In the produce section at the grocery store the other day, I was pleased to see cherries are in season. I wasn’t pleased to see they cost nine dollars a pound. These were not organic cherries but conventional, pesticide-sprayed fruit. What makes them expensive is that they were trucked in from Michigan or Washington State and gas costs three dollars a gallon. Pesticides are made from expensive oil; that too adds to the cost. I should have checked; maybe organic cherries are cheaper. Vermont cherries will be ripe in a few weeks. My neighbor has a tree in her yard and a generous nature.In other “expensive item” news, Cass Sunstein wrote in an op-ed piece in the Washington Post last month that, according to a former member of George Bush’s Council of Economic Advisors, the war in Iraq has cost $300 billion and will soon have cost over $350 billion. It’s an impressive amount, made more impressive by the fact that we’ve spent that much in less than 40 months.
By comparison, William Nordhaus and Joseph Boyer of Yale estimated in 2000 that U.S. compliance with the Kyoto Protocol would cost $325 billion. It’s estimated that it will take decades – not months – to reach the full cost of cutting greenhouse gas emissions. When the Nordhaus/Boyer study was released, the auto manufacturers, oil executives and their allies in Congress screamed that inflicting such a burden would destroy the American economy.
Mr. Sunstein’s point is: if we can spend $300 billion in three years and get nothing but death and political instability in return, how can we not afford $300 million to save the planet for our children and grandchildren?
It gets worse. In last Friday’s New York Times, Paul Krugman cited an estimate by the non-partisan Tax Policy Center that eliminating the estate tax would cost the federal government $355 billion in lost revenue in the first decade after enactment.
So we have a situation in which we’ve already spent the worst $300 billion in American history on a hopeless war when we could have been saving the planet. It’s been good for Dick Cheney and Halliburton, not so much for the rest of us and pure hell foe the Iraqis. Mr. Bush and Congressional Republicans want to give another $300 billion over the next decade to the richest one percent of Americans, instead of saving the planet. The late Illinois Republican senator, Everett Dirksen is reputed (he denied it) to have said, “A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon you’re talking real money.” If he only knew.
The other question, the one that remains unasked, is: if it will cost the U.S. $300 billion to save the planet, how much will it cost to do nothing? Right now, doing nothing costs $9 a pound, if you want cherries.
The cost of doing nothing will grow higher as time goes by. Go online and browse some newspapers from the western states. In Sunday’s New York Times, Pam Houston writes that Colorado ranchers and wheat farmers stand to lose millions from drought while the state braces for a devastating fire season.
Here in Vermont, the governor is requesting federal disaster aid after weeks of rain have prevented farmers from planting corn and beans. The apple and hay crops have been severely reduced.
The cost of billions of dollars in losses from storm damage, in increased insurance premiums, in taxes paid at the local, state and federal level for emergency relief services should all be added to the cost of doing nothing.
The cost of doing nothing must include the added costs of using the rising cost of oil and natural gas and the cost of trashing our hydrocarbon-based economy at the late date when it becomes clear to the fools that run this country that their system is obsolete.
The industrialized world – with the exception of the U.S. and Australia – has committed to the Kyoto Protocol. “Developing” nations China and India are both burning coal and building new coal-burning electric generating facilities at a blinding pace. The global community needs to lean – hard – on those Asian nations, but with the U.S. outside the Kyoto consensus, any criticism of China and India will be hypocritical.
Forget gay marriage and flag-burning. When you see a politician this summer, ask him or her why America doesn’t have an energy policy.
© Mark Floegel, 2006