My Plan to Save the World

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Mr. President, while you're in Genoa, just remember the big truths. Business cycles cycle and Europeans complain about Yank unilateralism — that's what they do. But every big shot in Genoa this weekend knows full well that the American consumer is the one that's got the whole world economy in his hot little hands.

We're well-trained enough to be stolidly materialistic even in glum times like these. Boom or bust, we're soldiering on — leading our lives of quiet desperation and buy whatever gadgets we can to scratch the itch. Even if it means going a gazillion dollars in debt, we'll keep retail sales respectable until the seas boil.

Which, of course, brings us to global warming — and our demands.

Now, we're not alarmists here in the States — who's got the time, with prices so low? — but we do tend to rally around a good crisis. The Greatest Generation had WWII, the boomers got to hem and haw on Vietnam/Watergate and permanently cripple our national self-esteem. We get the business cycle, the global economy, and a chance to answer the question of the century: whether capitalism can indeed save the world, or just fill it with smog and fast-food restaurants.

So here's the plan. As soon as you hear the word "Kyoto," stand up, and with a big goofy grin on your face, start banging on the table with your cowboy boot. That'll get their attention.

Then tell them all to stuff Kyoto, and announce your firm intention to intention to wean America off coal in ten years, natural gas in 20, and oil in 25. (Let the current nukes die of natural causes.) Corporate tax breaks will be handed out according to cleanliness by the EPA; personal ones for conservation by the DOE. Subsidies will be generously provided so that Big Coal, Big Gas and eventually Big Oil can die a humane death by diversification.

Trust the market, Mr. Bush. The industries will grow. Windmills, especially, will sprout like weeds — tell Tom Daschle he can make South Dakota the Texas of wind — and solar will speed its evolution. Heck, we could use some new industries around here. Manufacturing could find its revival in energy-efficient appliances. Detroit could become a world leader in clean cars. And the dot-coms — as long they're either boosting productivity or entertaining us, they'll always be welcome.

Trust us, Mr. Bush. Look at California. With some prodding from state-induced conservation measures — and some big rate hikes — usage is down 12 percent since last June and the state is running a surplus. Three new power plants have added 1,400 megawatts to the grid, but conservation has added 5,570 more to the balance sheet. And nobody's starving of economic sluggishness yet.

"Crisis" is your favorite word, not mine, Mr. President, but I do believe it might work for this one. The pre-eminent nation in the world is also the most polluting — we're far ahead of the rest of the world in the geopolitical and economic race, and yet Earth is choking on our exhaust. The American consumer is ready for this. After all, you're sending us all a check for $300 — why not give us something more inspiring to spend it on than a Palm Pilot?

At the very least, you'll be giving unilateralism a good name.