America, nominally a democracy, acquired a strange fetish for “czars” during the Nixon administration (how telling).

I remember William Simon being appointed “energy czar” back in the 70s. Like the Romanoffs, he had a fearsome title and did nothing good for most of the people in his country.

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Still, it can be a useful exercise to think about what you would do if you suddenly had responsibility for something like dealing with global heating, and you could make the policy changes you thought wisest. What would yours be?

Here’s a small handful of mine, in random order (i.e., not ranked by priority), just to get you started:

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  • government managers have to start justifying travel from a carbon perspective, not just a cost perspective;
  • more teens have working bikes than cell phones; all schools teach bike safety and repair;
  • “design for bikability” required on all public ways
  • schools charge students through the nose for automobile parking (where parking is provided at all);
  • all urban mass transit is free; interurban rail and bus systems kept at low cost;
  • “free” parking for cars is outlawed; all registered autos to have a smart chip that talks to the “parking meter” chip on the curb or in the parking lot and reduces your parking balance (stored on the chip) automatically; the rates can be set according to time of day and length of stay (where extended parking is undesired);
  • minimum passenger percentage for jet flights: flights not allowed to take off unless at least 95% of the seats are filled with regular, pre-ticketed flyers;
  • states require insurance companies to offer vehicle insurance by-the-mile (where the state doesn’t adopt pay-at-the-pump entirely, per Andrew Tobias)
  • homebuilders/apt builders are required to estimate the energy consumption of their work against the local average heating/cooling history and guarantee the performance of their structures against the estimates;
  • all new and existing homes are required to have a fixture that makes an air-leakage test easy (rather than the difficult and awkward blower door test we use today); I’m picturing a 3″ round blower attachment that penetrates the structure and is blanked off except for during the leakage test, which the utility company performs as part of its service obligation; thus, rather than a special blower door gizmo, you just need a simple blower and fitting on a truck.

    You are notified to keep all your doors and windows shut on a given day (thus, these can be done in dead of winter or heat of summer, when you might already have them all shut anyway). The driver arrives, verifies that all the windows and doors are closed, unlocks the blower fitting cover, hooks up the blower, and presses up the residence to 1″ or 2″ water pressure and sees how much airflow is required to maintain the pressure.

    You don’t even have to be home. When the test is done, the driver unhooks the blower, spins on the insulated cap over the fitting, locks it, and goes on to the next house. You get a notice over the internet or in the mail giving you the overall leak tightness for your home; if your residence is too loose, you have 30 days to have house tightening measures taken and have your home brought back into compliance. If you don’t, your rates go up according to how far off you were.

  • “feebates” for all new TVs, cars, computer monitors, white goods, etc.; high-consumption items come with a special fee tacked onto the purchase price; the fees go to help defray the costs of better ones for people who want those. So the guy buying the plasma screen TV gets a special add-on charge, so that the cost of the low-power consuming models is reduced.
  • ratcheting appliance standards: the “best in class” energy consumption becomes the standard every two years, so we see a constantly rising standard of efficiency in products.