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Commentary

A Taxing Response

No effort to control greenhouse-gas emissions or to lower the carbon footprint ... can succeed unless those emissions are priced properly, writes Michael Specter in the Feb. 25 issue of The New Yorker. "There are several ways to do that: they can be taxed heavily, like cigarettes, or regulated, which is the way many countries have established mileage-per-gallon standards for automobiles." Exchanges where entities buy and sell rights to pollute are another way.
"No effort to control greenhouse-gas emissions or to lower the carbon footprint ... can succeed unless those emissions are priced properly," writes Michael Specter in the Feb. 25 issue of The New Yorker. "There are several ways to do that: they can be taxed heavily, like cigarettes, or regulated, which is the way many countries have established mileage-per-gallon standards for automobiles." Exchanges where entities buy and sell rights to pollute are another way.

While Specter's article is largely about the cost of greening up our food supply, there's no reason why some of the solutions he discusses couldn't be applied to IT.Whatever your politics are, the article's a worthy read for the subtleties and complexities it draws out where going green in any industry is concerned. And it looks at the whole economic chain from production to distribution and consumption. The article isn't available online, but there is this post-script audiocast with Specter.

I was about halfway through the article when I posted a recent rant on the flaccidness of so-called green IT efforts. What surprised me were the comments posted in response -- they went right to the tax issue, even though I said not a word about offsets or penalties in that blog entry. "I'll find a way to cheat any eco-tax (or find a way to collect it and not pay it to the government)," one poster said.

I didn't really have an opinion about an "eco-tax" or whatever we want to call it -- a fee, a charge, an offset. We already do it with glass and some plastic containers. But I've changed my tune.

According to estimates from the United Nations, some 20 to 50 million tons of e-waste are generated worldwide each year, accounting for more than 5% of all municipal solid waste.

Whether it's food or laptops or automobiles, it's time we pay it forward. Whether you believe or reject the science behind global warming, there's no arguing about the finite aspect of resources and most raw materials. We can't continue to live and consume in this fashion. All that's missing right now are the innovators and mechanisms for profiting from less and smarter consumption. Specter's article gets that conversation rolling. It would be great to see the VCs and big IT vendors pick it up and run with it.

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