al gore: ideas over rhetoric

Al Gore spoke at NYU yesterday. A transcript can be found here, or, if you don’t mind sitting through all the introductory speakers, video can be found here. (note: It should be illegal to post video without means to fast forward.) The speech, on energy security and climate change, is incredible. It’s optimistic, it’s inspiring, and it’s full of big, bold, revolutionary ideas like the following:

(F)irst of all, we should start by immediately freezing CO2 emissions and then beginning sharp reductions. Merely engaging in high-minded debates about theoretical future reductions while continuing to steadily increase emissions represents a self-delusional and reckless approach. In some ways, that approach is worse than doing nothing at all, because it lulls the gullible into thinking that something is actually being done when in fact it is not.

An immediate freeze has the virtue of being clear, simple, and easy to understand. It can attract support across partisan lines as a logical starting point for the more difficult work that lies ahead. I remember a quarter century ago when I was the author of a complex nuclear arms control plan to deal with the then rampant arms race between our country and the former Soviet Union. At the time, I was strongly opposed to the nuclear freeze movement, which I saw as simplistic and naive. But,

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  1. egpenet
    Posted September 20, 2006 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    YES, YES, YES.

    And we should do the same things in Ypsilanti with our revenue.

    I don’t care what all the local polysci “experts” say. And I have no hope that Lansing will have a change of heart any time soon.

    WE the voters en masse MUST TAKE STEPS NOW to reshape our city’s finances.

    WE must decide on what are essential services and what are the added quality of life services we want in addition, and the quality of life programs we could live without.

    Knowing those things … WE can decide on a new and Gore-style creative tax systems (New Zealand, Australia and some other states in the USA have some unique financing programs we should examine) in terms of what is taxed, at what rate it is taxed, how the tax is collected, and where it gets spent.

    In addition, there are a LOT of ways to raise funds locally. If laws (Lansing, Charter, etc.) prohibt the city from tapping/creating new revenue streams …
    creating new entities, even businesses, events, products, services, venues … that will bring in revenue … should be considered.

    Using the Gore pollution tax example … WE should go a step further.

    Each citizen in Ypsilanti has an “emissions footprint.” Design an individual “Emission Footprint Index” (EFI) the way we figure our body mass index (BMI) and progressively tax ourselves for excesses over what we agree is an average to sustain life in the city.

    Also, we (individuals, businesses) could grant credits to ourselves for investing in energy-efficient, energy-saving items and systems … cars, geo-thermal, solar, wind … etc.

    Financially, another thing we can do before thee hole gets any bigger … is to somehow figure a way to cap some of the debt-financed projects in town.

    At the very least, we could borrow some of the EMU professors’ “UNFAIR” picket signs and staple them to the cyclone fence west of the river along Michigan Avenue. Or, get the rosary-wafting bloody billboard wavers to go there.

    Our tax system hurts the poor, middle class and encourages sprawl. With Gore’s inspiration and our own grassroots effort … we can do it. To paraphrase a coffee cup I saw … REVOLT: IT BEGINS NOW

  2. murph
    Posted September 20, 2006 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    Check out Paul Hawkins’ “Natural Capitalism” for discussions of how to make this sort of thing work. It’s definitely possible, and, as Gore notes, the idea is to use your taxes to discourage undesirable activity, like polluting, rather than desirable activity, like working.

    I don’t know that this would be at all possible at the local level without State action – even if it could be found legal, I wonder about the balkanization of municipalities problem. I think this would have to be implemented at a higher level, but I also think it’s possible – as Ford has greened their Rouge Plant, and we focus on attracting businesses like google and biomedical firms, maybe this would be a way to shift our tax structure to demonstrate our interest in new types of business. I hear there’s an SBT that needs replacing…

  3. Dr Cherry
    Posted September 20, 2006 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    Taxing undesireable behavior seems like an unsustainable model for revenue generation.

    It seems like people with the means would curb their “bad” behavior and you’d be left looking for another revenue source at the end of the day.

    I don’t see how Gore’s model would benefit the working poor. It seems like the poor get the shaft under any system of taxation because they don’t have the resources to change the way or where they live.

    Economy is the distribution of scare resources. No matter how creative you get there’s still only so many dollars coming into Ypsilanti every day and the median income is still less than $30k.

  4. Tony Buttons Esq.
    Posted September 20, 2006 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    I agree with Dr. Cherry that, over time, this would result in decreased revenues and the need to institute other taxes. That’s not a terrible problem to have, though – especially if, in the process, we can stop global warming. I’d say it was pretty successful if that happened.

    The thing that would concern me, however, is the fact that polluting businesses could just leave the US and go elsewhere, where the same protections do not exist. However, I’m sure that this could be dealt with somehow. (If we could decrease the power of lobbyists.) The main point is that NO ONE else is talking suggesting solutions. Yeah, this may have some problems, but at least he’s thinking about the problems.

  5. murph
    Posted September 20, 2006 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

    It seems like people with the means would curb their “bad” behavior

    That is, approximately, half the point.

    I’m way left of libertarian, but I’ll acknowledge that taxing a behavior will always have a dampening effect. Payroll taxes encourage the replacement of human labor with machines and energy – or the moving of jobs to places without such tax. Taxing real property provides a disincentive to invest in / improve property. A gas tax provides a disincentive to drive. A carbon tax provides a disincentive to pollute. If we’re going to disincentivize behaviors, why not look to *bad* behaviors? When the bad behavior is reduced, lowering revenues, raise the rates.

    I don’t see how Gore’s model would benefit the working poor.

    How far do you have to reduce taxes on human labor and increase taxes on carbon before it becomes beneficial to replace one minimum wage earner toting a weed-whacker with two minimum wage earners toting grass shears?

    I’m not saying this is the perfect solution – I’m saying that it’s doable, ahs been given serious thought by serious people, and is worth not dismissing.

  6. egpenet
    Posted September 20, 2006 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

    I STILL think the carbon footprint index CFI makes sense. We aree, after all, generating tax from ourselves FOR ourselves as a civic unit to help satisfy what is a civic duty … to promote the general welfare … that’s US!

    Other taxes Even the poor have a CFI, as such, but a CFI-based tax could be designed with a base to prevent the destitute from suffering.

    Other taxes are still on the table … primarily consumption taxes. There’s a LOT we can do here that isn’t being done at the moment … sales and VAT (value added tax). Sales taxes alone on … alcohol, cigarettes, fuels, highway tolls, hotel, airport … and more. Paying for what we use and even use in EXCESS … and NOT paying for what we don’t use encourages the wise use and/or avoidance of such practices. Even UNDER use could create the potential for tax credits.

    If we’d legalize prostitution and “weed,” we could tax those and use part of the tax to pay for health care for sex workers, condoms for users and sex education in our schools … and STILL have money left over for Water Street debt financing!

    We might consider charging an extra levy on prescription drug over-use. Pfizer and the insurance companies would hate this idea … but we all know who our friends and relatives are who bounce from doctor to doctor, CVS to Walgreens to add to their pain meds collection.

    There’s much, much, more … keep talking.

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