Guest Opinion by Timothy Kempf, PhD
Growth and economic development are inextricably linked to a variety of environmental and public health problems.
Here in the Treasure Valley we have experienced significant growth in the past decade as evidenced by population, new businesses, jobs, incomes and housing. We have also experienced an increase in the number of poor air quality days and pollution in our air.
Last summer was particularly disturbing with 63 days during June through September when the air quality was poor enough to have a significant affect on public health. Already this year we have had a record number of poor air quality alert days with indexes rivaling our nation’s most polluted city, Los Angeles.
As we have been growing it takes longer for me to get across town, particularly down Eagle Road. All these large SUVs and the construction equipment surely must be adding a fraction of a degree to the rise in our average global temperature. I question if Boise is such a desirable city in which to live, and with the price of gasoline these days if I can afford to sit in traffic breathing exhaust and feeling guilty about killing Polar Bears.
Considering our growth potential and low population we have the unique opportunity to grow and at the same time develop and utilize renewable energy, cleaner industrial processes and bring in more fuel-efficient vehicles.
Growing cleaner and healthier is a thoughtful process that requires us to abandon unfitting solutions like using compact fluorescent light bulbs and ethanol, both of which are a serious pollution problem in and of themselves and will never be utilized to their full potential anyway.
Instead, we must invest now in cleaner alternatives like wind, solar and geothermal energy and provide incentives to individuals to purchase more fuel-efficient vehicles. The higher cost of these solutions could be subsidized by a tax on households and businesses that exceed a certain power usage and on individuals who drive vehicles that are below a certain fuel economy standard.
Our growth process may be cautiously likened to China’s as they try to achieve industrialization and modernization the same way we did in the United States a century ago with coal and oil. The result of that process will only get them to the same point we are now as a nation—entrenched in a fossil-fuel burning infrastructure that we most definitely will not be walking away from anytime soon.
To solve growth related problems we must choose a path not taken for our own health and prosperity.
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