Saturday, August 19, 2006

Warming education

We went to see "An Inconvenient Truth" yesterday. As an aspiring politician, I highly recommend that you see it, if you haven’t already. If you are at all predisposed to the idea of global warming, this movie will have a profound effect on you. There are solutions, of course. He gives these at the end. It amounts to a lot of small things that, when put together, make a big difference. It’s things like buying efficient appliances and light bulbs, walking and biking, taking public transportation when you can.

The last one irks me a little. Take public transportation when you can. In many places public transportation is ineffective because people live so spread out. Everyone wants his own two-car garage and acre yard—all ten minutes from town. If we are to solve global warming we need to use less energy. And to use less energy we need to live closer together. Higher population densities means using less energy to get from here to there—and to get all our "stuff" from here to there.

I’ve made these arguments before, but this movie compels me to make them again, and make them louder. Education is only one key of the population distribution solution, but it’s an important one because it opens the door to the other facets. This is how it works: Today, one can select the school for her children by choosing where to live. But as people are searching for ever more diverse educational options, those with means are sequestering themselves into enclaves where they surround themselves with other like-minded people. This is not the only thing driving geographic segregation, but we won’t reverse this trend until we can break the link between where a person lives and where a person goes to school. Privatization of the school system will create the diversity in school programs that people seek while allowing folks to all live together in the same population center. A voucher system can provide greater equality by progressively redistributing wealth. Again, the private sector is no bastion of virtue; it just provides better matching of a differentiated service to a diverse population.

Once the education issue is resolved we can propose other incentives to bring people together: better parks, higher gasoline prices, tolls on all roads, zoning restrictions on suburban sprawl, economic incentives to support stands of trees, and yes, better public transportation.
I know you have reservations about privatizing education. As a public school student and a champion of social justice, it took me a long time to come to these conclusions. But the rationality of it is overwhelming. I used to see this as a matter of providing opportunities to teachers; but it has become a moral imperative. I try to make the argument, as Al Gore says, "person to person", "family to family". He recommends writing your legislators for change. You could be our next representative. I hope you will find the strength to change us, even before it becomes popular to do so.

No comments: