NPR and I started to part ways after September 11, 2001 due to our differing views on the wars which followed. I started seeking out news more in line with my own views and found Democracy Now! and some independent podcasts (though I’m not sure the word existed)tended to come from a perspective I could tolerate. Of late, however, I have been experimenting a bit more with our local organization NEPR, having seen their commitment to not only locate in my neighborhood but to engage with it as well.
So it was that I was listening to a reporter discuss possible significant policy initiatives coming out of the State House in Boston when I heard of a bill to create a sort of carbon tax here in the Bay State. Great, I thought, Massachusetts is already one of the most efficient users of energy in the country, pushing us further in that direction seems an important and logical response to current and impending circumstances…but wait…at the tale end of the report one comment (or was it a quote?) from the reporter changed my view of the potential legislation:
Imagine this in some other sphere:
An initiative to discourage smoking increasing taxes on cigarette buyers…unless you smoke more than 2 cartons a week…then you get a rebate, after all, that would really be expensive!
A crime bill with longer sentences for violent offenders…except murderers and rapists I mean, c’mon, some of those guys get really stiff sentences now!
I am not “anti-rural”. A great deal of what I think could make western Massachusetts a resilient region has to do with the balance between urban and rural. Rural western Mass has water resources and elevation which work well for hydro power generation, high quality land for agricultural production, and a storehouse of memory regarding traditional production methods. Subsidizing rural living, however, for people who not only play no role in those more effective rural endeavors, but who really engage, or should engage, with the urban economy harms both city and country: the city thrives on population density and intensity making neighborhoods more vibrant and efficient; rural areas need low land values to create a greater margin for success in areas of raw materials and agricultural production. The further the suburban is subsidized to spread into the rural landscape the less viable both the rural and urban economies become.
I’m not saying people shouldn’t be allowed to live in rural areas if they’re really living suburban lives, but the point of a carbon tax is to start to make the real costs of energy use visible to the end consumer: If someone chooses to live a certain way then they should pay for its actual costs. As it is cities subsidize suburbs and poorer areas the richer ones all over this country. Not coincidentally our bicameral legislature and the electoral college give rural voters more power in our republic than urban ones.
Rural communities, and even some farther flung suburbs, are really struggling to pay for the services people expect. That’s because it’s ridiculous to expect the same level of services in a far flung sprawling community that can exist in a denser urban area. We city dwellers require fewer miles of pipe, less asphalt, fewer firehouses, and less energy per capita than our suburban and rural neighbors to achieve the same ends. Public transit works more efficiently here, schools require fewer buses…or none at all…the list goes on and on.
I use energy, and I’m willing to pay for its costs whether obvious or as manifest in so called “externalities”. Legislation which implies that somehow urban energy use is filthy but rural energy use is green perpetuates the falsehood that living John Denver style in the Rocky Mountains is more environmentally friendly than living in Manhattan. It isn’t. If you love nature engage with it as a steward or leave it the f&@$ alone. Living on 10 acres of land so your kids can ride ATV’s and snowmobiles, commuting 30 miles to work everyday, and taking your SUV to stock up on Chex Mix at Costco are not endeavors worthy of state subsidy.