Clean | Green | Sustainable

Time to Use a “Sustainability Filter”

Posted by Matthew Koehler on March 17, 2009

Last fall, as the full extent of the global economic crisis was coming into focus, and it was clear that US taxpayers would be asked to foot the bill for various “stimulus” and “bailout” packages, I started talking up the idea of “sustainability filter.”

One thing that got me thinking about the need for a sustainability filter was the multi-billion dollar bailout (er “loan”) that taxpayers were forced to give the Big Three US automakers. I mean, forking over precious taxpayer funds to produce more crappy gas hogs that nobody wants really isn’t a sensible (or sustainable) solution for anyone, except perhaps a few auto and oil executives.

And what about the billions upon billions of taxpayer money we’re spending on “shovel ready” infrastructure projects? Sure some of these projects are decent and forward thinking, but the vast majority of these “shovel ready” projects just place the preverbal band-aide on the head wound, which is our crumbling, inefficient, resource intensive1950s-era infrastructure. At what point do we seriously start investing taxpayer dollars only in the type of sustainable energy, transportation or food infrastructure our country needs for 2050 and beyond?

This is where the sustainability filter comes in. Even if a rather coarse filter was used, just imagine how many billions of public, taxpayer dollars could be diverted from misguided projects and endeavors? Sure if a company wants to continue down the path of over-consumption and dirty energy, I guess it’s their right to explore that dead end. But my point is that as taxpayers we have a right to no longer subsidize their research and development or improve their bottom line at the expense of our future.

Despite what some pundits say, I believe that people are hungry for this type of approach for a better tomorrow. Remember during the presidential debates how some networks had a “live debate meter,” which tracked reactions from a diverse group of undecided voters? Well, far as I could tell, the only time the meter was “off the charts” positive was when the candidates were talking about clean energy and a green economy.

Now, I fully admit that I don’t have this sustainability filter totally fleshed out and I plan on exploring the concept further. So I’m totally open to suggestions, comments and additional information. The past few weeks I’ve been researching the issue and it’s been somewhat surprising how little information is out there about the concept.

Back in the late 90s, many forest activists worked with something called the Green Scissors Campaign on specific efforts to end harmful and wasteful taxpayer subsidies found in the Forest Service’s timber sale and roadbuilding budgets. But as far as I can tell, the Green Scissors Campaign ceased any activity a few years ago. If someone knows different, please let me know.

Let’s also hope that Van Jones, the White House’s new Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, has some real pull with the Obama Administration, as he clearly understands these issues as well as anyone.


3 Responses to “Time to Use a “Sustainability Filter””

  1. Hey there.

    I really like the sustainability filter idea that you have especially when applied to the auto industries. It makes sense to invest in electric vehicles on that point rather than vehicles utilizing fossil fuels because an abundance of electrical energy is yet to be harvested via wind, solar, tidal methods.

    I don’t, however, think that shovel ready projects should have a bad rap. I am in the civil engineering field and in this recession, shovel ready projects are keeping the engineering jobs alive in some cases. Majority of these projects are simply things that have been on the “to do list” of many cities or companies but lacked funding, so they are all actually quite necessary projects.

    I do agree though that the city infrastructure in majority of the US towns needs to massively upgraded. And with the packages that were passes, I can say that I wish more money were allotted to city water and sanitary sewer projects since the infrastructure of the 1950’s is definitely crumbling.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post. i really enjoyed it.

  2. Matthew Koehler said

    Thanks for your comments and perspective crackchihuahua. I hear what you are saying about these “shovel ready” jobs keeping the engineering jobs alive, but I also assume that plenty of those engineering jobs would be needed if we invested more money towards the type of sustainable infrastructure we need for the future. Sounds like we’re saying the same thing really. Thanks again.

  3. […] Time to Use a “Sustainability Filter” […]

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