03/14/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Keep the Stimulus Package Green, and Save Old Forests

Money's tight, you're in deep debt, and you need a new car -- so are you going to buy the gas-guzzling hummer that costs a mint, or choose something much cheaper and more efficient?

To any intelligent person, the answer's obvious -- but this isn't a person we're talking about here. It's the US government. Nuclear energy is incredibly expensive, and has big, still unsolved, problems related to disposal of its radioactive wastes. And clean coal technology is nowhere close to existing. Meanwhile, solar, wind and geothermal energy technologies have shown great promise to deliver cheap, clean energy. So, why is the government investing potentially as much as $50 billion in loans toward the nuclear power industry, while it is investing only half of that towards encouraging the development of solar and wind power? In the world of real car sales, the Senate passed an amendment to the stimulus package that uses $11 billion to allow new car buyers to claim a tax deduction on the sales tax and and loan interest of any new car they purchase in 2009, without specifying how fuel efficient those cars must be.

In its haste to pass a stimulus bill, Congress is adding amendments without a clear vision of uniting economic stimulus with wise investments that counter global warming and create energy independence, both of which will make our economy that much stronger ultimately. Just as a government should be judged by its effectiveness, so should the stimulus package reflect a coherent package of multitasking ideas for both short and longterm economic health.

Impossible? Hardly. Scrapping any potential loans to the nuclear industry and clean coal technology, increasing funding for developing clean renewable energy sources, expanding the grid, and tying tax deductions to energy efficient purchases are just the tip of the iceberg of ideas out there that could improve this stimulus package. Choosing the best ones should be through a partisan-blind, rather than bipartisan process, however: no matter who suggests them, those ideas most likely to meet the immediate needs of the economy and improve its longterm sustainability are the ones to include in the stimulus package. One rancher, for example, suggests that Republican Senator John Thune could really help out the jobless ranchers in South Dakota by advocating an amendment to the stimulus to pay ranchers to rehabilitate degraded ranching land and their underlying ecosystems. In contrast to so-called clean coal technology, this is a "shovel ready" way to sequester more carbon underground.

Finally, deforestation wreaks such environmental and economic harm that it must be addressed, whether in the stimulus package or the climate change legislation currently being written. Al Gore said as much when he testified last week before the Senate. The pace of reforestation in some tropical countries has some wondering about whether this lessens the importance of conserving old rainforests. It does not. Ecologists know that old rainforests are much better reservoirs of carbon and biodiversity than new forests. The storage of carbon in giant old trees is significantly greater per acre than the carbon stored in new growing ones, a fact not lost on timber companies, who know they can harvest much more wood from old forests. The ecological niches of old rainforests allow for much more biodiversity, as well. So, just like fine wine, old is best with respect to rainforests.