JOHNSTON, Iowa – In a recently publicized video from the Democratic primaries, Sen. Barack Obama said the government should drive energy bills up through “price signals” in order to force Americans into more environmentally friendly choices.
In the Nov. 9, 2007, interview on Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press,” Obama said Americans like driving SUVs and leaving the lights on, but since “it is undisputable that the climate is getting warmer,” consumers would have to change their habits.
When asked what would make consumers change, Obama said government-created “price signals” would make people more mindful of energy costs and compel them to start changing light bulbs and turning off light switches.
Associated Press reporter Mike Glover asked, “How do you convince people to change their lifestyle, to live differently?”
Obama’s answer, viewable in the video below, was, “I think it is important for us to send some price signals to change behavior. You know, if electricity goes up, people start becoming more mindful of their electricity bill.”
When Des Moines Register reporter David Yepsen asked Obama what part of his campaign Americans may not like to hear, the candidate returned to the theme of price signals.
“Number one, we’re going to have to start doing a better job of conserving on energy,” Obama said. “Americans like to drive their big SUVs. They like to leave all the lights on in their house. We’re going to have to change our habits.”
He then clarified how the government could implement the kind price signals that change consumer habits.
“We’re going to have to cap the emission of greenhouse gases,” Obama said. “That means that power plants are going to have to adjust how they generate power. They will pass on those costs to consumers. … A lot of us who can afford it are going to have to pay more per unit of electricity, and that means we’re going to have to change our light bulbs, we’re going to have to shut the lights off in our houses.”
The full context of Obama’s comments about driving up electricity prices to bring about consumer change can be viewed in a second segment of the interview below:
Internet bloggers that began circulating the video earlier today also lent their opinion on Obama’s plan for consumer change.
“Is that the function of government — to fix prices as a punitive measure to change consumer behavior?” asked the Hot Air Blog. “It will be in an Obama administration. He and a few elites will decide which consumer behaviors are bad and penalize it with price signals.”
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, however, commented in a May editorial on the issue of government-created price signals, arguing that a federal gasoline tax would be just the kind of energy “price signal” that would finally persuade Americans to give up their SUVs.
“We need to make a structural shift in our energy economy,” Friedman wrote. “The only way to get from here to there is to start now with a price signal that will force the change.
“Barack Obama had the courage to tell voters that the McCain-Clinton summer gas-giveaway plan was a fraud. Wouldn’t it be amazing if he took the next step and put the right plan before the American people? Wouldn’t that just be amazing?” Friedman wrote.