As efficient vehicles kill gas tax revenues in the U.S., could the answer be to tax the miles you drive rather than the gas you use?
A VMT (vehicle miles traveled) program was floated in
2009, but was rejected when people discovered that the government was interested in tracking their every
movement without offering badges or coupons to local coffee shops.
“The policy of taxing motorists based on how many miles they have traveled is not and will not be Obama administration policy.”
– Statement from the U.S. Department of Transportation
These programs face trouble in Congress, where the very idea of proposing a new tax is a recipe for all-out primal warfare between Republicans and Democrats.Before vote, Boehner and McConnell should pledge only to appoint to the spending committee those who rule out tax increases.
“The problem is, is that if you don’t do the revenues, then to get the same amount of savings you’ve got to have more cuts.”
– President Barack Obama, July 11, 2011 Press Conference
With the U.S. hungry for revenue, the VMT program might just be the answer nobody wants but everyone needs.
Would you rather be taxed for the gas you use, or the miles you drive?
The Avenue des Champs-Elysées
The IBM Commuter Pain Survey reports that traffic conditions have improved over the past decade, but people are more stressed about traffic than ever.
The survey reports fuel prices and weak economies are the root of lessened traffic. Other reported “commuter pains” include morning talk radio programs, and the way cup-holders aren’t actually built to hold any size cup.
IBM Commuter Pain Index
The worst commutes are in African and Asian cities like Nairobi and Beijing, where a traffic jam could last long enough that your suitcase better double as an overnight bag.Delhi’s traffic chaos has a character of its own | Jason Burke http://gu.com/p/32gak/tw via @guardian 24 hours in 1 of the worlds great #cities
“We don’t make products aimed at individual citizens, but we help clients understand where the pain is and what they should be focusing on.”
– Vinodh Swaminathan, IBM
IBM believes it can help traffic-heavy cities with its Intelligent Transportation solutions. But can they make the impact they need to prevent extreme traffic around the globe?
How much of your day-to-day stress is caused by traffic?
Smart power meters could be the bridge to a more energy efficient world if people understood the technology better.
“There have been major strides with new energy saving technologies, new programs and incentives, but in many cases the market is seeing more confusion amongst consumers than expected.” – Michael Valocchi, IBM
The uninformed are rallying against smart grid technology as a whole, bolstered by worries that smart meter inaccuracy could end up raising energy costs.
If they don’t act quickly, utility companies are going to have to start marketing smart meters as high-end paperweights to cover costs. Could consumer education be the solution?
How well do you understand smart grid technologies?
Cassava farmers in Africa
Genetic modification (GMO) remains controversial, often thought of as the prologue to a horror movie. And yet, the Gates Foundation is determined to further efforts of GMO crops in Africa.
“Some of our grants [in Africa] do include transgenic approaches, because we believe they have the potential to address farmers’ challenges more efficiently than conventional techniques.”
– Bill Gates, Word Food Prize gathering 2009
Gates has donated $11.9 million to the Virus Resistant Cassava for Africa project. A staple food in Africa, cassava is capable of thriving in environments unsuited for life, like arid zones, or the Jersey Shore.
“The problems sometimes do impact the accuracy of the billing that comes from those meters, but they’re not the meter accuracy per se.”
– Helen Burt, PG&E VP of Customer Relations
GMO plants are a hot-button issue. And Gates’s partners, Cargill and the Monsanto Foundation, aren’t exactly popular.
“The fact is that Cargill is a faceless agri-giant that controls most of the world’s food commodities and Monsanto has been blundering around poor Asian countries…”
– John Vidal, The GuardianHow companies like Monsanto manipulate scientific research to hide dangers of genetically altered plants and animals http://zite.to/o6yqWb
In spite of critics, the Gates Foundation is moving forward with GMO. Will this create some kind of horror monster, or simply help Africans get something to eat?
Do you believe that genetic modification can be used for good in places like Africa?
Hurricane Irene from space
After Hurricane Irene, insurers face tremendous losses. To avoid future loss, insurers could raise costs and price families off the coasts, shattering their compassionate reputation.
“Imagine a world in which economic damage equivalent to… [the] detonation of a midsized nuclear weapon in a major city could materialize with a warning of only a few days.”
