Tuesday, December 20, 2011

12/19 and 12/20

Sprawl encourages climate change; in designing responses to global warming, rather than focusing on exclusively on technological innovations it sure would make sense to recognize that we can move beyond the sprawl, embrace smart growth, and create livable communities — it's all a matter of envisioning a future that goes beyond our current ideas of what housing stock “should” look like:
It doesn’t solve the problem to buy a hybrid and retrofit your house if all of that takes place 20 miles from your job. You’d still consume more energy (“suburban single family green”) than an urban household without the latest green tech (“urban single family”). And that has as much to do with associated transportation emissions as the size and efficiency of your home.

The implication is that if more suburbanites opted to move out of their low-density detached homes and into walkable, mixed-use urban communities (or if we retrofitted suburbia to better resemble such places), right there we’d be on our way to taking a real whack at carbon emissions.

We'd still need to increase the fuel standards of cars, and change the makeup of fuel itself. But what if we could also simply reduce the miles people drive by in a sense pushing their many destinations closer together?

“Engineers and economists say, ‘get the right technology, set the right price signals, and you’re done,’” says Steve Winkelman, one of the authors of “Growing Wealthier.” “I’ve been working in planning circles, and this is a lot messier. That’s why regulators don’t like it. Really, it’s much more of a planning approach, and people have to find their own self-interest in this to get to a [higher] penetration level.”

This messy approach, though, has several things going for it that technological solutions to climate change don’t. For one, urbanizing communities comes with a whole host of co-benefits: it saves people money on utility bills, it improves public health, it reduces congestion and improves air quality, and it may even make communities happier (as walkability has been shown to do).
Unfortunately, taking a sane approach to planning won't be easy, so long as Teabaggers believe that embracing sustainability is akin to totalitarianism:
Across the country, Tea Party activists have been storming planning meetings of all kinds, opposing various plans by local and regional government having anything to do with density, smart growth, sustainability or urbanism. In California, Tea Party activists gained enough signatures for a ballot measure repealing the state’s baseline environmental regulations, while also targeting the Senate Bill 375, the 2008 law that seeks to combat climate change by promoting density and regional planning.

Florida’s growth management legislation was recently undone, and activists in Tampa helped turn away funding for rail projects there. A planning agency in Virginia had to move to a larger auditorium and ban applause, after Tea Party activists sought to derail a five-year comprehensive plan and force withdrawal from the U.S. Mayors Agreement on Climate Change.

What’s prompting the ire is anything from a proposed master plan to a new water treatment plant, rules governing septic tanks, or a bike-sharing program. What’s driving the rebellion is a view that government should have no role in planning or shaping the built environment that in any way interferes with private property rights. And in almost all instances, the Tea Partiers link local planning efforts to the United Nations’ Agenda 21, a nearly two-decade old document that addresses sustainable development in the world’s cities – read as herding humanity into compulsory habitation zones.

The protesters clearly feel there is a form of Moses-style planning going on today, but rather than highways, it’s high-speed rail and transit, and compact, mixed-use, dense development, all of which are designed to bring about long-term sustainability. As one Florida Tea Party activist put it, "compact development aka smart growth, aka New Urbanism, aka Traditional Neighborhood Design, aka Transit Oriented Development, aka Livable Communities, aka Sustainable Development ... are all names meaning the same thing: they are anti-suburban, high-density dwelling design concepts that are part of the UN's Agenda 21 and will make single family home ownership for our posterity unattainable." Another summed it up this way: “We don’t want none of your smart growth communism."
And sadly, one of the federal government's best organized efforts to holistically address the problem of sprawl and create liveable communities has been slashed by typical GOP partisan hackery; the pro-wasteful spending, anti-environment, anti-community, pro-sprawl caucus wins again:
In practice, Sustainable Communities-style smart growth means fewer subdivisions, denser and more walkable town centers, and linking new development to transit. Smart growth creates the type of vibrant mixed-use neighborhoods that Jane Jacobs celebrated a half century ago, but there’s no policy imperative in urban romanticism. Governments are embracing sustainable development because building better is an obvious answer to growing environmental and fiscal crises: If we’re going to build new homes and businesses anyway, we should at least construct them in a way that’s not deliberately wasteful. This wastefulness applies to the open space that sprawl consumes, as well as the enormous cost of developing and maintaining the infrastructure serving new suburbs and exurbs.

