Green economy, transparency, and high-speed rail: fads or keepers?

Early this morning, I groggily asked the twitterverse about three buzzy concepts about which I find myself increasingly skeptical: the green economy, high-speed rail, and transparency. (Unsurprisingly, perhaps, all three have been embraced by the new administration.) Some places where I see my skepticism reflected

Michael Levi tried to separate Green Economy folderol from reality:

Just because “green” and “jobs” are both in demand doesn’t mean that policies focused on creating “green jobs” make sense. In fact, a close look at the economics of “green jobs” suggests that if we try to find a lasting solution to these challenges with a single set of policies, we might fail to deliver on both fronts…Indeed, most comprehensive economic models that look at the long-term effects of aggressive climate policies consistently forecast a small net decrease in national job growth.

I mentioned him last year, but Roger Kemp remains one of my favorite high-speed rail hype debunkers. In testimony submitted  to the Scottish Parliament (pdf) in November, Kemp spoke highly of high-speed rail, but sounded the themes he expressed on WBEZ’s Worldview last year: train lines take a long time to build, and are most efficient in dense areas.

Construction of the French and Japanese high-speed networks started in the 1960s and construction of new lines continued for more than 30 years. In 30 years from now, the priorities in Britain are likely to be rather different from today and the need to reduce energy use is likely to be far more important. I am convinced that rail has a vital role in transport policy but am unconvinced that 300 km/h services to Scottish centres of population are necessarily appropriate.

Likewise, a study penned by Kemp in 2007 found that

“As the efficiency of cars progressively increases, the difference in emissions between cars and high-performance trains will narrow and it will be increasingly difficult to make an environmental case for transferring people on to diesel-powered railways….It’s not politically correct to say so, but the Government is better off encouraging families into low-emission cars and getting business people, who tend to travel alone in large cars, to catch the train.”

I”ve less to point to with regards to my questons about the transperancy push.  The term has become so widely used, in varying contexts (by politicians, activists, developers) that I wonder if it has lost some of its meaning? I also think that sometimes, in government, private sector and NGOs, a little opacity can serve the greater good. Finally, there’s the “so what” question: more information may be available, but who uses it, and to what ends?


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