A couple of weeks ago, during the height of the buzz about Cash for Clunkers, I heard a radio broadcast on WTOP (Washington, D.C.). In his broadcast, the announcer said that he had received many calls from people who were disparaging the Cash For Clunkers program--calling it another 'Washington Bailout.' One of these callers used a few choice words to describe the program, but then shared that she was eventually persuaded to trade in her old car. What convinced her? The $4,500 the program gave her towards a new car. The commentator's conclusion was that for every doubter, there is a price at which they can be persuaded to change their mind. Remember, the Cash for Clunkers program had two objectives: 1) to sell more cars, 2) to try to reduce the carbon emissions from the cars on the road by getting people into more fuel efficient cars.
This got me thinking about Climate Change and whether behavior changes can be 'bought.' Let me say up front--I am a Climate Change believer. I realize that there are many, many people who do not believe that Climate Change is the result of man's actions. I agree that there are cycles on earth and that part of what we are seeing is likely one of these cycles. But I sincerely believe that we are making it worse by our actions. But whatever you believe is the source of Climate Change, I think that most of us agree that it is happening
Above all, however, I am a pragmatist. I understand that we all have different perspectives and different backgrounds. Part of what makes our country great is that we are all free to have out own opinions and act in a way that is aligned with our belief system. For some that means making personal choices that minimize our carbon footprint and for others it means choosing not to.
As I see it, most Americans fall into one of three categories when it comes to Climate Change:
1) Activist (willing to do what it takes to make it stop and taking action to persuade others to make changes, too),
2) Interested participant (one who understands the arguments but is not consistent in taking actions to effect change),
3) Disbeliever (enough said).
This brings me back to the Cash for Clunkers program. If, like that program did, we make minimizing our individual impacts on the earth palatable (easy) and rewarding (yes, financially) we will all benefit from the impact on our environment.
The Activist needs very little incentive to act on some of the more minor things, but might be inspired to install a geothermal heating system or solar panels if the incentives were compelling. The Interested Participant will try to choose the solutions that have the least negative impact on our environment, but will be more inspired, and may take their actions a step further with greater personal incentives. The Disbeliever is a harder sell; they will probably only take advantage of these incentives if they don't cost them anything (or very little) but the personal payback is high.
Guess what? There are currently programs in place that will satisfy each of these personality types!
The Energy Department website is a treasure trove of information as are the state sponsored Energy web-pages. Some of the more interesting programs include:
1. Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credits
Consumers who install solar energy systems (including solar water heating and solar electric systems), small wind systems, geothermal heat pumps, and residential fuel cell and microturbine systems can receive a 30% tax credit for systems placed in service before December 31, 2016; the previous tax credit cap no longer applies.
2. Home Energy Efficiency Improvement Tax Credits
Consumers who purchase and install specific products, such as energy-efficient windows, insulation, doors, roofs, and heating and cooling equipment in existing homes can receive a tax credit for 30% of the cost, up to $1,500, for improvements "placed in service" starting January 1, 2009, through December 31, 2010. See EnergyStar.gov for a complete summary of energy efficiency tax credits available to consumers.
3. State Specific Energy Credits
I know that Virginia approved credits that were announced last week (Virginia State Energy Credits Link) and that Maryland has a program, too (Maryland State Energy Credits Link). If you are in another state this information is generally available by searching for the name of your state and 'energy' & 'tax credits.'
Many states also offer Grants, that can be used for specific energy improvement projects, such as installing a Geo-Thermal Heating System or Solar Panels.
I think that Mr. Activist, Mrs. Interested Participant and even Ms.Disbeliever might be persuaded to make some changes, even minor ones, given the breadth of incentives currently being offered. The incentives are there, the need is great for each of us to make changes; someone is going to get the cash and the tax breaks...it might as well be you!
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