Don’t Get Me Started, Regulars and Shorts

Don’t Get Me Started: November 2008

By John deJong

What would a $700 million ecological bailout look like?

by John deJong

Attending the local satellite Bioneers Conference at Westminster College last month, my mind and heart raced as I heard about the challenges we face as well as our efforts to surmount them. Sandra Steingraber, in more of a poem than a speech, wove her story of cancer survival and its impetus to her quest for its causes. Some speakers reeled off grim statistics and dire scenarios. Other speakers spoke of the nearly unlimited possibilities of conservation. As I sat watching the satellite link to San Rafael, I began to wonder what a major ecological bailout would look like.
To save America’s economy, we’ve been sold a $700 billion economic bailout. Let me clarify: We’ve bought a $700 billion 30-year mortgage that our children will have to pay off. What has it got us? Consolidation in the financial sector. Your friendly neighborhood teller will soon be replaced by a robo-teller with a high-speed link to the corporate database. To get a loan you’ll have to deal with an on-line robo-veep (no, not Dick Cheney in his best “We had to destroy the Constitution to save it” voice), which will be assessing your credit-worthiness as you grovel for your share of the bailout.
Trickle-down economics still works, doesn’t it? Or is that also considered wealth redistribution? 
The immediate economic problem is not tight credit, it’s no credit. Wall Street and Main Street have run up all the debt the casino, their friends and their enemies would lend. Our paychecks are spent by Tuesday. We’ve sub-mortgaged our sub-suburban homestead to buy matching His & Hers Hummers. We’ve pawned our children to pay for wars. And energywise, we’re running on fumes, even as we choke on them.
The U. S. economy would have been dead in the water for the last eight years if it weren’t for the spending spree financed by the real estate bubble. It’s a wonder that the cost of foreign oil didn’t catch up with us sooner. The only thing that saved us were the incredible amounts of arms the U.S. sold to the “oiligarchy.”
But a more fundamental problem is that we spent that money foolishly. We bought in-home theaters instead of insulation. Suburbans instead of Priuses. Coal instead of wind. Oil instead of efficiency.
What would a $700 billion ecological bailout look like? How far could an ecological bailout go toward solving our economic problems?
How many gas guzzlers could we replace with high efficiency vehicles? What if Detroit were forced to build automobiles (and trucks) that were twice as fuel-efficient?
There is talk about using some of the “economic” bailout to help the Big-but-getting-smaller-Three in Detroit. But why? Detroit is as guilty of irresponsible selling as the real estate industry. It lobbied Congress to keep its buggy whip business out of the red. Two and three ton SOVs (Single Occupancy Vehicles) are so pre-Chicxulub.  
With revised safety and insurance regulations to favor lighter cars, the average American family could get twice the car for half the price, How much of the cost of a current car is due to the requirement to withstand a head-on collision with a Hummer or Suburban? What if liability for an accident was determined by the ratio of the vehicle’s weights?
How many CO2- and mercury-belching coal-fired power plants could we replace with wind power? What if we used dirty coal as feedstock for a plastics industry to supply the “greened” auto industry?
How much house insulation could you buy for $700 billion?
What about mass transit?
What about a new CCC Civilian Conservation Corps?
What if every adult in the country got $2,000 to invest in energy conservation?
The biggest obstacle to achieving such a dream is the entrenched corporate lobbyists in Washington D.C. No small part of the mess we’re in is due to “non-market” meddling where government policies and regulations are hijacked to serve corporate interests. Brown industries have everything to lose and nothing to gain. Selling inefficient cars, oil  and coal to Americans is big business. The oil companies are coming off a string of record profits and they are going to spend a good bit of that trying to keep their monkey on our back.
The pay-off for an ecological bailout would be truly huge. And it would be a true investment rather than “specu-vestment” that has ruined Wall Street. Imagine eliminating our dependence on foreign oil and cutting your gas bill in half. Imagine being able to eat local fish again because they’re not contaminated with mercury from coal-fired power plants. Ironically the current economic crisis may very well be the meteor that ends the age of energy dinosaurs. 
John deJong is associate publisher of CATALYST

This article was originally published on November 3, 2008.