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We Could Be Doing Five Times Better

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Question: How much\r\ngovernment regulation should there be? 

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Ernst Weizsäcker: Typically, in the Anglo-Saxon mindset, there is hardly any role for\r\ngovernment.  They think the markets\r\nwill do all.  And if there is\r\nscarcity of resources, markets will react.  But this is wrong because climate disasters happening\r\nperhaps 50 years from now are not visible in today’s markets.  So you have to have state intervention,\r\nor an international agreement, like the Kyoto Agreement, making it more\r\nprofitable for companies to be climate friendly then to squander energy.  And one measure that we have taken in\r\nmy own country at the time I was a member of Parliament, was the Ecological Tax\r\nReform, which let electricity and petrol prices rise in small steps for five\r\nconsecutive years, and at the same time was reducing indirect labor costs. And\r\nin balance, it was calculated that this saved, or created roughly 300,000\r\njobs.  For a small country like\r\nGermany, this is a lot.  Because\r\nlabor getting cheaper meant that for the employer, it became more profitable to\r\nlay off kilowatt hours and hire people than the other way around. 

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So, this is a policy measure\r\nthat worked very well.  It was not\r\nexactly popular, but it was very good for the economy of Germany.  And I suggest that America could\r\nemulate that scheme, but today it would be so unpopular that I doubt it will be\r\nadopted soon.

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Question: How much\r\nbetter could we be doing?

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Ernst Weizsäcker: We can do five times better. \r\nAnd that relates to carbon efficiency, but also to metals, water, and\r\nenergy in general.  So, what we are\r\ndoing, or considering is, a transport system that is based on very efficient\r\ncars.  My friend Amory Lovins talks\r\nabout the hyper-car revolution that would do something like 120 or 150 miles\r\nper gallon, plus much better public transport as we have it in Japan or in most\r\nof Europe, plus technological advances in rapid public transport.  Again, in France, in Japan, in Germany,\r\nwe have those fabulous trains which do roughly 250 kph, and for practical\r\npurposes tend to be faster than air transport because you don’t have those\r\nterrible waiting time and security checks and all the rest.  So, that is the transport sector. 

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It also relates, of course,\r\nto good transport.  Wal-Mart, for\r\ninstance, is renewing their fleet of trucks to be more carbon efficient.  So, it’s a multitude of factors in this\r\none sector of transport.  You could\r\nalso look at agriculture where water efficiency is perhaps the most important\r\npart with irrigation and all the rest, but also energy plays a big role.  And non-carbon greenhouse gasses play a\r\nbig role in agriculture.  

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Or, the housing sector.  My family and I are living in a\r\nso-called "passive house," which is roughly ten times more energy efficient than\r\nconventional homes are.  So we are\r\nsaving a lot of energy, have a very good air quality, and at the same time do\r\nsomething for posterity for a better climate. 

Recorded on April 9, 2010

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We could be much more pro-active in lessening our impact on the environment. Energy-efficient cars and "passive houses" can make a real difference.

The “new normal” paradox: What COVID-19 has revealed about higher education

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Photo: Luis Robayo/AFP via Getty Images
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
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What if Middle-earth was in Pakistan?

Iranian Tolkien scholar finds intriguing parallels between subcontinental geography and famous map of Middle-earth.

Image: Mohammad Reza Kamali, reproduced with kind permission
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