“Going green” sounds so easy and oh so correct. After all, how can one object to saving Mother Earth from being burned up by greenhouse gasses. Reality, however, has a bad habit of interfering. For example, in one of America’s “greenest” cities, when both the cost of and the inconvenience associated with switching to an “environmentally-friendly” house hits home, a lot of people do object.
Boulder, Colorado is a gorgeous city, and its elected officials take their role as environmental nannies seriously. Like many of their fellow elected officials in our nation’s capital, Boulder’s municipal leaders are big on both mandating green measures, as well as employing the “carrot” of tax revenues as incentives to accomplish their goals.
Since 2006, according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, the city has been using tax revenues to subsidize “audits” of homes to determine what steps are needed to improve their environmental footprints. In that same year, the city decided to institute the country’s first annual “carbon tax,” which currently stands at $21 per household. With the funds thus raised, the city embarked on an extensive media campaign to promote environmentally-friendly steps homeowners should take. In fact, according to the Wall Street Journal, the campaign included newspaper and radio ads, e-mail alerts, and municipal newsletters.
One of the city’s programs, discussed in the Journal piece and in a number of other publications, is cleverly branded “Two Techs in a Truck” and employs more than a dozen “energy-efficient teams” going door-to-door to convince individual homeowners to let them enter their home, scope out the interior, and make green changes. Such steps include removing incandescent light bulbs and replacing them with the dimmer and slow-to-illuminate, compact fluorescent bulbs; installing low-flow showerheads; setting up drying racks for clothes in laundry rooms; and, as noted by the Journal, even inflating the tires on the homeowner’s car (if they are so environmentally-insensitive as to own a car) to the proper pressure.
To characterize the results of this taxpayer-funded campaign as disappointing would be overly generous. As the Journal noted, Boulder’s carbon emissions, measured against the benchmark year of 1990, were 27% higher in 2008 – a figure worse than the national average (15%) for the same period; but did result in one small bit of good news – that the city’s carbon emissions did decrease from 2006 to 2008, but by less than 1%.
How is the city responding to the failure of its citizens to enthusiastically embrace the agenda being pushed by its elected officials? Like most who are convinced of their own righteousness and who control the public purse strings, Boulder’s leaders are considering moving from voluntary green audits of homes, to mandatory green “upgrades.” The cost for such measures will not be insignificant; for example, according to the Wall Street Journal, estimates are that upgrading a single, average apartment unit will run at least $4,000.
The cavalier attitude of the city council to forcing businesses and individuals to spend thusly is reflected in comments last year in Boulder’s “Community Guide” to the city’s “Climate Action Plan” by then-mayor and now-city Councilman Matthew Applebaum: “Everyone has a role to play.“ Mr. Applebaum was somewhat more directive in commenting just last month to the Wall Street Journal, that “everyone needs to do something.” Or, as Marie Antoinette said some years before, “let them eat cake.”
Other, non-voluntary shoes will not likely be long in dropping. As noted in a recent report to the city detailing the lack of progress in achieving results through voluntary measures, such actions are too “slow” to show the “significant results” the city deems necessary. Those homeowners who did not consent to allow “Two Techs in a Truck” into their homes to catalog everything therein, may find the next visit to be not so friendly or voluntary.
There’s one major problem for Boulder in all this. The city relies almost entirely on coal-powered plants for its energy needs. This means that no matter how many green measures the city encourages or mandates, the impact will never meet the expectations of its advocates. Unfortunately, the history of government mandates tells us that such reality rarely slows those who enjoy using the heavy hand of government to force behavior.
*[Author's note: The original version of this article did not include appropriate attributions to certain materials contained in a recent Wall Street Journal article; this version includes those references.]