Smart environmentalism doesn't just mean more government programs, it also means rethinking current policies. Our emissions policy, which requires regular emissions tests for newer vehicles, is expensive to operate and poorly designed to fight climate change. After all, it does nothing to induce less driving. Even more problematically, by letting owners of older cars off the hook, the current system imposes costs on the Prius driver but exempts the drivers of the vintage gas guzzlers that create the most emissions. We should require different emissions tests and even higher emission taxes for older cars that generate higher environmental costs.
Perhaps the most environmentally problematic local policies are land-use controls. The foes of development correctly point out that new development will use energy and land, but the right calculation also considers the costs created by stopping development and pushing it elsewhere. When we stop development in Boston's inner-ring suburbs, we shift development to areas with fewer people that might oppose new development. The move from higher- to lower-density development ensures more driving and energy use. Protecting green space in the inner suburbs is a form of environmentalism, but it is an environmentalism that creates local benefits by imposing costs on the rest of the world, since it pushes development into the highway-crazy exurbs.