How Green Was My Lawn

The NY Times has an OpEd on how we need to enlist the suburbs in the fight against climate change: How Green Was My Lawn (not very).  The author notes that the environmentalist movement of the 1970s arose largely from within the ranks of the suburbanites, and that the modern climate movement does itself no favors, politically, by consistently pointing its many fingers at the sprawling, car and oil dependent developments in which many to most Americans live today.  No doubt.  Unfortunately, the persistence and proliferation of suburbia precludes so many cheap and effective means of reducing emissions that it’s insane to take it as a given.  It’s not just oil for the cars.  It’s the need to go far, and go fast, in a large private vehicle, regardless of what it runs on.  It’s the expense of making suburban homes a factor of 10 more energy efficient compared to doing the same with row-houses that share walls.  It’s the inability to share almost anything in a suburban context — the per-capita need for stuff is enormous when you have to own it all instead of accessing it as a service. It’s the unnecessarily vast amounts of concrete, steel, asphalt and copper in all the infrastructure required to support those dispersed dwellings.

And all for what?  To support a transient cultural expectation.  A particular ephemeral vision of affluence, which is itself largely born of government subsidies of and mandates for the creation of sprawl over the last 60 years.  A century from now, if we successfully meet the climate challenge, we’ll look back at how we made a fetish of the single family home with the three car garage, and lump it in with the widespread use of DDT that inspired Rachel Carson, or the cancer-causing X-ray machines we used to have in shoe stores, or the way Victorian women would wear corsets so tight they couldn’t breathe, even sometimes having a couple of ribs removed to enhance their narrow waists.  Suburbia is a fad, a phase, a peculiar addiction with very serious side effects that we can no longer ignore.  It may be politically inconvenient, but the imperatives of the suburbs are almost entirely at odds with the imperatives of addressing climate change, and you cannot argue with the sky.

Location Efficiency More Important than Home Energy Efficiency

How important is Location Efficiency?  Median US home price: $175k.  With a traditional 20% down 30 year mortgage, total loan payments amount to about $350k.  Utilities over the same timeframe are around $75k.  And the cost of commuting from suburbia?  Roughly $300k!  This is in general agreement with the energy (as opposed to financial) analysis recently published by the EPA.

A dispatch from the future

A firsthand account of the floods in Queensland.  Australia has been living in the (climatic) future for some time, facing the prospect of desalinization plants and admitting that most of their agriculture is not viable, given soil both saline and infertile, and the decade long drought.  The government is buying up the water rights in the Murray Darling basin because it’s cheaper than agricultural subsidies, and the rural vote is given disproportionate weight in Australian law.  There is a dark poetry in the fact that Queensland’s export coal mines are underwater today.  None of this is to say that climate change is necessarily behind the floods or the drought or the bush fires from a few years ago, or the mad cold winter in Europe this year, or the forest fires in Russia this summer.  We won’t ever be able to attribute any particular weather event to anthropogenic CO2, but all this is the kind of thing one ought to expect if one opts to change the composition of the homeworld’s atmosphere:

Links for the week of November 26th, 2010

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Continue reading Links for the week of November 26th, 2010

Links for the week of Aug 14th

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Continue reading Links for the week of Aug 14th

Shared Links for Feb 26th

  • Zombie Bank Monster Mash – An animated monster mash, starring our bailed out financial "industry" (or is it just a lobby now?). Sadly Mark Fiore seems unwilling to implicate the current administration in the continuing mess. (tagged: cartoon zombie finance bailout banks economics politics geithner )
  • No, Wait! You Got It Backwards! – Well, so much for any hint of "change" in the administration's policies toward the banking industry. The Treasury's plans to buy convertible preferred shares in the banks is completely backwards – giving a put option to the banks, instead of getting a call option in exchange for the risky investment. Taxpayers are guaranteed to be screwed. (tagged: treasury banks bailout geithner obama economics finance )
  • The Case Against Home Ownership – An infrequently made point in the US: owning is often more expensive, and less convenient, than renting… and that's even before you account for the massive government incentives that have been put in place since WWII to encourage people to buy their own place. People frequently look at me like I'm crazy when I suggest we should just live close to where we work as a way to avoid the expenses of driving, or the inconveniences of (bad) public transit. (tagged: subsidy transportation housing economics suburbia planning taxes )
  • Copenhagen to continue Copenhagenizing – Denmark's take on "economic stimulus": massive investments in public transit and bike infrastructure. In a nation of 5 million, they're committing $16 billion over the next 10 years, which is about $1/day per person (which is less than 1/5 what the average US family spends on their automobiles) Regional rail, intra-city light rail. Bike lanes and paths. Road pricing for drivers. Etc, etc. I'm glad someone is setting a good example. It will be interesting to see how the world responds to Copenhagen later this year, when the next round of climate talks takes place. I can't think of a better city to represent my hopes for the future. (tagged: transportation politics copenhagen bicycle rail denmark stimulus )
  • NYPD fires rookie cop caught on YouTube video bashing bicyclist – Last fall a cyclist was body checked off their bike by a cop in the midst of a Times Square Critical Mass ride. Said event was recorded via cameraphone. Cop perjured himself in official report, claiming cyclist ran into him intentionally. Video viewed on YouTube 2 million times. Cop now unemployed and facing 4 years in prison for assault, falsifying documents. Sometimes we win. Makes me want to record just about everything. (tagged: bicycle police transparency youtube )