Sprawl isn’t so much a deliberate choice as it is a product of bureaucratic inertia. Outdated zoning codes are often stuffed full of provisions that force the construction of isolated, traffic-choked, single-use subdivisions. Zoning that was written decades ago often doesn’t allow dense, mixed-use, transit-oriented development. Since many communities don’t have the staff, budget, or planning expertise to overhaul their zoning, sprawl spreads on its own momentum.

Sustainable Communities tried to halt the momentum behind sprawl by giving communities money to make their zoning match smart growth best practices. It was a bridge between municipalities’ broad desires to build smarter neighborhoods, and the street-level zoning that enables smart growth development to proceed. The federal grants are especially needed by suburban cities and towns, which lack the budgets and staff to write substantive zoning code changes.


The demand for planning funds far outstrips the supply - this year, the Department of Housing and Urban Development received $500 million in funding applications for a $100 million pool of grants. But this year’s batch of grants will be the last. Tea Party activists have been assailing Sustainable Communities as a tool for making municipalities subservient to Washington bureaucrats; alternately, they’ve denounced it as the soft launch of a socialist-inspired UN takeover of America’s government.

In response House Republicans cut all Sustainable Communities grants from a recently enacted mini-omnibus budget. The House actually wanted to go even further, prohibiting any HUD funds from being deployed in support of what it called “ill-defined rubrics, such as ‘sustainability,’ ‘livability,’ ‘inclusivity,’ and equity.’ ’’ And it cut a $100 million placeholder for Obama’s doomed $38 billion high-speed rail initiative for good measure. Never mind that the cuts will wind up costing more than they save: These days, craven power plays are good politics.
On a bright note, though, Montgomery County, MD, is actually doing something positive with respect to repairing the damage wrought by sprawl:
There’s a lot to like about Montgomery’s initiative, including that it brings together three relatively new and successful – but often independently successful – lines of sustainability thinking and planning: redesigning suburbs; green infrastructure; and “complete streets” that accommodate all types of users.  It reminds us that the greatest potential for sustainable communities lies with the integration of ideas and purposes.
(Lastly, speaking of sprawl, the Arcade Fire's video to “Sprawl II” is now online. Goddamn, hipsters are the worst dancers ever. But the song is still great.)

We're still far from understanding all the potential implications of large-scale methane release in the Arctic, as well as the presumed drivers of that methane release, but what we know so far isn't especially comforting:
Preliminary computer analyses, made only recently, suggest that the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions could eventually become an annual source of carbon equal to 15 percent or so of today’s yearly emissions from human activities.

But those calculations were deliberately cautious. A recent survey drew on the expertise of 41 permafrost scientists to offer more informal projections. They estimated that if human fossil-fuel burning remained high and the planet warmed sharply, the gases from permafrost could eventually equal 35 percent of today’s annual human emissions.

The experts also said that if humanity began getting its own emissions under control soon, the greenhouse gases emerging from permafrost could be kept to a much lower level, perhaps equivalent to 10 percent of today’s human emissions.

Even at the low end, these numbers mean that the long-running international negotiations over greenhouse gases are likely to become more difficult, with less room for countries to continue burning large amounts of fossil fuels.

In the minds of most experts, the chief worry is not that the carbon in the permafrost will break down quickly — typical estimates say that will take more than a century, perhaps several — but that once the decomposition starts, it will be impossible to stop.

“Even if it’s 5 or 10 percent of today’s emissions, it’s exceptionally worrying, and 30 percent is humongous,” said Josep G. Canadell, a scientist in Australia who runs a global program to monitor greenhouse gases. “It will be a chronic source of emissions that will last hundreds of years.”

