Don't Live Green to Save the Planet


By Brian Harper

Take it from the cheapest man alive: you need to be green. No, not because it'll save the planet. It'll save your wallet.

Can't take $4 gas? Ditch the car and get a place in South Lake Union, from where you can bike/bus/SLUT to anywhere in Seattle. No, you don’t need to go to the eastside…ever. Oh yeah, you may want to go mountain biking from time to time. Bus it to Issaquah and get your ride on.

The high-rise condo McComplex going in where the shitty Chinese buffet used to be? Yes, I know that they look exactly the same as the new ones in Capitol Hill, Fremont, and West Seattle. But they’re ridiculously energy efficient. Forget about reducing carbon emissions. I’m talking about natural gas that is now $10 per BTU, and a peanuts bill for your new pad with the tankless hot water heater. They’re also the best bargain for in-town living. There are at least 200 listed for under $250k right now.

Your hot water heater has a tank? Don't chuck yours in a landfill and buy a new on. Wrap it with an insulating blanket from the local hardware store. If your tank is warm to the touch, the blanket will save you cash. City Hardware is just around the corner from your new place in South Lake and they can order you one in days. No need to fill up your non-existent car to drive out to a big box. The payback (time it takes to recoup your investment) on the blanket is from a few months to a year …after that, pure profit.

Ok, you need wheels for your weekend soul-cleansings. Should you consider a hybrid? The answer is…it depends. Hybrids cost more than non-hybrids. So it depends on whether you can recoup the additional cost through saving cash on gas. The Lexus Hybrid SUV? That would be a smart move…if gas were at $10 a gallon. The Prius will save you net cash versus a comparable non-hybrid model with gas above $2. This is the opening I need for my soapbox speech—high energy prices, by increasing the incentives for new, energy efficient technologies, are the best thing to ever happen to the environmental movement. (OK, I’m done. Moving along.)

Swap out your heavily used lights for compact fluorescents if you haven’t already, but don’t bother with the storage closet light that you use for 30 seconds a month. You’ll never get your $3 investment back. Use an incandescent for that seldom used light fixture. Stock up on old-school bulbs before the nanny state forbids it!

In terms of public policy, you’re bearing a big cost (economists call them external costs) for pollution from cars. Europe taxes gas to the tune of $3-$5 per gallon, versus on average 40 cents here. The U.S. gas tax barely covers the highway bill, much less the actual pollution costs that burning oil inflict on individual health. Work to cut the amount of pollution costs you bear by encouraging your legislators to push gas taxes higher. A fixed percentage of those gas taxes go to pay for public transit.

It’s everyone for themselves, and it’s your coin.

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