Strength in Numbers for Green Economy

By: Kate Galliers

A pertinent exchange took place Friday morning in the Ronald Reagan International Building, just two blocks from the White House. Climate-change experts presented data on the future of green development on the global economy, learning from the successes of the past and prescribing policy for the future. One symposium in particular highlighted the success of German transportation systems, drawing parallels to potential United States results of similar caliber.

Break-out session 12 headlined "Green Infrastructure, Transportation, Energy and Transatlantic Learning" and focused on the development of German infrastructure post World War II. What researchers found was that after World War II, German towns spent a large amount of money rebuilding the devastated infrastructure of their country. They introduced cars, parking garages and the like to catch up to their more developed competitors.

However, during the 1970s and especially in the 1990s, there existed a marked increase in the development of alternative modes of transportation. A push towards public transportation such as railway, trolley and bus systems exploded onto Europe where real estate is tight.

Perhaps most influential was none other than the bicycle. Special bike traffic guidelines, biking lanes, and bike garages popped up all over Germany. With an increase in commuters finding their way by bicycle, the rate of car accidents dropped dramatically. Interestingly enough, so did the number of biking accidents. It's what Dr. Ralph Buehler, assistant professor at Virginia Tech University specializing in urban development, calls, "Strength in numbers."

The idea is that the more people you have participating in a certain activity the more infrastructure and regulation surround the increased interest. "We have overwhelming statistics that prove time and time again that the more bicyclists we have, the less biking accidents occur. We see the same statistics for pedestrians and other modes of transportation."

Data of a similar persuasion emphasized the use of small taxes on electricity or oil, money that the European Union uses to reduce the cost of social security. During Micael Mehling's presentation, the president of the Ecologic Institute, he drew attention to the Electricity Tax Act of 1998-9. Instead of adding the tax haphazardly into the federal budget, government officials defined a clear path for the funds, leading directly to cost-cutting in social security. As a result, employers see a reduction in their cost per employee, allowing them to hire more people. "In 2005 we estimated that over 250,000 jobs have been created because of this tax. In a country of 8 million people, that's a pretty significant growth," said Mehling.

This particular session, organized by associate professor at The George Washington University, Melissa Keeley, addressed many economic mechanisms through which German has adapted on the path of green infrastructure while mitigating other political issues. Each presenter was given 15 minutes to speak on a particular topic and then the panel opened the floor to questions.

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