A troubling trend has emerged recently: Wildfires are increasing across much of the north, and early research suggests that extensive burning could lead to a more rapid thaw of permafrost.

Criticize the ignorant climate change stance of the Canadian government, lose your arts funding.

Some philosophers want their discipline more involved in the public sphere; oddly, some philosophers object under the patently absurd claim that their discipline is impartial and only concerned with finding ultimate truths, and as such would be corrupted by the ideology of political debates (h/t Katelyn, who's done a lovely job promoting this little bloggy adventure of mine):
When philosophers say they want to make a difference, some of their peers cringe, fearing that the philosophy will be corrupted by ideology.

"Under the guise of philosophy we get ideological advocacy," Gerald Gaus, a professor of philosophy at the University of Arizona, wrote in an essay, "Should Philosophers 'Apply Ethics'?"

"This, though, is to sacrifice the idea that philosophy is impartial in that its goal is simply to get things right," he wrote.

As citizens, he argues, philosophers have a right to apply their ethics instead of leaving public-policy debates to others. "However, when applying ethics in this way, they are not doing philosophy."

Such a position is "completely wrong-headed," counters Mr. Light. "What it winds up doing is ensuring that philosophically trained people and philosophers aren't at tables where decisions are actually made and that actually have very weighty moral consequences."

Meet the despicable Islamophobic asshole whose hatred for the idea that Muslims need not be terrorists caused Lowe's and Kayak.com to pathetically give in to the bigots:
It would be upsetting enough if a well-financed, well-organized mass movement had misrepresented a television show, insulted an entire religious community and intimidated a national corporation. What makes the attack on “All-American Muslim” more disturbing — and revealing — is that it was prosecuted by just one person, a person unaffiliated with any established organization on the Christian right, a person who effectively tapped into a groundswell of anti-Muslim bigotry.

“We live in the age of the Internet and a well-organized extreme right,” said Mark Potok, who investigates hate groups for the Southern Poverty Law Center and has followed Mr. Caton’s activities. “This little man was able to have his voice amplified in huge ways.”

Wajahat Ali, who has written about “the Islamophobia network in America” for the Center for American Progress, a liberal research group, made a similar point in an interview.

“It’s literally one dude with a poorly made Web site, one fringe individual with an e-mail list,” Mr. Ali said. “But by parroting the talking points created by this incestuous network, he’s triggered a national crisis.”


The question is why anybody, especially a major company like Lowe’s, would be swayed by Mr. Caton’s campaign. (A spokesman for Lowe’s declined the opportunity to comment.)

We clearly need to increase taxes on the wealthiest of the wealthy, but taxing inequality itself is an interesting idea:
Brandeis understood that at some point the concentration of economic power could undermine the democratic requisite of dispersed political power. This concern looms large in today’s America, where billionaires are allowed to spend unlimited amounts of money on their own campaigns or expressly advocating the election of others.

We believe that we have reached the Brandeis tipping point. It would be bad for our democracy if 1-percenters started making 40 or 50 times as much as the median American.

Enough is enough. Congress should reform our tax law to put the brakes on further inequality. Specifically, we propose an automatic extra tax on the income of the top 1 percent of earners — a tax that would limit the after-tax incomes of this club to 36 times the median household income.

Importantly, our Brandeis tax does not target excessive income per se; it only caps inequality. Billionaires could double their current income without the tax kicking in — as long as the median income also doubles. The sky is the limit for the rich as long as the “rising tide lifts all boats.” Indeed, the tax gives job creators an extra reason to make sure that corporate wealth does in fact trickle down.

Here’s how the tax would work. Once a year, the Internal Revenue Service would calculate the Brandeis ratio of the previous year. If the average 1-percenter made more than 36 times the income of the median American household, then the I.R.S. would create a new tax bracket for the highest 1 percent of income and calculate a marginal income tax rate for that bracket sufficient to reduce the after-tax Brandeis ratio to 36.

