Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Setting Priorities: Preserving Lifestyle Choices or Life?

A recent e-mail action alert from Environmental Defense focused on cars and global warming, calling for support for a campaign to reduce the contribution to greenhouse gases made by automobiles. This campaign spanned the spectrum from urging car companies to make less polluting vehicles, to personal actions to keep one's car running at peak efficiency, and thus be less polluting.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has jumped on this bandwagon as well. They recently argued in their Earth Action Bulletin that some of the most important considerations for raising fuel economy standards are that they're the least expensive way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and they'll
"giv[e] consumers lasting relief at the pump." This logic is used to support the claim that less financial impact and less pollution will help "break our addiction to oil," when just the opposite is more likely.

There are transition strategies toward a sustainable future that people can, and should, undertake. But we need to be honest about the future we're heading into, and what it's likely to look like. Let's take the case of the automobile. As in so many other cases today, the big concern seems to be how can we make something that is inherently unsustainable appear as if it is, especially without dealing with directly connecting issues, such as overpopulation and our addiction to a doomsday economy.

While we're on this honesty kick, let's also admit that biofuels are nothing more than the methadone for fossil fuel addicts.

Suburban sprawl contributes as much to catastrophic climate destabilization as the automobile does. Loss of farm and forest land are the most obvious effects, but personal loss of time and well-being are also major factors. Even plug in hybrids--let alone fully electric cars--aren't going to be much of a solution if all of the productive farmland that's left is paved over with more and wider roads running between McMansions in the foothills and big box stores and their parking lots.

Cars do make a major contribution to catastrophic climate destabilization, and for the immediate future we're stuck with them for the most part while relocalization efforts start taking place. And we should do things such as keep them properly tuned and the tires properly inflated, cut down on idling time, and start making a very conscious effort to eliminate unnecessary trips. But replacing your car with a new hybrid isn't going to actually do a whole lot, when you realize that about 50% of the contribution to catastrophic climate destabilization a vehicle makes is during the extraction of the raw materials and its manufacture.

We must start creating living patterns that aren't auto dependent. We need to shift from cars to mass transit for the majority of our transportation needs that can't be met by bicycles or on foot, which in a properly designed and built city are going to be pretty minimal. So, instead of putting our efforts into lobbying for a 3% increase in CAFE standards, which does absolutely nothing to challenge or change the status quo, we need to be lobbying for rebuilt urban cores and better mass transit systems.

And, there's no escaping the fact that we must also simultaneously begin the educational efforts required to address the overpopulation issue and the cultural myth that having more is a better path to fulfillment than being more.

If the actual desire is to do something about catastrophic climate destabilization, let's get serious about it, and demand our policymakers do likewise. There's too little time left to continue applying band-aids to symptoms.

The NRDC wants people to believe that techno-fixes and regulatory wizardry will allow us to continue on our merry way "without sacrificing ... lifestyle choices."

I guess sacrificing life is of no concern, as it might not be the least expensive option.

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