Big problem might need tiny solution

Sunday, August 27, 2017

(The Times will feature staff editorials in the coming weeks tackling environmental issues facing the world today, and potential solutions using some unusual, if not controversial, thinking.)

Scientists in more than a hundred nations around the globe have come to a decision about climate change: Humans are the main cause.

It makes sense. We’re the ones who consume more than we reuse, drive fuel-dependent cars, operate the machines, burn fossil fuels, clear away the trees/woodlands that absorb carbon dioxide and send heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere.

Is it too late? Maybe, maybe not, but we have to do one thing and that is to realize we are responsible for what happens next.

Even the Bible teaches a man reaps what he sows. According to King Solomon as quoted in the book of Proverbs, “Those who plant injustice will harvest disaster.” The sooner humanity agrees the problem is real, the sooner we can work together toward addressing a solution – and creating a better future for us all.

An enforceable policy needs to be enacted that stops consumption of more than necessary to survive, but done in a way that would be palatable for people who don’t like or don’t want to change. The solution would have to be something that could be implemented without causing hardship to struggling families yet providing a valuable service at the same time while helping solve the bigger problem. Can this be done?

A potential solution is being bandied about that has some out-of-the-box thinking: Create a unified policy/law stating no “new land” can be consumed for any type of construction.

It sounds extreme on the surface, but digging a little deeper the idea has merit.

The first goal would be upon implementation date any standing woodland, farmland, wetland or any previously undeveloped land within the United States (but maybe the world would accept this idea too) could never be sold/purchased with the intent to construct any type of un-natural facility. In other words: Leave what nature we have left alone and let it grow back, and of course farmland could still be used by farmers as intended — it just couldn’t be sold off as new development.

The second goal would state all developed property sitting vacant or unused, whether government, commercial or privately owned, has to be sold/purchased for any and all new construction use. This means if someone wants to build a new house, company office or manufacturing plant, they have to purchase property previously developed and tear down any buildings in place to develop it the way they want. (Local government agencies could issue tax abatements/credits/special mortgage rates to those buying blighted properties.)

No more tearing down Earth’s resources to put up parking lots, to paraphrase the lyrics of a famous environmental song “Big Yellow Taxi.”

A third goal of this unified policy would be to create incentives for those who purchase vacant, abandoned and uninhabitable property for reclamation and complete restoration back to Mother Nature, such as parks or nature preserves. A caveat would include that any vegetation/trees planted could not be harvested for at least 30 years, and, once harvested, must be replanted.

Affordable housing for everyone would be the final goal of this policy. This part could actually become a booming business and something attractive for people of all financial means: Provide tax credits for those people who downsize to what are called “tiny houses.”

For example, a couple who sell their 2,400 square foot home to downsize to a 500 square foot tiny home are reducing their carbon footprint by leaps and bounds.

Smaller homes are less expensive than larger ones in terms of taxes and building, heating, maintenance, and repair costs and may encourage a simpler, debt-free lifestyle for people while reducing ecological impacts for the environment.

Opposition to this idea probably would start with the issue of lost revenue due to the property tax base dropping. This might be true, at first, but consider the financial impact of families being able to enjoy their lives more because they have more income to spend.