Schwarzenegger maybe doesn’t get it after all…

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.

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.