Climate Change And Disasters

Over the last few years, every time there is a large scale climate-related catastrophe, there are renewed calls to do something (e.g., the Malibu inferno). But all of the proposals miss something important. Here’s a Vox summary of the Green New Deal proposal:

(1) 100% of national power generation from renewable sources;
(2) Building a national, energy-efficient, “smart” grid;
(3) Upgrading every residential and industrial building for state-of-the-art energy efficiency, comfort and safety;
(4) Decarbonizing the manufacturing, agricultural and other industries;
(5) Decarbonizing, repairing and improving transportation and other infrastructure;
(6) Funding massive investment in the drawdown and capture of greenhouse gases;
(7) Making “green” technology, industry, expertise, products and services a major export of the United States, with the aim of becoming the undisputed international leader in helping other countries transition to completely carbon neutral economies and bringing about a global Green New Deal.

While housing and transportation are mentioned–presumably decarbonizing refers to mass transit–I don’t think it captures the reality of what has to happen to truly ‘go green.’ Here’s what I mean:


Maybe increased improvements could lower some of these numbers, but the key point is this: if we are truly serious about combating global warming, then we need a lot more people to live in multidwelling housing in urban areas served by mass transit. The efficiency upgrades are nice, but that’s not going to come close to getting it done, even if we end up generating a lot of our electricity with renewables.

Yet we can barely pass legislation, even in cities, to allow ‘granny flats.’ Forget the inability, again, even within cities, to easily build more apartment buildings–which in many cities, means knocking down single, detached homes. And in the suburbs? Good luck with that.

To be clear, as the kids like to say, I’m not judging: this is largely a structural problem–our laws and regulations make it incredibly difficult to build environmentally friendly communities. People try to live near where they work, and that means people typically don’t have an ‘urban option’ (or one that is affordable). Likewise, people moving into an area for work can’t be held responsible for the current residents’ decisions about what kind of housing can be built. And current residents, especially homeowners, have incentives, such as the policy decision to turn housing into a high-yield retirement investment, to not allow denser construction. So this is not about ‘being a bad person.’

But until we revamp far more places–and building many more of them–where you don’t need a car and where you help heat and cool your neighbor’s home, we are not significantly combating global warming. In the U.S., we’re not serious about changing housing and transportation patterns at all (other than wackaloons like me). Why? Consider any of the recent catastrophes (Houston, Malibu, and so on). The loss of life is horrific (I’m assuming many of the ‘missing’ in Malibu are dead), and losing your home–and all your possessions–is traumatic. But, and I realize most people don’t want to hear this, places like these are the problem: they are car-dependent regions full of single detached housing (at least the California climate does require somewhat less heating and cooling than some places). Is anyone talking about rebuilding these communities to be far more urban, to be far less reliant on automobiles, to have more apartments and multi-household buildings?

Of course not. That’s inconceivable.

Hell, we rebuild (single, detached, car-dependent) houses in places that have flooded multiple times. To the extent Il Trumpe et alia help California residents, or any number of other places affected by climate change-related catastrophes, get back on their feet (and that dick will do as little as he can get away with), they will do so by recreating a car-dependent suburb that contributes excessively to global warming.

And so the problem continues.

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