Thursday, January 15, 2009

Stevie "no wonder" Forbes

Steve Forbes of Forbes Magazine spoke at OSU today. He chronicled the events and people that created the economic crisis then he listed his recommendations to fix the economy for the new administration. I was impressed by how gracious Mr. Forbes was toward President Obama, especially considering Mr. Forbes made two attempts to get the Republican Presidential Nomination. He showed deep respect and reverence for Mr. Obama as a person and encouraged all Republicans to support him which is a message this red state desperately needed to hear. He praised Obama's intellect and his collaborative approach.

I did disagree with one of Mr. Forbes' recommendations. He suggested the federal government guarantee home loans of 4% through the banks in order to jump start the housing market. At first blush this seems like a good thing. But having lived in a tower in downtown Vancouver BC as well as a single family home in the sprawling suburbs of Ft. Worth I now take a strong, yet unpopular position AGAINST single family homes. Single family homes are the BANE of sustainable societies.

Having personal expertise in these two industries (home building and sustainability) I predict with some confidence a 4% mortgage would indeed send people running to the builders demanding more single family homes in the suburbs. They would be even bigger homes that used even more energy. Fewer than 10% of all homes built in this country have been constructed to meet Energy Star standards. Why is that? Energy Star only requires that a home tests out to be 15% more energy efficient that a home built to the minimum code. How hard is that? Evidently it is daunting for the majority of the builders. More homes means more carbon dioxide spewing into the air.

More (big, energy inefficient) homes also means more sprawl because few cities have government officials who grasp the long term financial implications of sprawl. Or care. More infrastructure such as sewer maintenance, water service, fire and police protection. More sprawl means mass transit becomes even more unfeasible. Sprawl means more single occupant vehicles driving further to work so carbon dioxide emissions increase even more.

Yes, a frenzy of home building would create jobs but at what environmental costs? Mr. Forbes no doubt understands monetary policy more than I do but does he understand systems thinking and has he considered the irreparable environmental impacts of generating massive economic growth rates? I listened closely and never heard Mr. Forbes say the words "environment, natural resources, degradation, or sustainable economy." I was disappointed because I expect smart people to hold a more sustainable state of mind. Economic activity is based on natural resource extraction so basing our existence on economic growth without asking if we have the resources to support that growth is not wise. No, worse, it is foolish.

No comments:

Post a Comment