Higher Gas Costs for More Sustainability

August 18, 2009

I think if I keep posting in this vein I’m going to start getting hate mail but I just find it such an interesting twist on all the complaints about rising gas prices.  Just a week after writing up $20 Per Gallon I am posting this profile of British green designer, Lucy Pedler, who was interviewed this week for the Building Sustainable Design website.  In addition to discussing her career as an architect who has charted her own path professionally and become an organizer for sustainable design she editorializes a bit about the recent recession.  She actually wishes that the hike in fuel prices had gone on longer:

“I know that’s an odd thing to admit but I had hoped the recession would be more catastrophic – that it would change the way people think about their lives, because we can’t keep consuming the way we do. Frankly, we’re running out of stuff.”

Pedler is fearful that the world is not catching on fast enough to sustainability. “We can’t just consume our way to greener living. The old economic model is fundamentally flawed.

“We just don’t seem to learn, and our experts tell us to consume and things will improve – although I will say that if this had happened 10 years ago, the green agenda would have been lost. Sustainability just wasn’t bedded in enough. I do worry that people won’t be persuaded to change. You may have noticed that I feel very cynical at the moment.”

And here’s a solution that would get an expert strung up by her thumbs in the United States: that we tax the fuel prices higher to effect change.  Its not actually that crazy of a thought.  I’m not saying “ten fold” but the idea of a percent based tax rather than a flat one makes a lot of sense as fuel prices rise naturally.  As the price at the pump goes up, people drive less and buy less gas just at the same time that a flat x-cents-per-gallon tax is becoming a smaller and smaller piece of the pie.  Pedler, however is not a believer in token taxes.  She advocates big artificial price bumps, perhaps to prepare us for what is coming inevitably anyway.

Pedler believes that one sure-fire way to reduce fuel consumption, and lower emissions would be to increase fuel prices tenfold. “The problem is that there’s no one thing that’s crystallising the issue of energy efficiency. If you were to increase energy prices that dramatically you would definitely see a change in the approach to energy consumption.”

With allowances for those in fuel poverty, Pedler believes that such a huge increase in fuel costs would lead to much more creative thinking and improved levels of energy efficiency.

I find her conclusion particularly hopeful.  Asked if she really believes that sustainability will take off in the foreseeable future she said:

“I’m not an economist,” she laughs, “I have no idea when to expect things to pick up. Twenty-five years ago I had never heard of the term sustainability but now it’s embedded in the industry.”

Read the whole interview here.

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