In Math We Trust


As Congress gets ready to debate an economic recovery package – and President Obama gets ready to sign one – they should use a simple test to determine who and what gets the money: Is the project friend or foe in regard to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing America’s energy security?

At some point, our energy producers, road-builders, auto manufacturers, building contractors and other sectors of the economy need an unequivocal message from Washington that public funds must pass a strict litmus test from now on. Unless there are legitimate overriding factors of national security or economic trauma, public funds will no longer support global climate change and our dependence on fossil fuels.

In other words, when it comes to taxpayer money, the carbon economy need not apply.

If climate change and the prospect of more resource wars are as urgent a set of problems as we believe – and they are – then we simply cannot justify making them worse, particularly with the money taxpayers send to Washington with the assumption it will be spent for the public good.

At the moment, the Obama transition team is being inundated with ideas – many of them good – about how to stimulate the economy with near-term green investments. Joe Romm has featured one green shopping list developed by the Center for American Progress (CAP). The Presidential Climate Action Project has created an on-line library of the policy and investment ideas sent
to Obama by CAP and other elements of the “green community”.

By picking the best of these recommendations and applying some common-sense criteria (for example, has a proposed infrastructure project been given adequate environmental review; will it reduce or increase vehicle miles traveled; will it avoid development in floodplains
and other hazard areas; is it socially just; will it produce or prevent carbon emissions), Congress and the next administration can do a pretty good job constructing a rapid investment program that delivers both economic and environmental progress.

Longer term, however, we need a far more sophisticated, objective and transparent standard for allocating public funds. We should develop a performance standard that counts not only easily measured factors such as carbon emissions, water consumption and energy intensity, but also counts factors critical to sustainability but still considered unquantifiable.
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