Stimulating Sustainable Practices

Thinking Green

by John Coleman

As you are well aware, the Federal Government’s stimulus package has been all the rage so far in 2009. And I suppose with anything that is $800 billion large there are going to be things that are agreeable and disagreeable about the bill; perhaps its size for starters. 

Those of us with the far-reaching goal of becoming a sustainable society have to be pleased by its focus on job creation through the green economy, but also disappointed by the plan’s emphasis on increased consumption for consumption’s sake.

This conundrum in the stimulus package is representative of key sustainability issues facing our society. Take energy for example. Oil is a known commodity in that we understand where to get it and what it will consistently produce. More recently however, the external costs, such as the ramifications of dealing with unstable countries and oil’s resultant greenhouse gas emissions, are beginning to display themselves. In the same vein, coal is abundant but not renewable, and has even greater consequences with regards to resource extraction and its carbon footprint.  

This is why $90 billion has been earmarked for jumpstarting the clean energy economy. Renewable energy such as wind, solar and geothermal is readily available with zero carbon emissions, but under the existing market scheme they are not as financially viable. The stimulus bill could provide a push to the clean energy economy like Eisenhower’s Interstate Highways Act did for the automobile in the 1950’s … which is a nice segue to the transportation piece of the bill. 

While $8 billion for mass transit is great, a much larger sum (more than $30 billion) was targeted for highway construction and repair. Unfortunately, The Arkansas Highway & Transportation Department alone identified $19.1 billion for construction and maintenance costs in a 2006 study. 

The question that keeps coming to mind is if the largest Federal stimulus package in history can’t cover maintenance of existing roads, how will we cover the costs of existing and future roads the next time around? This is just one of the many reasons why community leaders in Fayetteville are trying to spark the conversation about light rail in Northwest Arkansas.

Energy and transportation are just two of the issues facing the country and the planet. Here’s hoping that in 30 years we can look back at this $800 billion as a key ingredient for a path toward a low carbon future. 

John Coleman is the Sustainability Coordinator for the City of Fayetteville.

Categories: Commentary