Every once in a while there's a truth that everybody knows, but that no one will acknowledge. And when someone finally says it aloud, it sounds shocking. Like this: ... what we're doing now isn't working. Not for drivers, taxpayers or the environment. We can't tax and build our way out of this. That's Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat in his column this week, talking about what most people in Seattle already know: the area's freeway system is flat broke and busted. Even the biggest package ever to go before voters -- this fall's $16 billion roads-and-transit measure -- won't pay for the toughest infrastructure problems, like rebuilding the 520 floating bridge, and is only a fraction of the estimated $40 billion needed over the next few decades. Moreover, even that full $40 billion isn't expected to reduce congestion much. So what can we do? Enter the occasion for Westneat's column: King County executive Ron Sims, who has stepped up (big PDF), yet again, with a remarkably visionary plan: region-wide congestion pricing. Wow. Without getting into the details here, Sims is proposing what is perhaps the only thing that could simultaneously generate the money, reduce congestion, and ease environmental impacts -- all without raising taxes. (In fact, that's why Sightline Institute has been preaching congestion pricing for years.) If it all sounds too good to be true, it is.
Good story in the Christian Science Monitor about places that are taking steps (albeit tiny, tiny baby steps) to take back some of the public space given over to cars and letting people use it:
The Apollo Alliance and Urban Habitat have a new report out today on the coming green economy and the immense job potential for traditionally excluded groups — low-income, heavily minority urban communities. The report sets out a vision for green jobs in the U.S. and outlines the green industries that already exist in the country, offering policy guidance for creating better jobs for more people. It also details programs that are working, like apprenticeships, job training, and local hiring policies, and profiles worker and career pathways in the green job market. And it presents some strategies and policies to help …
Last Sunday's New York Times honed in on the dubious practice of Americans buying carbon offsets to brand themselves carbon-neutral. Andy Revkin, the paper's global-warming reporter, quoted me saying, "There isn't a single American household above the poverty line that couldn't cut their CO2 at least 25 percent in six months through a straightforward series of fairly simple and terrifically cost-effective measures." My claim has hit a nerve. Despite the absence of a link, already a dozen readers have tracked me down on the web and written to ask what measures I have in mind. This article is for them and anyone else who might be interested. First, a confession. As often happens, assertion preceded analysis. But my claim didn't come from thin air -- I have experience in energy analysis and a feel for the numbers. With a bit of figuring, I made a list of 16 energy-saving (hence carbon-reducing) steps that together should do away with a bit more than one-quarter of a typical U.S. household's carbon emissions. The top five:
Gristmill commenter Lo Fleming posted a good Q&A with Julia Russell of the Eco-Home Network recently over on her blog. Check it out.
Sam Smith, publisher of the estimable e-letter The Progressive Review, is perhaps the ultimate pragmatic environmentalist, with a sharp eye for what works and a sharper ability to deflate the pompous and overly-self-loving. He is often the sole commenter picking up on policy proposals and practices that a less parochial media less obsessed with infotainment would be interested in -- such as the success of congestion charges in London's central district, implemented by Mayor "Red Ken" Livingstone (elected by IRV):
The May 2007 issue of Wired Magazine has a piece about the development of the world's largest eco-city, Dongtan, underway on the outskirts of Shanghai (as we reported in May of last year). The article focuses on Alejandro Gutierrez and his team from Arup (project info here). Recommended reading.
Peter Madden, chief executive of Forum for the Future, writes a monthly column for Gristmill on sustainability in the U.K. and Europe. "Sustainable development" is 20 years old this week. On April 27, 1987, after four years of deliberation, the World Commission on Environment and Development released its report. The inquiry -- also known as the Brundtland Commission -- was led by the prime minister of Norway, Gro Harlem Brundtland. I was at university then, and devoured the contents of the report, which was later published as the book Our Common Future. Here, at last, was someone tying together the environment and development agendas. The report had much to say, too, about the relationship between poverty and environmental degradation. And as a female leader, Brundtland was such an antidote to our own prime minister; she was pretty much everything Margaret Thatcher was not. The report gave us an enduring definition of sustainable development: "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own need." So 20 years on, what is the legacy of sustainable development as a concept?
I am pissed. I just learned that my county would rather provide shelter from the weather for its employees who smoke (and drive up healthcare costs) than let those citizen-terrorists on bikes park out of the rain near the county building.