What Government Should do to Stop Global Warming

It’s fun to play Armchair Commissar, figuring out where to save energy: Who should walk to work? Who should take the bus? Who should upgrade their air conditioner? Global warming is market failure, so here is our opportunity to use socialism. Then again, a carbon tax would fix the market in one overly simple swoop.


I’m tempted to indulge my inner truculent libertarian and tell the armchair commissars in the audience: “Deal with it. If you want to do something more interesting to fight climate change, start a business or fix your own energy-hogging lifestyle. That means you too, Al.” But I won’t. There are actually quite a few other things the government can do to reduce carbon dioxide emissions besides taxing carbon. True, many of these actions are actually steps in a libertarian direction, but not all. Here is a quick list:

Fund basic research. Start-up companies are great for taking ideas to market when they are nearly ready. Old style semi-monopolies can fund patient research when they are healthy, but today we have broken them up or they have been milked by Wall St. So maybe government research is the way to go for some projects. Definitely the case for big ideas like liquid fluoride thorium reactors.

Balance the federal budget. We’d have more private patient money if the government wasn’t sucking up the savings. Moreover, when long term interest rates are down, it pays to spend on capital (like solar cells) vs. consumables (coal).

Embrace some Austrian economics. No, I don’t expect the liberals in the audience to become sneering anarchists. I just mean get away from Keynes’ pyramid scheme economics which requires ever-increasing consumption. This can actually mean more regulation in some areas. For example, we should pretty much outlaw banking as we now know it. Checking account deposits have no business funding mortgages!

Fix the rail system. Mussolini could make the trains run on time. Amtrak cannot. Maybe we need a dictator. Or maybe we should privatize Amtrak. Or perhaps merge Amtrak with the post office. With passenger trains also hauling the mail, the system could afford a more convenient schedule. Whichever way we go, we need to make trains more pleasant and business travel friendly if they are to compete with airplanes. Put some nice restaurants in the train stations, have enough long term parking, have generous seating and high speed Internet service on the trains.

Fix the roads. We build expensive wide bypasses and then clog them up with big box stores. We have dead end suburban streets which are more suitable to playing basketball than carrying traffic. We have city streets tied up with people trying to make a left turn. As a result we have cars inefficiently stopping and starting.

Legalize hemp. Biomass is our best bet for replacing gasoline for longer trips. Hemp grows fast. And it promises to allow environmentally friendly paper bags to replace the plastic bags which are trashing the oceans.

End the war on drugs. We don’t have to legalize all drugs outright, but we need to do something to end the black market and the gang wars which drive people out of the cities and into the sprawling suburbs. Pot perhaps should be legalized outright. Tightly controlled shooting galleries might be better for opium. Maybe we treat cocaine like casino gambling and limit its use to a few adult play areas.

Issue school vouchers. In the inner cities, school competition would work. Our public education system is designed for rural areas, and so people move out into the sprawl to give their children a good education.

Reform zoning laws. To have pedestrian friendly high density development, we must legalize it! If you want to play Armchair Commissar, get on your local zoning board and do something useful. Or become a developer and build some old fashioned high density mixed use neighborhoods.

Restore liability on the energy companies. No, I don’t believe in outrageous punitive damages to force behavior. But I do believe in full liability for all harm caused. And for the big energy companies, that’s a lot.

Install some smart parking meters. It annoys me greatly to get caught behind delivery trucks double-parking. But how can you blame them? There’s nowhere to park! In some cities a significant amount of the street traffic is people looking for a place to park. What a waste! Jack up the per-minute rate for some “gold slots” and there will always be a place to park. Make the slots electronic card driven so you only pay for minutes used and people can use them efficiently.

There. That should be enough to get you started. The list above requires a lot of work on the part of activists, as you’ll be busy going up against entrenched corporate interests and misguided moral fanatics. You won’t be bored.

Some of the items above deserve their own chapter, or even book. In the future I hope to add a few more green books to this site to flesh out these ideas. But the contents of this book should be enough to get you started on the quest to stop global warming.