone to next week's rollout of his office's sustainability framework, which will hopefully make a big ripple both locally and nationally.

Needless to say, the green economy is on everyone's mind. Yet a number of unresolved questions remain. And at the risk of being branded a non-believer, let me ask them. What, exactly, is the green economy? What is a green job? Is public intervention in the name of carbon emission reduction for the purpose of reversing climate change a massively misguided and wasteful effort? If it makes sense to do some of these things, why is it taking huge government intervention to get them off the ground? And if encouraging high-density development in well-transited cities like Philadelphia is the greenest thing we can do, why aren't we focusing on things that promote urban growth rather than futzing around on sexier but relatively marginal things like bamboo paint and solar panels?

And, most importantly, isn't getting the price of natural resources like oil and water the more efficient and effective way to move us towards a more sustainable way of life and commerce? If we want people to not over-consume oil and squander water, shouldn't we just reverse our current subsidy (i.e. under-pricing) of these things, rather than contriving complicated government programs (which will only lead to unintended consequences and added bureaucracy) and hoping for people to do sub-optimal things in the name of saving Mother Nature (instead of just giving people real financial reasons to turn from their current throwaway ways).

This is why I attend these conferences, to wait for these kinds of questions to be asked and these kinds of policies to be proposed. And, if I don't hear them, to ask and propose them myself. After all, the popularity of the green economy as a concept makes it all the more important for somebody to ask the hard questions and advance the hard choices, lest we all think we can go along for the easy ride and end up realizing we didn't get anywhere.
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