For more and more Oregonians, the word
“sustainability” rolls off the tongue in that tone peculiar to true
Weekly, our neighbors, like us, dutifully take a blue and a green recycling cart to the curb, freeing up our landfills of recyclables and compostables, respectively. My co-workers collect banana peels and other wet garbage to start composting beneath the break-room sink. I even bicycle to my day job, leaving our up-to-54-miles-per-gallon car in the garage and earning sustainability merit points from whomever’s counting.
But too often, I find sustainability
initiatives well-intentioned, voluntary window dressing.
I’m not convinced current "sustainability"
efforts check the larger woes of progress: rampant real estate
speculation, traffic congestion by driver-only cars, shoddy stick
houses … the list goes on.
I’d like to see more steps to implement a
I believe real sustainability needs a
shift of our tax structure over to green taxes.
I interpret green taxes simply: If the
resource is a gift of nature such as land, water, air, forest or
mineral (often referred to as the “environmental commons”) and it is
used by an individual or corporation, then it is taxed to benefit the
community and preserve the resources.
else is tax-free, including
productive work and efforts of individuals and corporations. No more
income taxes; income is not a gift of nature.
Can this really be done? Yes, if staged.
A form of green taxes applied to land has
been around in isolated form since its original formulation by the
American journalist and economist Henry George (1839-1897) in his
classic Progress and Poverty.
Land-only tax structures (with buildings
tax-exempt, encouraging highest-and-best use) have existed in a pure or
modified form in Pennsylvania, along with foreign countries like
Australia, China and Taiwan, since the 1920s.
Alan Durning, of the environmental think
tank Sightline Institute in
Seattle, wrote in 2006 that almost two-thirds of state legislators and
local officials are somewhat or very familiar with the green tax
approach to property taxation. Unfortunately, they never hear from
constituents about this issue. The missing piece for action is public
Our task is simple: Get smart on green taxes and urge our representatives to encode our economy with eco-friendly taxes to replace the productivity-sapping taxes we now have. Doing so will both sustain and make best use of our natural resources.
An earlier version of this essay appeared
in the Portland Tribune.
Read Charlie Dickinson's
story collection, The Cat
at Light's End, as an ebook in these downloadable
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