Posts Tagged ‘fiscal policy’

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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It’s always struck us EarthQuakers as odd that golfers have long been allowed to portray their sport as beneficial to the environment. Golf course owners are adept, for example, at receiving tax breaks, on the grounds that they protect ‘green’ space.

For sure, the first golf courses were relatively low impact. They were carved out of temperate coastal ‘links‘ areas, most of which was left untouched, and with the turfed tee and putting-green areas watered by natural rainfall.

But as the game has spread around the world, and as the idea of what a course should look like has changed, the typical course has become a voracious consumer of water and a reliable vector for vast amounts of inorganic chemical run-off in the form of fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides.

So we’re cheered, here, by the news that in America golf is a game in apparent decline. Or it’s at least over-extended itself. The NY Times reports this week that “Between 1990 and 2003, developers built more than 3,000 new golf courses in the United States, bringing the total to about 16,000.” Now, it turns out, many are going bankrupt as Americans lose interest in playing the game.

The report cites people’s general busyness, changing family values and a culture less interested in exercise as reasons for the change. Another factor, though, may be that more and more Americans are recognizing that to be on a golf course is to be in only a simulacrum of nature — and one that too often directly threatens nature, to boot.

Is it time, we wonder, to scale down golf’s global footprint? Let it stay, perhaps, on those sandy coastal bluffs, where it can co-exist quite nicely with the native flora and fauna. But let those thousands of other courses earn their tax breaks, finally, by reverting back into space that’s truly green.

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The New York Times reports today on the extraordinary impact that charging a 33c tax on plastic bags has had in Ireland. The bags are now all but gone from the country and no-one, it seems, is complaining.

Significantly, buying a plastic bag hasn’t been made illegal in Ireland. But soon after the tax came into effect some five years ago, says the article, “carrying them became socially unacceptable.”

It’s a useful illustration of the power of state fiscal policy to encourage environmentally beneficial behavior without having to go so far as banning anything. What Ireland did is arguably preferable, for example, to San Francisco’s decision to ban plastic bags outright.

The experience also points to the potential power of taxation to change environmentally-destructive behavior on a wider scale. A popular candidate tax is a universal carbon tax, as proposed by the likes of Noble prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz. As the comments in reply to Stiglitz’s Guardian article suggest, though, he’s not convinced everyone and there remain enormous barriers to getting all nations and all non-state actors on board.

The plastic bag story gains poignancy, however, when read with Dominique Browning’s affecting op ed in today’s Times about a trip to see retreating glaciers in Patagonia. Here’s how she starts the piece:

“THE most striking thing about the drive out of El Calafate on the way to the Patagonian glaciers is the trash. Sheer, flimsy, white plastic bags, tens of thousands of them, are strewn across acres of land. ”

Let’s hope at the very least that people in Ireland will soon start talking to people in Argentina . . .

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