Duck Soup: Gotta Go and Make It Happen

Gasoline prices, adjusted for inflation, are at their lowest level in history. The price at the pump has tumbled due to a warm winter and faltering Asian economies which have created a market surplus.Gosh! I guess I should plan a long vacation this year -- drive across the country -- maybe up to Alaska. Heck, I ought to buy a big recreation vehicle with a generator, air conditioning and a color TV, so I can enjoy all the comforts of home while I'm on the road. Maybe it's time to trade in my toy truck and get a big ole 4x4 with a monster V-8. Now might be the time to swap my economy car for a suburban assault vehicle -- one of those oversized all- wheel-drive stationwagons that can really handle the rough terrain at the shopping mall and on the interstate. At a buck a gallon, I can afford to drive a gas hog every day!It's high time I switch to a riding lawn mower and grab that gas powered leaf-blower I saw at the hardware store. How about a bigger chain saw, and a ski boat with dual outboards? Maybe a jet-ski or an ATV for zipping around on weekends? Do you see anything wrong with this picture? Do the words "global" and "warming" ever bump into each other in your brain? Have you heard any troublesome rumors about rising sea levels, more powerful storms, and fundamental alterations in weather patterns?A team of United Nations scientists believes we need to reduce greenhouse gas production by 60 percent below 1990 emissions in the near future to forestall catastrophic weather shifts -- shifts we are already seeing. The National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado has conclusively linked global warming to this year's extreme El Nino phenomenon. Last fall a U.N. conference was called in Kyoto, Japan to address this looming crisis. The U.S. grudgingly agreed to only a token 7 percent cut in emissions and even that modest attempt is being blocked in Congress by Republican lawmakers. Unfortunately, ignoring the problem will not make it go away.Like anyone else who drives a vehicle, I don't mind cheap gas, but wouldn't this be the ideal time to raise federal and state taxes on gasoline? We can make a relatively painless move toward managing greenhouse gas emissions by replacing the recent twenty-cent decrease in pump prices with a twenty-cent tax. This would forestall the artificial *increase* in consumption which is bound to occur in response to low prices. For the average driver this would have no appreciable impact, for our planetary environment, on the other hand, it would be invaluable.Fossil fuel companies and their supporters prefer to dump an environmental catastrophe on the next generation rather than face the music now. They argue that curtailing greenhouse emissions will cost too much and claim that any serious reduction of fossil fuel use will wreck the economy. The current price slump tells us that such short-sighted reasoning is running on empty.When you hear arguments that simple conservation measures are too costly, do you ever wonder if the speaker considers massive ice storms, mud slides and torrential flooding, killer tornadoes and hurricanes and extensive drought to be a cheap alternative? Food supplies on every continent have been affected by weird weather this year, and tropical forest fires are on the rise. If they think a little restraint will spoil their garden party, maybe they should try starvation.We need new gas taxes *now* to depress consumption. Better still, we can choose to impose a carbon tax. Such a tax, based on the carbon emissions from combustion, would raise prices all forms of energy use which create greenhouse gases -- in vehicles, manufacturing and power generation. Not only would this financial disincentive help suppress global climate change, but it would result in cleaner air, healthier forests and an economic boost for sustainable energy sources.Finally, in the short run, you *can* do it yourself. Enjoy the lower prices but don't buy more fuel than usual. Buy less. Walk or bicycle, don't drive. Sweep, don't use a blower. Plant wildflowers and vegetables instead of mowing a lawn. Canoe, don't power-boat. But you've heard the list before. Now is the time for action, not words.What are you waiting for? Take a hike.

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