Why I’m Not Optimistic About Global Warming

Ultimately, if we want to seriously combat global warming–not just slow it slightly, but seriously get at the problem–then we need to alter how we live in very fundamental ways, as this piece about Boulder, Colorado illustrates (boldface mine):

Low-density suburbia (80% of Boulder) comes far short of paying its own way. The meager tax revenues it produces come nowhere near paying for its enormous impacts. Suburbia is a Ponzi scheme. And a self-perpetuating downward spiral. It is financially unsustainable, because it requires enormous subsidies. Yet because a driving lifestyle is highly inconvenient and costly when housing densities are higher, lower densities have been demanded for over a century, because nearly all of us insist our elected officials only allow that type of car-enabling development.

When car travel emerged a century ago, we began building our communities to facilitate such travel. We eventually overbuilt for cars and reached a tipping point — a point where driving was the only realistic way for the vast majority of us to travel. That threshold created a world where there is no turning back. We here in Boulder have reached a point of no return.

Even if we realize that the costs of over-reliance on driving are unbearable — too many traffic deaths, too much climate change from car emissions, too much financial burden, too many health problems from our sedentary lifestyles — it is too late for us to reverse course and back away from excessive car dependence. Why? Because when nearly all of us can only travel by car, it is nearly impossible, politically, to enact measures that make non-car travel feasible. The vast majority of us — as motorists — are obligated to fight vigorously to retain our only means of travel. We are compelled to attack any and all effective methods to make walking, bicycling and transit feasible. We angrily oppose efforts to allow affordable granny flats. To modestly narrow roads and intersections. To allow more compact development. To adopt equitable motorist user fees so motorists pay their own way. We scream against safety-promoting traffic calming plans. We yell about proposals to mix offices or retail within our residential neighborhoods. We demand that massive parking be provided for proposed development. We insist that the highway be widened….

The reality is that providing for high-speed, dangerous, space-hogging cars is a zero-sum game. Every time we make car travel easier — and nearly all of us demand our leaders do that — we make travel by walking, bicycling or transit more difficult. That dynamic means nearly all of us are trapped. Car travel is now about the only way to get around.

Because our only way of travel takes up so much space, we must fight to ensure that there are severe limitations on how many others can move to our city. Because if more than a handful move to Boulder, our roads and parking lots are quickly congested…

The self-reinforcing nature of the transportation trap explains why trapped cities such as Boulder (ironically) have made the auto and oil industries so obscenely profitable. Our only way to escape the trap of car dependency is for our society to no longer be able to afford it. But that will not occur in our lifetimes.

In D.C., there are still too many neighborhoods that are built around Metro stations, yet essentially have suburban densities (e.g., Cleveland Park, Tenleytown, Friendship Heights, Takoma stations). We can’t even do it right when the infrastructure, such asmass transit, is in place, so how are we going to deal with the suburbs? Pile on top of that how much financial wealth people have in their suburban houses, and there is a huge incentive to not do anything significant.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t things we can’t do to slow things down, such as more fuel efficient cars and houses, but that won’t be enough. I wish as we enter the ’20s, I could be more optimistic, but I don’t see an easy way ahead on this.

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2 Responses to Why I’m Not Optimistic About Global Warming

  1. adameran says:

    Worth a look: https://itssimplerthanitlooks.blogspot.com/2019/12/low-impact-development.html

    …this is writing describing what we can do now, even in the ‘burbs, to at least calm down the auto-dependence monster. New Urbanism (pedestrian-friendly, mixed use) holds some hope for social justice (affordable housing, alternatives to autos), and has market acceptance. Some good news: the State of California now mandates “Complete Streets” (streets that give pedestrians and cyclists equal consideration with autos) for all new development.

  2. I lost my driver’s license back in 2011 due to a DWI that was eventually dismissed because it was proven that I wasn’t drunk at the time of my arrest. However, New York DMV refused to reissue my license unless I went to a “drug & alcohol eval” … which I refused to do. In the last eight years, I have gotten used to living without a car. I use the NFTA (mission statement: FU, buy a car already) or walk everywhere I need to go. I have lost weight, gained muscle, dropped 100 cholesterol points (without meds!) & generally prefer my carless life! YES, I would like to be able to get into a car & take a drive out to the country … I miss taking a cruise. But I am at the point now where I DO NOT want to be a part of the “car culture”. The thing I can’t do is convince my friends & family that I am TRULY HAPPY living like this. They can’t believe that anyone would want to live without a car. Or that someone is so committed to not being part of the problem that they would stop driving …. just to stop adding to the climate change that is ruining our world.

    Buffalo is so ruined now … because of cars. The city doesn’t even look like a city anymore. Downtown is a wreck of parking lots. It’s more a suburban nightmare than any kind of a city. I often wonder what this town would be like if it had committed to rail transit, increased bus routes (instead of removing busses every year) & more subways … but NO. It’s always more cars, more parking, more suburban thinking.

    I’m not sure where I’m going here but it’s not in a car.

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