Arnold Schwarzenegger has been parading all spring in very green finery, comprising a bunch of legislation and executive orders directed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions in California. This is quite interesting political behavior because of his Republican base, a bunch that, with exceptions, is generally allergic to the idea of saving the planet at the intolerable cost of actually giving up anything. It’s also interesting because California will obviously get only a tiny share of the benefits of arresting global warming; anything we do is instantly diluted across the whole world, so from a standard economic/psychological perspective, it’s in our interest to follow Bush’s guidance, and do as little as possible whether anyone else steps up or not. We’re faced with the dilemma of a bunch of prisoners of a small blue planet.
A lot of California activity is concerned with getting some carbon out of vehicle fuels, the part I’m involved in with a group of researchers doing the policy analysis for a so-called Low Carbon Fuel Standard. Of course reducing GHG emissions from fuel is only useful if fuel use doesn’t increase; indeed, if we don’t (along with everything else) drive less and do it in less thirsty vehicles, we will not get on top of global warming. People have to have some other ways to get around than big thirsty individual cars, like bicycles, feet…and buses and trams. Accordingly it was a major wardrobe malfunction of those green garments when the governor’s budget came out with a $1.3 billion cut in transit funding. This is a really inexcusable mistake, especially in California, indeed one could fairly say he’s on stage with his environmental pants down.
I happened to return to Berkeley from San Francisco last night on the BART at 5:30, high rush hour, and there were some seats empty for much of the trip and lots of standing room for all of it: a New Yorker would think he had died and gone to heaven. This means BART is way overpriced, far above marginal cost, even at the busiest time, and one of the most important ways to attack global warming would be to get people into those empty spaces. Transit always has to be heavily subsidized, not because it’s a communist plot but because it’s a declining-marginal-cost service that can never pay for itself and be efficient at the same time.
Schwarzenegger has a real problem in California with his own party. This legislative minority is large enough to block any tax increase, and has taken a pledge in some cave with skulls and candles to a stupid, ignorant, and purely ideological orthodoxy that the correct fraction of California’s GSP to be used by government is less. But the Governator is well situated to tell his own people, and the people of California, the truth, and now would be good time to start doing it.
He has, I wish to note, restrained himself so far from jumping on the deeply anti-planet bandwagon of deploring high gasoline prices that seems to have swept up almost every national politician. Has there ever been a product that everyone agrees we need to use less of, that reasonable people want sold at lower rather than higher prices? Let’s do this slowly, for the candidates and their spin people:
Gas . Prices . Are . Much . Too . Low
Transit . Prices. Are . Much . Too . High (Arnold, this one is for you, too)
UPDATE: More on this in the form of a reply to Megan McArdle just above, here.