July 28, 2009
Economic Downturn Dries Up Clean Energy Spending
As the economy struggles it seems that the environment is getting a breather of sorts. Americans have now slammed the brakes on consumption.
However, the policies of cutting back are hurting green technology. This move could damage the environment in the long term.
"Certainly, in the short-term we are using fewer resources ... (but) I'd much rather see a healthy economy," said economist Dean Baker, co-director of the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research.
More people are spending less so landfills are not over flowing and appliance sales have plummeted.
Also, more Americans are open to using public transportation and reusing goods.
"There's an unavoidable benefit, in the sense that they do consume less. There's no getting around that. Fewer houses are being built, less sprawl," said David Cassuto, professor of environmental law at Pace University.
Waste Management, the top U.S. trash and recycling company, said its landfill volumes fell 13.6 percent in the first quarter from a year ago.
Americans are also driving less despite a drop in gasoline prices.
Also, dry cleaning has dropped about 20 percent from last year, the National Cleaners Association in New York estimates.
Lynette Waterson, owner of Crystal Cleaning Center in San Mateo, California, said the recession has strangled her business.
"I think people are probably not cleaning their clothes as often as they might under previous circumstances," she said.
Perhaps what people perceive they need is changing.
A Pew Research Center poll in April found the number of people who viewed clothes dryers as a necessity tumbled by 17 percentage points in 2009 from 2006.
There was a 16 point decrease in those who viewed air conditioners as a necessity.
Experts worry that reduced consumption may be temporary.
They point out that major cuts in clean energy spending hurts the environment worse.
"It's not a long-lasting or sustainable reduction," said Andy Stevenson, financial analyst for the National Resources Defense Council.
Americans are consuming less, but that's probably because many have also lost their jobs and have little disposable income.
"If you're driving less because you are not employed, that doesn't really count to me," Stevenson said.
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