If I could change American society with a stroke of the key pad, then everything I'm about to write would happen exactly as it is described – it’s always fun to dream!
1) TRANSPORT -- The entire American fleet of automobiles needs to be plug in hybrid vehicles designed to run on liquid natural gas or bio-fuel, and the fleet should be drastically reduced in size by lowering demand for cars through massive public investment in local, electrified mass transit, such as light rail systems and streetcars instead of buses.
2) LIQUID FUEL -- Massive investment should be pumped into domestic natural gas production for the hybrids that are on the road, as an interim liquid fuel solution while the electric rail infrastructure is rapidly expanded. Bio-fuels can play a minor role, so long as they derive from cellulosic sources (such as forest waste) that don’t require the cultivation of new land or the misuse of grains.
3) ENERGY -- Of course we also need renewable energy of all kinds: wind and solar in particular, and R and D for new types like tidal. Wind is especially exciting: Lester Brown says we have enough wind generating potential to meet our current domestic electricity demand. Renewable sources of electricity are the long term solution to our energy problem. Electricity is by far the most flexible form of energy we use – it can be generated from a variety of renewable sources and it’s the most versatile form of energy. Electrified transit has to be part of the picture.
4) INCENTIVES -- A completely restructured tax system that creates incentives for people to do the right thing for the environment and discourages people and businesses from wrecking the place. Many (including Al Gore) advocate a carbon tax for economic activities that emit greenhouse gases, and I think that's a good idea. But we also need some government sponsored subsidies for activities such as installing rooftop solar hot water, rainwater harvesting, grid-tied photo-voltaic cells, compact fluorescents, shopping local, buying a hybrid vehicle. We could also lower the speed limit to 55 mph! These measures could dramatically reduce our overall energy demand. Conservation has a huge role to play. We haven’t talked seriously about conservation in America since the 70s, and as a result our energy consumption per capita is twice that of Europe. The good news is that we have a lot of wiggle room to reduce our consumption without sacrificing our basic creature comforts.
5) FOOD -- A brand new government PR campaign aimed at encouraging individual households and neighborhoods to grow their own fruit and veg. To maximize the effectiveness of this campaign, there should be a complimentary, free permaculture education course offered at community colleges throughout the country to teach people about intensive, organic gardening methods. This could save a ton of energy and potentially add to the resilience and security of our nation’s food supply. We need new, 21st century victory gardens! permaculture style.
6) COMMUNITY – One of the greenest things we can do is build strong community wherever we are. Interdependent groups that network, and interact and share are much more resilient to shocks than an individual, and they tend to consume much less per person than isolated households. In a strong community, it is also easier to raise awareness about climate change and fossil fuel depletion while encouraging those around us to respond by shopping less, cycling, sharing, bartering and repairing whenever possible.
**I know most of these suggestions are big picture solutions meant to be implemented at the national level. Obama's election has me waxing patriotic lately. Check out this video for a really cool, local, community-based solution to organize consumers: http://www.karmatube.org/videos.php?id=1310