Details about the stimulus plan President-Elect Barack Obama plans to enact are beginning to trickle out and generally I'm pretty happy with all of it. One of the things that many people don't understand is that deficit spending/national debt, is not such a bad thing, especially during very difficult economic times, like the one we are currently undergoing (Thanks Shrub). Government spending, specifically on such things as infrastructure, are wonderful ways to stimulate the economy, create jobs and get money moving. The economic spin offs are often quite huge and if done correctly, it has the potential to possibly turn things around a lot quicker than they normally would.
That being said, time is of the essence and now is not the time to think small or look backwards. We are entering a whole new era, that promises to permanently change the way each of us lives. With the global production of oil peaking and the threat of catastrophic climate change, the era of cheap and plentiful energy is coming to an abrupt halt. We have but a decade or so to truly prepare, about 20 years less than most of us would like, to somehow avert economic, population and environmental disaster. Things can go one of two ways, we get this right and somehow salvage a chance at a decent life, albeit one that is less energy intensive and locally based, or we can watch the whole system fall apart and see billions of people die, the animal kingdom wiped from the face of the earth and a scorching of the planet.
I want to believe that we'll live to see the first but I'm afraid we'll more likely see the latter. So, I once again give you my proposals for a 21st century stimulus plan, one that works in tandem with Europe, Asia, South America and Asia:
1. Massive investment in alternative energy- This means an immediate build up of wind farms, solar arrays, tidal power generators and other green inititiatives that show promise.
2. Nuke It- Like it or not, nuclear power is our only real hope for keeping the lights on and somehow keeping order. Despite unfounded fears, nuclear power has been remarkable safe. Greenhouse emissions are much lower than coal or natural gas and I'd much rather worry about disposal of waste than cooking the atmospher with coal. France is the world's leader in generating electricity from Nuclear power plants and as a result, they need to take the lead on a global scale. It's non unrealistic to set a goal of 200 new nuclear power plants in this country over the next 20 years.
3. Energy Efficiency- Our homes and workplaces are woefully ineffecient and that needs to change. There are lots of cheap but effective ways to make our homes more efficient. Storm windows, better insulation, energy audits and low power appliances can make a big difference.
4. Rail- The future of domestic travel is not by air or road but by rail. The American rail system is the laughingstock of the world and with good reason. We've neglected our rail system in favor of airports and roads, all to the detriment of our lives. Rail and water travel are the most efficient ways to move people and goods. It's time that we invested a lot of money and work in creating a first class national rail system that is based on electricity and not diseasel. I propose a regiional hub system to connect the major cities, especially over short and medium distance travel. Make New York City, Washington, Atlanta, Chciago, New Orleans, Los Angeles, Denver and Seattle the hubs and allow them to serve as transit centers. We need high speed express routes connecting the east and west coasts and medium to high speed lines for smaller distances.
5. Massive global reforestation- Trees are the lungs of the earth and yet we keep cutting them down. Healthy forests make wonderful habitats for precious wildlife and serve as great destinations for camping, kayaking and skiing among other things. American city's should lead the way by doing everything they can to help grow our urban forests. We need to expand park lands, set up citywide programs to plant trees along roads and paths, offer tax breaks for planting trees in our yards and permanently preserve open greenspaces.
6. An end to sprawl- It's long past time for Americans to give up on the American dream of owning a home with a big yard in a neighborhood far from the urban core. Sprawl is the biggest misallocation of funds in the history of the world and we need to get serious about zoning that encourages urban in-fill, higher density, development around mass transit and mixed use neighborhoods.
7. End the car culture- I certainly don't want to tell everyone to get rid of their cars, I love mine, but we need to focus more on pulbic transit and less on personal vehicle use. We need to invest in heavy rail in large cities like Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas and Miami, streetcars and light rail in cities like Louisville, Nashville, Denver, Kansas City, Portland and Tampa and expanded bus routes everywhere.
8. Think Local- Once, people in America ate food that was grown close to home. Today, a lot of what we eat is grown far away in places like California, Mexico and South America. Most food travel over 1500 miles to reach your plate. Lets set up plans to bring back the family farm that feeds the locals. Most American cities are surrounded by prime farm land that is currently being turned into faceless suburban sprawl, lets stop that before it's too late.
9. Worldwide wildlife preservation- We often forget that we share this planet with billions and billions of animals. It's their home too but you wouldn't know it by looking around. A global initiative to preserve all life on earth needs to take place and soon. This means a serious commitment to poor countries in such places as Africa, Asia and South America. Organizations like the UN and NATO need to use military force to prevent the genocide of such animals as the mountain gorillas in Africa.
10. Smaller families- I know this isn't popular but there are too many of us. Serious discussion needs to begin about population overshoot on planet Earth. Currently, we have over 6 billion humans, way too many to live in harmony with nature. All of us alive today deserve to live long and productive lives but lets stop breeding like we are in danger of going extinct. I hate to say it, but an ideal human populatin would be around 200 or 300 million humans, give or take a hundred million. One way or the other, we will get back to that, hopefully we can do that in a managed and peaceful way.
Alas, I'm not optimistic about any of this, but we can dream, can't we?