Home Size and Global Warming

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"Home Size and Global Warming"

Robert Samuelson’s basic argument here — that since the best measures to stop global warming are politically unpopular, it’s obvious that environmentalists are all frauds and we shouldn’t do anything to stop global warming — is totally absurd, but he makes an interesting subsidiary point I hadn’t previously considered, namely that one thing that would help on the climate change from would be this:

[E]liminate tax subsidies (mainly the mortgage interest rate deduction) for housing, which push Americans toward ever-bigger homes. (Note: If you move to a home 25 percent larger and then increase energy efficiency 25 percent, you don’t save energy.)

I hadn’t thought of that. Another point, though, is that now that I’m looking at the parenthetical on the page, I don’t think Samuelson’s math is actually correct. If your house is 100 Volume Units and requires 1 Energy Unit per Volume Unit per year to power, you’re using 100 EUs/year. Increase the house to 125 VUs and you’re up to 100EUs/year. Now increase energy efficiency to 0.75 EUs per VU per year and you’re down to 93.75 EUs/year. Samuelson’s right that having the tax code create incentives for people to save money in the form of buying very big houses rather than smaller houses plus an equity portfolio is bad policy, including energy policy, but on both this small point and on the broader point, a weird crankiness seems to be getting the better of him.

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