Archive for the ‘policy’ Category

That seems to be the message from two stories published today, one on each side of the Atlantic.

In a news analysis, the New York Times notes that:

a reaction is building against policies in the United States and Europe to promote ethanol and similar fuels, with political leaders from poor countries contending that these fuels are driving up food prices and starving poor people.  Biofuels are fast becoming a new flash point in global diplomacy, putting pressure on Western politicians to reconsider their policies, even as they argue that biofuels are only one factor in the seemingly inexorable rise in food prices.

Officials from both the UN and the World Bank have recently voiced concerns about the impact of biofuels on the price of food.

Meanwhile, the UK’s Independent reports that, “the production of biofuel is devastating huge swathes of the world’s environment” and asks why the UK government wants its citizens to use more of it.

The Independent’s Cahal Milmo also mentions the impact that biofuel production is having on world food prices.  But of equal concern is the environmental damage that careless encouragement of biofuels can cause.  British campaigners, reports Milmo, this week

condemned as “disastrous” the absence of any standards requiring producers to prove their biofuel is not the product of highly damaging agricultural practices responsible for destroying rainforests, peatlands and wildlife-rich savannahs or grasslands from Indonesia to sub-Saharan Africa to Europe.


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if we want to encourage people to produce their own food, here’s a great idea:  tax breaks for gardeners!

It’s the idea of Maine gardener and sustainability advocate Roger Doiron.  He says:

There are different breaks that local, state and federal governments could offer home gardeners. Sales taxes on seeds, seedlings, fruit bushes and trees could be removed. Better still, an income tax break could be administered as is done with home offices where people measure and deduct the square footage of their houses used for business purposes. The bigger your garden, the better the tax break. Those with no yard could deduct the rental fee for a community garden plot.

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That’s the New York Times’ novel editorial spin on the ‘war’ between owners of a domestic solar power system in Sunnyvale, California, and their immediate neighbors, who owned redwood trees that had grown to shade the solar panels.

The dispute, which we noted last week, is evidence of the Golden State’s leadership in all things environmental, says the Times. It goes on:

Obviously, there will be costs associated with all this virtue, and for some — like the Sunnyvale couples — there will be shoving and pushing. Given the alternative of a less hospitable globe, these seem to be small sacrifices.

That’s certainly preferable to seeing the dispute as evidence of a laughable green hypocrisy — which the Christian Science Monitor tells us, it isn’t!

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When environmental issues collide with rival policy concerns, the environment has long been the likely loser.   Even in America, with its agency dedicated to keeping the nation’s air and water clean, the planet too often loses when environmental push meets the shove of wealthier, more entrenched political interests.

A case in point is the recent decision by the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security to wave the normal Federal requirement that its actions don’t cause environmental harm and go ahead with a plan to build a 700 mile fence between the USA and Mexico — straight through vast areas of huge ecological sensitivity.

As today’s New York Times editorializes, the plan “will be a disaster on the ground.”

And as the Times also points out, the fence won’t even stop that many illegal immigrants.   But its symbolism plays to a powerful national constituency.   Clearly, Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff feels that throwing a symbolic bone to the anti-immigrant lobby buys him more political capital than taking a position that would prevent far-from-symbolic harm to a large chunk of one of the nation’s most sensitive ecological areas.

The outrage that Chertoff’s decision has provoked, in Congress and elsewhere, suggests that the political value of deciding against the environment when it conflicts with other policy priorities is decreasing.  But it also shows that politicians still feel they won’t be asked to pay too big a political price for trashing the planet — even when the reasons they give for allowing that destruction make no sense.

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