Monday, December 1, 2008

Missing Something?

Something is missing from all this talk of Climate. We keep talking about it but how can we educate the rest of the country that just building electric cars is not going to solve their problems. Grist has a post up on the Grand Climate Plan. See what's on the list.

1. Carbon pricing
2. Efficiency standards
3. Carbon-free electricity
4. Smart electrical grid
5. Electric cars

The author, Adam Stein notes there are gaps. Most glaring to me, nothing about land use or transit. Nothing about walking or cycling. These are some of the best ways you can personally reduce your carbon footprint. I personally drive only once a week now to visit my Grandmother. When I lived in Austin I drove three or four times a week even though I lived next to the Number 1 bus, the most frequent in the city. Land use matters. But what happens when everyone gets electric cars. Are the freeways all going to suddenly free up?

But how come no one talks about it? Is it really because its not that sexy as Rachel Maddow thinks it is?

Or is it something more? What is the deep seeded want not to take transit or build denser? Part of it I know is our entrenched non market based land use system. It's not like your ultimate mobility is compromised by driving less and walking/biking more with optimal land use. Why are the livable community groups so separated from the enviros on this? I can't quite make it out.


kenf said...

Ok, lets try this.

I'm a 60 something male.

My grandfather's generation started the push to autocenteric way of life. Think GM's Futurama at the NY World's Fair that my father so enjoyed. Think Levittown.

My father's generation moved to the auto dependent suburbs, and started training my generation that without an automobile you are nothing. The automobile companies furthered this by linking the car to sex.

My generation, when it had the chance moved even further out into sprawling single use auto dependent suburbs, and couldn't wait until the next generation turned 16 and drive themselves, relieving us of chauffeur duties.

That next generation, while it is beginning to show some desire for urban living, still often retreats to the sprawlburbs as soon as their offspring reach school age.

So there you have it, 4 generations, about 80 to 90 years, of loving the automobile, and for a majority, 50 or so years of knowing nothing else.

What do you expect?

Cavan said...

It's very generational. Mine does not equate cars with sex. Cars are not neat. We were born with them. Walking is neat. Our parents never took us to walk. We like seeing people rather than being isolated and depressed.

Now, who is the TV marketed to? Also, we must remember that when things happen, the TV is the last to know.

Ian said...

I've noticed the same thing -- the Rocky Mountain Institute, never once mentions mass transit in it's "winning the oil endgame" solutions, instead focusing on the far-fetched "smart garage" that uses your electric car's battery to help store energy for the grid.

very puzzling

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

Well I understand how we got to this point Kenf. But my question is how come the enviros and the livable communities groups that support transit are on such different pages? Do some enviros just not get the benefits of transit?

kenf said...

Cars are very seductive. And alot of the enviros don't want to give up a lifestyle they grew up with.

They should get it, but they don't. I live near a bunch of these people. One neighbor, a well known enviro, lives a few blocks from a Metro stop. But he never uses public transit. He thinks that all is well because he drives a Prius. I guess his ass is just too good to sit down in a mass transit vehicle.

Morgan Wick said...

I think the key is convincing enviros why mass transit and land use is still necessary with electric cars. Ideally, electric cars running on a carbon-free grid emit zero emissions, and it's a low-resistance path because it doesn't force people to make too huge lifestyle changes. So how can mass transit reduce those emissions even lower?

Alon Levy said...

Kenf, what you say about people moving back to the suburbs may not last for much longer. At least in the New York area, the funding gap between city and suburban schools is shrinking rapidly. Since 2000, New York City's per student funding has gone up from $11,000 to $18,000. Most districts in Westchester County and Long Island have risen from about $19,000-20,000 to $22,000-23,000. This has already led to a decrease in the output gap. In addition, many cities, like LA, are building magnet schools to compete with private schools, which are capturing the increasing upper-class population of city centers.

Morgan, transit can reduce emissions because it is more energy-efficient than cars. Therefore, a more transit-dependent country needs less nuclear energy, fewer dams, and less solar and wind power in order to be emissions-free.

njh said...

I wouldn't listen to anything the Rocky Mountain Institute says, their idea of solar heating is a large propane tank (as my friend Nick Pine likes to observe), their idea of efficient transport is either gadgetbahn or more cars. Their idea of sustainable is living out in the mountains and driving everywhere.

Energy efficiency alone is not a good reason to promote public transport. All we have to do is hypothesize super efficient cars (something that is easy to do, without actually having to deliver). Instead you need to talk about how transit is community building, scales properly (cars simply do not scale, no matter what density you use, you will get traffic jams), removes a source of pointless conspicuous consumption and incidently, is 10 times more efficient or more (note that efficiency is not just mpg equivalent, but must include things like construction cost, environmental damage mitigation and land use costs)

arcady said...

I would say that one big downside of cars, whether they're powered by gas, electricity, or pixie dust, is that they take up space. In fact, we can call this "space pollution", because that's more or less what it is, an adverse impact on everyone from the fact that your mode of transportation takes up so much space.
And I wouldn't listen to the Rocky Mountain Institute on anything related to transportation. Their idea of sustainability is building their headquarters in the middle of the mountains, thus ruining the scenery and forcing long commutes on anyone working there.
Finally, I do think the car culture thing will be a generational change. The younger generation takes cars for granted, and driving is a chore to many. But alternatives to driving are few and ineffective in most places. The desire is there, the infrastructure to support it will take a while to build.

Alon Levy said...

NJH, energy efficiency is nothing to sneeze at. Yes, given enough work, personal vehicles can sometimes beat transit at efficiency; some scooters already do. But it will take plenty of speculative research for that to be feasible. The same is true for the other issues you mention - São Paulo is dense and car-dependent; Tel Aviv is far more auto-dependent than Singapore but is more walkable and has stronger communities.

njh said...

Yes, and Sao Paulo is a traffic jam day and night. It only has a density of 7000/km² yet is less easy to get around than any comparable density city in Europe (or Bogota or Santiago).

Alon Levy said...

Seoul is just as much of a traffic jam, even though it has world-class transit. It turns out that no subway system will free the roads of a city with 17,000 people per km^2.