Consumption


Greenwire is reporting that “[t]he leading candidate to become chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee today boosted his conservative credentials, laying out a plan to cut federal government spending levels including freezing programs that support energy efficiency retrofits in homes and efficiency labeling for appliances.”  This is unfortunate given the continued democratization of carbon emissions and the need to make such sources more energy efficient (e.g., homes, cars), and the need to influence individual behavior that impacts the envirionments by providing consumers with better information (e.g., eco-labeling, Energy Star labeling).

I have been chosen as the 2010 Stegner Center Distinguished Young Scholar.  See here (page 8).  The announcement is here about my CLE presentation in Salt Lake City on ‘Climate Policy and U.S.-China Relations’ on Nov. 17.  I’ll also be presenting on ‘The Environment, Law, and Food’ on Nov. 16 at the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law next week as well.  See schedules here.

Two issues that make me nervous were blogged about on the NY Times Green Blog today.

(1) Fracking and its impact on groundwater, and exemption from the Clean Water Act.

(2) The energy demands of China.  The IEA is predicting that “that Chinese energy demand will soar 75 percent by 2035, accounting for more than a third of total global consumption growth. While China today accounts for 17 percent of the world demand for energy, it should account for 22 percent in 25 years, while India and other developing countries will also expand their energy use.”

Details here and here.  Other states are also struggling to determine how long aging nuclear facilities can safely and efficiently provide prower.  See here.

(1) I just finished reading Oracle Bones by Peter Hessler.  (I plan to read River Town next.)  It is a wonderfully written book, and now one of my favorite books about China, along with China Road and China Wakes.  One item the book implicitly points out, and which I agree with (as do some the U.S. Embassy), is that China is a lot like the U.S. and those similarities pose the greatest challenges.   Writes Hessler:

My journeys between China and the United States came to feel the same way – a blurringof old boundaries and distinctions. When I first lived in China, I was mostly struck by differences, but over time the similarities became more obvious. Americans and Chinese shared a number of characteristics: they were pragmatic and informal, and they had an easy sense of humour. In both nations, people tended to be optimistic, sometimes to a fault. They worked hard – business success came naturally, and so did materialism. They were deeply patriotic, but it was a patriotism based on faith rather than experience: relatively few people had spent much time abroad, but they still loved their country deeply. When they did leave, they tended to be bad travellers – quick to complain, slow to adjust. Their first question about a foreign country was usually: What do they think of us? Both China and the United States were geographically isolated, and their cultures were so powerful that it was hard for people to imagine other perspectives.

But each nation held together remarkably well. They encompassed a huge range of territory, ethnic groups, and languages, and no strict military or political force could have achieved this for long. Instead, certain ideas brought people together. When the Han Chinese talked about culture and history, it reminded me of the way Americans talked about democracy and freedom. These were fundamental values, but they also had some quantity of faith, because if you actually investigated – if you poked around an archaeological site in Gansu or an election in Florida – they you saw the element of disorder that lay just beneath the surface. Some of the power of each nation was narrative: they smoothed over the irregularities, creating good stories about themselves.

That was one reason why each country coped so badly with failure.  When things went wrong, people were startled by the chaos–the outlandish impact of some boats carrying opium or a few men armed with box cutters.  For cultures accustomed to controlling and organizing their world, it was deeply traumatic.  And it was probably natural that in extreme crisis, the Americans took steps that undermined democracy and freedom, just as the Chinese had turned against their own history and culture. pp. 439-440 of Oracle Bones.

(2) And I think the above is related to American international politics, US-China relations, and also American domestic politics and culture.  I worry that the same traits that make the US and many Americans successful (entrepreneurial, optimism, good business sense), which the Chinese also uses in their economic success, has many potentially negative aspects as well such as the potential for poor labor conditions, a lack of government oversight as to food and drug safety, poor health care, etc.  These negative characteristics exist in China, where ground level capitalism is more laissez-faire than in the U.S. and public safety concerns are everywhere, and many now want to see more American consumption and materialism and far less federal regulation of business as it relates to public health and safety.

(3) And reasonable disgree about the appropriate role of government.  Some want ‘big’ government that provides many social services and public safety regulations, and others want ‘small’ government that promotes business and where the market corrects failures.  But one view is that Democracts ran away from their regulatory accomplishments in this election cycle.  Instead, perhaps as one blogger argues,  Obama should have said: “2 years ago I was elected by the American people in a landslide victory. I ran on universal healthcare, educational reform, repealing the Bush tax cuts, reforming the economic system, etc. In voting for me, the American people placed their trust in me to make good on my promises and I will stay faithful to their trust. The will of the people is my mandate and I will not compromise the vision of hope and change that the American people and I share.”  At least then there’s no “message confusion” there (as the Obama folks are now arguing).  Part of me really wants Palin v. Obama in 2012; at least everyone will be plenty clear about policy platforms. Unfortunately, that would lead to more polarizing politics rather than a thoughtful discussion about what constitutes good governance.

UPDATE: Slate offers a similar take to the one view discussed above.

For those readers interested and concerned about large scale commodity agriculture in the U.S., the reliance of the American diet upon corn and high fructose corn syrup (read Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma), obesity, and/or the carbon footprint of corn (see this article), this video may be of concern.

The NY Times has an article titled “Cleaner for the Environment, Not for the Dishes” about how green products, esepcially cleaning products, might be viewed by some consumers as not doing as well a job.  I think the article adequately points out the benefits of less toxic products like better public health and less freshwater pollution.  I think the article could go even further in exploring this statement: “Yet the new products can run up against longtime habits and even cultural concepts of cleanliness.”

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