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Thursday, August 11, 2005

Yes, my Libertarian slip is showing...

A couple of weeks ago, 24 Hours Daily ran a column I wrote about the City’s proposed replacement of car lanes on the Burrard Street Bridge with bike-only lanes. Some readers commented that it appeared I was willing to sell my children’s souls for continuing access to fossil fuels.

Nothing could be further from the truth – I just don’t happen to believe that guilt-tripping people into riding bicycles to work is how we’re going to solve the problems of global warming and depleting natural resources.

There are solutions, of course, but none of them are very politically popular, which is probably why we haven’t seen anything more than eco-platitudes from elected officials Federally, Provincially or Municipally.

It is far easier for politicians to pretend they are doing something for our environment when they strap a bike helmet on for a photo op.

So, what can we, as everyday British Columbians, do in our everyday lives to make a difference?

The answer that none of the vested environmental special interest groups wants you to hear is nothing. Nada. Zip.

That’s right. Drive your car. Water your lawns. Eat beef. Buy a ski boat. It isn’t really going to make that much of a difference if you don’t - other than a warming sense of moral superiority you might enjoy as your neighbour’s SUV speeds past your bike and splashes you with November mud.

The changes that are needed to occur for our environment to recover are far greater than those provided by the scattered individual efforts of a few of us. Look at the difficulty that the Feds have had selling their “One-Tonne Challenge” even with funny-man Rick Mercer leading the charge.

The vast majority of people make changes when they have either a carrot or stick incentive to do so. Moral superiority, while an enjoyable state of mind from time to time, doesn’t compel most people to limit car use or turn down the thermostat.

A municipality like West Vancouver, which recently instituted water metering, is on the right track. People need to pay for what they are consuming – and that price has to include the cost of accessing communally held resources like water or air. When a consumer buys new plastic patio furniture, it should include both the costs of materials and labour, but also the manufacturing “costs” of water, air and emissions.

The BC Government, by mandating low “heritage power” rates from BC Hydro, might be helping our economy in the short term, but every economist will tell you that cheap power gets wasted and expensive power doesn’t.

Only when the price tag for running the sprinkler, fuelling up the car or flicking on the lights actually reflects their true costs will Canadians start making different choices. Until our water is metered and we have to pay for the carbon dioxide our cars spew into the atmosphere, we will not change our behavior.

And all the bike lanes and stand-up funny men in the world aren’t going to change that simple economic fact.

(As seen today in 24 Hours Daily)

1 Comments:

At 12:58 PM, Anonymous Matthew said...

Excellent column- what always bothers me is the implication that if you're not doing the local actions, you're not concerned for the environment. To be frank, driving a polluting car isn't intrinsically wrong, and the marginal effect is low. At the same time, one can favour a national effort which spreads the pain around.

Just one question- how can your policy proposals (gov. exacting the true cost of resources) be described as libertarian?

 

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