As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Green Cultural Movement

I went to the Dwell on Design show over the weekend, a look at home furnishings from the architecture and design magazine. And what amazed me was how foregrounded the green credentials of all the products were. Even in front of the design qualities. From VOC-free paint to tabletops that don't emit radon gas to solar panels to tankless water heaters and on and on, there was practically nothing at this design show that was purely aesthetic.

The green movement is cultural. It's not using the usual measures of politics to gain power, but creating a lifestyle that incorporates eco-friendly elements into it. It's starting in building and re-design, and because of the price of gas is moving quickly into transportation. Both Nissan and Saturn are putting a significant investment into electric cars, and as most Americans expect gas prices to remain high it's very likely they'll buy them and find alternative means of travel.

Of course, this cultural movement is going to leave some people behind. Green technologies are expensive now, and out of reach to many. That's what I thought when I read this article about how rural Americans are suffering the most from higher gas prices. Electric cars aren't coming to the heartland anytime soon. How do we deal with this?

Across broad swaths of the South, Southwest and the upper Great Plains, the combination of low incomes, high gas prices and heavy dependence on pickup trucks and vans is putting an even tighter squeeze on family budgets.

Here in the Mississippi Delta, some farm workers are borrowing money from their bosses so they can fill their tanks and get to work. Some are switching jobs for shorter commutes.

People are giving up meat so they can buy fuel. Gasoline theft is rising. And drivers are running out of gas more often, leaving their cars by the side of the road until they can scrape together gas money.

The disparity between rural America and the rest of the country is a matter of simple home economics. Nationwide, Americans are now spending about 4 percent of their take-home income on gasoline. By contrast, in some counties in the Mississippi Delta, that figure has surpassed 13 percent.

As a result, gasoline expenses are rivaling what families spend on food and housing.

“This crisis really impacts those who are at the economic margins of society, mostly in the rural areas and particularly parts of the Southeast,” said Fred Rozell, retail pricing director at the Oil Price Information Service, a fuel analysis firm. “These are people who have to decide between food and transportation.”

Outside of rebates, I don't know how you deal with that. Building an entirely new energy infrastructure, new bus routes and mass transit, in areas that have none, is prohibitively expensive. A windfall profits tax won't impact these people, at least not to the extent that they can fit transportation cleanly into their budget.

Something to think about.

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