How to make a society stronger? In the long term, education is doubtless the best investment. But more immediately it's surely a Great Good Thing for people --- thoughtful citizens --- to encourage each other not to waste resources, not to throw things away that they likely will need in the future. (Hmmm, maybe education fits into that same category of conservation? It seems unwise to discard knowledge, or the years within which folks are most able to acquire it.)

What's the most wasteful large-scale human activity at the moment? Arguably it's moving things around: transportation of people and materials across the surface of the planet. Current conveyance usually involves extracting, refining, distributing, and then burning crude oil products. That may in fact be the best way to get the job done, with today's technology. But how smart is it to deliberately discard petroleum distillates without getting anything useful in compensation? Why not strive to go from Point A to Point B while generating the smallest possible amount of entropy? (Physical footnote: energy is always conserved; it's entropy, i.e., disorder, that increases inexorably over time, and that grows faster when things are ill-managed.)

The cost of inefficiency is roughly proportional to the price of gasoline --- it's almost negligible if fuel is cheap. That suggests a simple cure: collect a tax on every gallon of gas sold, and raise that tax every year until fuel consumption goes down significantly. If this hurts poor people, or those living far from civilization, it's easy to give them some of the money back via targeted refund mechanisms. (But note: usually the argument "it will harm the poor" is just a cover for the well-to-do when they are protecting their own pocketbooks and privileges.) A gradual increase in gasoline taxes would give everybody time enough to adjust their buying and spending patterns toward higher efficiency. (But don't make it too gradual, or it won't help matters until it's too late.) Many countries in the world already tax gas at seemingly high rates, and their civilizations haven't collapsed.

Ramping up the price by ~$1/gal/year2, for perhaps a decade or two, would probably be enough to make a big difference, in a good way ...

(see also EducationOfTheYouth (1 Dec 2001), BigBadBoxes (3 Dec 2002), SuVexation (24 Dec 2003), LetTrucksBeTrucks (9 Aug 2004), FeedOrFeedback (6 Sep 2004), ...)

TopicSociety - TopicHumor - TopicScience - 2004-11-22

(correlates: FauxDumpster, BrakeTax, StirTheStonesToSong, ...)