– John Seo, Catastrophe Bond Pioneer
The idea that one storm could lead to bankruptcy has left companies shaking in their boots. Insurers are already updating their models, a step towards higher prices.
“[We are] running our business as if this change [in extreme weather] is permanent.”
– Thomas J. Wilson, CEO of Allstate#Senate Blumenthal Calls On State Farm To Waive Hurricane Deductibles http://bit.ly/ocpQ7t #Politics
Answers involve uncapping insurance premiums on the coasts, or finding solutions like London’s Thames Flood Barrier, built to withstand a storm from a Roland Emmerich film.
It remains to be seen whether a trillion-dollar storm arrives in a thousand years or the next decade. What steps will be taken to prevent total disaster?
Will you be affected by higher insurance rates on the coasts?
Claims of sustainable business practice at Walmart aren’t so strong when you consider a UC-Berkeley report claiming they could raise wages without raising prices.
Walmart’s cheapskate policies could lower the local average wages wherever they open a store, making extravagances like “food” and “a roof” difficult to afford.
Wallmart store exterior
If Walmart implemented a $12/hr wage, it would cost the company just 1% of its annual sales. They wouldn’t even have to empty the swimming pool of money at stately Walton Manor.
“Walmart does not pay living wages – It pays slave wages.”
– Bill Perkins, New York State Senator
If Walmart raises wages, will it alleviate fears in the cities where it’s trying to expand?
Do you believe that Walmart should raise its wages if it can afford to do so?
“There aren’t enough technology startups focused on solving real problems.”
– Rod Ebrahimi
Instead of focusing on how much investment they get, startups should make something that solves problems.
Rod Ebrahimi and Ignacio Thayer,
Co-Founders of ReadyForZero
“The only validation a young company needs are people who are using what the company creates and, even more importantly, people who believe they can’t live without it.”
– Rod Ebrahimi
“Make something people want.”
– Paul Graham, Co-Founder of Y-Combinator
Will startups be able to shake the habit of holding investors over innovation?
Do you think that startups should focus more on investors or innovation?
You Have 101 Slaves Working For You.
It’s not easy to be a socially responsible consumer, since it wasn’t magic that dug up the minerals in your smartphone or picked the cotton in your shirt.
“The issue seems far away but the truth is you can’t leave your home in the morning without touching something that was made with slavery.”
– Justin Dillon
Slavery Footprint, a new website, can tell you approximately how many slaves have pitched in to make the goods you enjoy.
What’s on Your Plate?Wow, I have 40 slaves in my slavery footprint. Really eye opening website: http://slaveryfootprint.org Now how to get it down…?
“Success for us means that we’ve shifted the conversation in the marketplace, [making it] a little more that makes it easier for corporations to engage in [the slavery issue] in a substantive manner.” – Justin Dillon.
Can consumer efforts help pressure companies out of using cheap forced labor?
Would you buy a product knowing that its creation involved forced labor?
Argonne battery research
The future of clean energy has long been tied to the accumulation of 17 chemical elements known as rare earth metals.
The problem is that China owns the majority of rare earth metals, and will only sell them for incredibly high prices.China rigs rare earth market: “Baotou will suspend smelting and separation for one month…to stimulate the market” http://biz.thestar.com.my/news/story.asp..
The DOE announced funding for 15 research projects that focus on rare earth alternatives, raising public worries of another Solyndra.
Without rare earth metal alternatives, can the U.S. reliably create new clean energy technology? Can they even support the technology that’s on the market today?
Do you think the U.S. can afford to rely on China for rare earth metals?
Solyndra v. The Solar Industry
Solyndra has been causing headaches for the Obama administration since the solar firm went bankrupt this August.The other Solyndra story: Even massive tax rebates failed to drive solar panel demand – http://thedc.com/rsSSxB
Solyndra may not prove much besides that the market punishes weak businesses. The DOE’s mistake wasn’t investing in renewable energy, just a bad business plan.
Average prices of solar power
One Block Off The Grid took a look at Solyndra, and the truth is that their solar panels were simply beaten by cheaper rivals.
The Solyndra Loan
The worry is that the DOE’s efforts could be halted by a meaningless blunder. Will people realize that Solyndra’s failure doesn’t matter before it’s too late?
How much of an impact do you feel that Solyndra will make on energy investment in the United States?