Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Judge & Jury All In One

The Audi "Green Police" ad that debuted during the Super Bowl generated a lot of discussion. Some found it amusing, others a frightening portend of what may lie ahead. A front page story in today's WSJ on what the city of Boulder, Colorado is doing to "promote" energy conservation will likely provide more fodder for those in the latter camp:

"Everyone needs to do something," says Councilman Matthew Appelbaum.

Unless the city does it for them. Recognizing that, as Mr. Appelbaum puts it, "it's a real pain to do all that work," Boulder plans to spend about $1.5 million in city funds and $370,000 in federal stimulus money to hire contractors to do basic upgrades for residents.

In the program, dubbed "Two Techs in a Truck," as many as 15 energy-efficiency teams will go door-to-door. They'll ask home and business owners for permission to caulk windows, change bulbs and install low-flow showerheads and programmable thermostats--all at taxpayer expense. The techs will set up clothes racks in laundry rooms as a reminder to use the dryer less often. They'll even pop into the garage and inflate tires to the optimum pressure for fuel efficiency.

Well, isn't that nice of them? They'll just "pop" into my garage and inflate my tires for me? Only if you agree to this level of government intrusion into your lives of course. At least for now. When you're facing a crisis like global warming, extremism in the defense of the environment is no vice.

Jeff Hohensee, a sustainability consultant, invested $125,000 in home-energy upgrades--though with rebates, his cost was $35,000--so his home uses only as much energy as solar panels on his roof produce. To spur neighbors to follow suit, he suggests the city measure every home's carbon footprint and publicize the results.

Now you're on to something. Publicize the results. Publicly shame your neighbors. Maybe start marking their homes with a sign so everyone knows that they're not doing their part. Organize neighborhood block committees to keep an eye on these anti-social elements and report their activities to the authorities.

City officials aren't willing to go that far. But they are hoping to leverage peer pressure. They plan to post congratulatory signs outside homes that have let the "two techs in a truck" change the light bulbs. They'll offer prizes to churches and schools that get commitments from, say, 100 families to insulate their attics. They'll host energy-efficiency block parties and plan to hire a consultant to create a conservation buzz on Facebook and Twitter.

If your city, township, municipality, or whatever basic level of local government levies taxes on you, EVER starts talking about hiring a consultant to "create a conversation buzz on Facebook and Twitter" it's time to get the pitchforks and torches out.

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