CARROTS BEAT STICKS
Everyone should know by now that the U.S. needs to adopt policies to restrain its profligate energy use. Per capita, we use the most of any country except Iceland. And no, it’s not just because we’re richer: Adjusted for GDP, we still use more than everyone except for Australia, Canada, and a few frigid countries in northern Europe.
Our huge and wasteful appetite for energy sucks money out of the economy and produces greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change. But Congress won’t pass a cap-and-trade bill, carbon tax, or any other policy to address it. Senate Republicans even blocked a bill that would have assisted the private sector in purely voluntary conservation measures and saved money by increasing efficiency in federal agencies.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) articulated a common attitude toward energy conservation when he told me recently that we use the most energy per capita because we’re the greatest country in the world. Consumption, to many Americans, equals greatness.
Some more progressive communities, though, are stepping into the breach left by Washington. But whereas the most efficient government policies would simply require less energy usage and let the market figure out how to achieve it, that’s economically unfeasible for small cities and counties. As with local tax rates, mandatory energy efficiency is limited to how much you can get away with before you start pushing residents and businesses into neighboring towns. So most municipalities are restricted to encouraging and assisting in voluntary efficiency and renewable-promotion efforts.