With the growing concern for the degradation of the environment and the continual, yet slow development of the green revolution, one can find a plethora of sustainable replacement products anywhere in the market. The main factor that poses a problem is not whether we have the necessary means to live greener, but if those available means are affordable, efficient, and overall beneficial for mass lifestyles. For example, the sustainable Toyota Prius and 7th Generation’s post-consumer goods are all easily available but are not frequently bought because of their higher prices compared to more generic, affordable brands. In our current economic downturn, it is not surprising that people are more concerned with the economy than saving the environment or finding alternative energies. That being said, it is still important for Americans to live environmentally responsible lives in order to meet the needs of the present population without compromising the ability of future generations to live sustainably and safely. Instead of having the public view “living environmentally friendly” as a costly, luxury investment, the perception needs to shift so that the public sees living eco-friendly as a cost-efficient, financially benefiting lifestyle choice. Thus, the United States government needs to promote its citizens to live sustainable lives and can effectively do so by creating incentive and rebate programs. Already existing programs, like the ones currently being used in China, Sweden, and Brazil, would serve well as models.
This past month, China announced a rebate program to offer generous incentives for people looking to buy green vehicles. China has launched this program in order to help reduce emissions in major cities. The rebates handed out will be in cash amounts depending on the size of the green automobiles- ranging from hybrid passenger cars to fuel cell powered buses. While this reimbursement system does not help curb China’s record high car growth or transform China’s transportation system into more sustainable transportation growth methods, this rebate system will help China reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by advocating the use of more sustainable automobiles, like pure electric vehicle pictured above. Chinese cities like Beijing are going even further to support the use of hybrid vehicles by offering citizens up to $3,700 in incentives to give up their old gas-guzzling and heavy polluting cars along with subsidies to purchase new environmentally responsible cars. These incentives and subsidy programs not only promote the utilization of sustainable vehicles for all income levels, but also help lower income levels become able to afford fuel-efficient vehicles. Other sustainable programs can be see all over the globe. The recycling incentive programs used in Curitiba Brazil and Sweden have created some of the highest recycling rates in the world. In Curitiba, ex-Mayor Jaime Lerner invented an incentive program where residents collect, sort, and exchange their garbage for fresh vegetables, food delivered weekly, and travel vouchers to use for Curitiba’s mass transit system. In Sweden, legal motivation is used to promote recycling by taxing each Swedish citizen according to the volume of trash they place in landfills. With these two recycling programs in place, it is not surprising that Curitiba recycles 2/3 of its waste every day while in Sweden “70% of paper, 95% of glass, 71% of plastic bottles, 85-90% of aluminum cans and 75% of tin cans,” were recycled in 2003.
While currently there are no numbers that indicate the success of China’s rebate and incentive programs for fuel-efficient vehicles, the successful recycling rates in Sweden and Curitiba prove that with government motivation, comes active participation in using sustainable products. If the United States were to enact a similar incentive program to promote the use of fuel-efficient vehicles then the amount of people that would be willing to switch to hybrid cars would be astronomical. While there are current tax-break incentives for those who drive fuel-efficient hybrid vehicles, these tax-cut programs do not make hybrid vehicles affordable to all Americans. Therefore, U.S incentives are less effective than China’s rebate and subsidy program, which pays its citizens money to give up their old gas-guzzling cars while offering subsidies on the purchase of new fuel-efficient vehicles. If the United States was serious in the promotion of fuel-efficient vehicles than they would need to mirror China’s program by presenting capital to all American citizens so that all income demographics within the United States would be able to afford and ultimately choose to drive fuel efficient vehicles. However, the United States did create the hybrid HOV incentive in 2005 which allows owners of fuel-efficient vehicles to drive solo in highway carpool lanes. Sadly the DMV in California has not issued any of these HOV stickers since 2007, as the California State Law had only allocated 85,000 of these sticker-incentives to be issued to hybrid owners.
Although California and Los Angeles do have existing incentives to promote sustainable living, they are not as well marketed and received as the programs used in China, Sweden, and Curitiba. China’s incentives were broadcasted over radio-channels, Sweden’s incentives are enforced by law, and Curitiba’s incentives continually give evident, tangible rewards to its citizens. California’s Public Utilities Commission and Energy Commission websites, Go Solar California, provides California residents with information about the incentives, rebates, tax credits, and possible capital gained by using solar energy for home or development. According to this website, not only does switching to solar power decrease an energy bill to up to 60%, but it produces income from extra energy produced by the solar panels. The only reason that these solar powered incentives are not being mass utilized is because programs such as this are not being publicized. If the California government was to invest in creating a campaign that advertised the benefits of using eco-friendly products such as switching to solar power will not only save money spent on energy bills, but also generate extra income from extra energy produced, then California families would be more apt to place solar panels on their homes to utilize solar energy. (Pictured above). If the United States wants to promote sustainable living then the United States needs to not only enact successful incentive programs, but also put effort and funding into publicizing these initiatives in order to create the mass utilization of these programs.