The most conservative state in the union is a part of a remarkable cultural shift toward environmental values. Consider:
• Al Gore attracts 10,000 people to his slide show on global warming at Taco Bell Arena in January.
• Bill Moyers highlights Boise’s evangelical Vineyard Fellowship for its environmental message and acts in the PBS special “Is God Green?” last fall.
• Former Gov. Jim Risch gets a standing ovation from a largely Republican crowd when he announces in Twin Falls last year that Idaho plans to opt out of a mercury pollution trading program, keeping coal-fired power plants out of the state.
Growing concerns about climate change are pegged as one big reason for Idaho’s higher environmental profile. But conservation has hardly been a foreign concept to conservatives; as the etymology suggests. Adding to pressure for change that’s coming from the global warming dialog, is a new and more inclusive profile for the environmental movement. The Statesman:
…environmentalism became tied closely with the counterculture, hippies, organic foods, and demonstrations, said Doug StanWiens, a history teacher at Timberline High School. The new environmental culture he sees growing in popularity with his students is very different….”It’s not about scarcity or sacrifice,” StanWiens said. “The kids haven’t seen that. It’s about choices.”
…Idaho Conservation League Executive Director Rick Johnson…(says)…”When you’re picking the people you invite into your home for dinner you would not pick an environmentalist….They’re stereotyped as whining, shrill, they won’t eat the food, they stuff themselves with the vegetables and tell you to turn down the thermostat.” Companies and political opponents worked hard to develop that stereotype, Johnson said. But there was some truth to it.
The new environmental culture is not just generated by environmentalists. It’s organic…The environment nationwide and locally has improved because of the environmental laws passed more than 35 years ago, said Betty Munis, executive director of the Idaho Forest Products Commission, which sponsors an environmental education curriculum used in Idaho schools. People express their environmental values now by buying local and using sustainable materials. “I think the average person has been taking environmentalism out of the hands of advocates and incorporating it into their lives,” Munis said.
Incorporating environmentalism into daily personal transportation decisions can pose challenges and present opportunities. In major metropolitan areas, people will use public transit if it’s fast and convenient and fits into their busy lives. The trick for transit planners and decision-makers is not only financing, but systems engineering to reduce wait times and travel times. People vote with their wristwatches, and cannot be hectored out of that. The smart focus is not on attacking “car culture” – something regrettably still frequent in Seattle and some other locales – but rather, developing more market-responsive transit choices plus a portfolio of sensible strategies to boost renewable fuels and fuel efficiency.
Former CIA chief and National Commission On Energy Policy Commissioner R. James Woolsey, in testimony to a U.S. Senate committee last week, noted that the U.S. depends on oil for 97 percent of its transportation needs; and that 40 percent of carbon dioxide emissions (which hasten global warming) come from oil, particularly via transportation uses. Woolsey also stated that the U.S. now borrows more than $300 billion per year to import oil, weakening the dollar and helping to raise interest rates; while two-thirds of proven oil reserves and much of the industry’s infrastructure lie in the politically volatile Persian Gulf.
In his testimony, Woolsey recommends government foster continued private-sector development of a range of “transformative” vehicle technologies through a $3 billion, five- to ten-year tax incentive for manufacturers and consumers. The aim would be “to encourage the domestic production and purchase of of plug-in hybrid, hybrid-electric and advanced diesel vehicles that achieve superior fuel economy.” Woolsey details how high density, high power battery fueled plug-in hybrid electric vehicles can actually supply additional power to the electric grid after charging up in off-peak hours – with cost credits to consumers, and cheaper and cleaner electricity generation for utilities. Production model PHEVs are now an estimated two to three years away from appearing in showrooms, Woolsey estimates.
He also urges Congress to set a four percent annual Corporate Annual Fuel Economy (CAFE) target; and stresses that lighter-weight carbon fiber composites used in aerospace and race cars can be applied to commercial passenger vehicles; reducing weight, while increasing fuel efficiency and safety. Liquid fuels will still be essential, especially for use in longer-range trips, but alternatives to oil can and should be developed from among an array of options, including cellulosic as opposed to corn-based ethanol; cellulosic methanol; and renewable diesel from crops, and industrial, municipal and animal wastes.
Woolsey adds that Congress should ensure that “every car sold in the U.S….enable fuel flexibility, a feature which adds less than $100 to the manufacturing cost…and provides a platform upon which fuels can compete.”
A diverse coalition of interests supports weaning our nation off foreign oil. Woolsey affectionately identifies the players as “the tree huggers, the do-gooders, the sod busters, the Mom and Pop car owners, the cheap hawks, the venture capitalists, the utility shareholders, the evangelicals, and Willie Nelson.”
Willie Nelson has other plans that day, but with our co-sponsors we’ll be hosting a pretty diverse group ourselves, at our May 7 “Jump Start to A Secure, Clean Energy Future” conference in Redmond, WA. More information, including online registration and the agenda, here.
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