This new tax, if triggered, would apply only to income in excess of the poorest 1-percenter — currently about $330,000 per year. Our Brandeis tax is conservative in that it doesn’t attempt to reverse the gains of the wealthy in the last 30 years. It is not a “claw back” tax. It merely assures that things don’t get worse.
I think Ayres and Edlin are misguided, however, in not calling for a claw back tax and in their willingness to accept the status quo. We do need to reverse the transfer of wealth from the middle class to the 1%; maintaining the current level of inequality is not an acceptable state of affairs.

It's that very inequality that now threatens the American ideal of social mobility:
[T]he belief that you might die in a markedly better existence than the one you came into is fading. And for good reason: a study published last year by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that Americans now experience lower social mobility than prevails in almost any other rich country.


A Tocquevillean reading of today’s America, then, may venture beyond the observation that it is stagnating. It might go so far as to say that it is calcifying, that it risks becoming a society of castes. In such a society, Tocqueville wrote, speaking of his Europe, “everyone thinks that he can see the ultimate limits of human endeavor quite close in front of him, and no one attempts to fight against an inevitable fate.”
(On a related note, is wealth inequality in America today even worse than inequality during the Roman Empire?)

Though don't forget that the 1% is under attack. It's all so unfair, really. Life is so hard when you make your money by exploiting the rest of humanity — and then rather than thanking you, the plebes have the gall to complain about injustice! Stop the persecution of the fat cats now; don't hate them just because they're so much more productive than you:
“Instead of an attack on the 1 percent, let’s call it an attack on the very productive,” Allison said. “This attack is destructive.”
Yes, 99-percenters, you should be ashamed of yourselves. Stop being so damn lazy and stop blaming the job creators who are the reason you have such a great life. Fortunately, at least the besieged plutocrats are standing up for themselves rather than allowing the the jealous to wage class warfare on them.

Thanks to The Onion's Year In Review, I just discovered this glorious piece from a few months back. Are you “tired of America sucking on the wind teet,” as you no doubt should be?:

More on the GOP's modern-day nullification politics.

And meanwhile, Republican obstructionist bullshit and the GOP's complete opposition to giving a fair hearing to labor against capital mean than the right to organize is facing a new attack:
Workers illegally fired for union organizing won’t be reinstated with back pay. Employers will be able to get away with interfering with union elections. Perhaps most important, employers won’t have to recognize unions despite a majority vote by workers. Without the board to enforce labor law, most companies will not voluntarily deal with unions.

If this nightmare comes to pass, it will represent the culmination of three decades of Republican resistance to the [National Labor Relations Board] — an unwillingness to recognize the fundamental right of workers to band together, if they wish, to seek better pay and working conditions.

Bloomberg's stop-and-frisk policing policies don't accomplish anything other than criminalizing the entire black and Latino populations, and sowing distrust in the very communities the police are supposed to protect:
[L]ast year, the N.Y.P.D. recorded more than 600,000 stops; 84 percent of those stopped were blacks or Latinos. Police are far more likely to use force when stopping blacks or Latinos than whites. In half the stops police cite the vague “furtive movements” as the reason for the stop. Maybe black and brown people just look more furtive, whatever that means. These stops are part of a larger, more widespread problem — a racially discriminatory system of stop-and-frisk in the N.Y.P.D. The police use the excuse that they’re fighting crime to continue the practice, but no one has ever actually proved that it reduces crime or makes the city safer. Those of us who live in the neighborhoods where stop-and-frisks are a basic fact of daily life don’t feel safer as a result.


The police should consider the consequences of a generation of young people who want nothing to do with them — distrust, alienation and more crime.

Last May, I was outside my apartment building on my way to the store when two police officers jumped out of an unmarked car and told me to stop and put my hands up against the wall. I complied. Without my permission, they removed my cellphone from my hand, and one of the officers reached into my pockets, and removed my wallet and keys. He looked through my wallet, then handcuffed me. The officers wanted to know if I had just come out of a particular building. No, I told them, I lived next door.

One of the officers asked which of the keys they had removed from my pocket opened my apartment door. Then he entered my building and tried to get into my apartment with my key. My 18-year-old sister was inside with two of our younger siblings; later she told me she had no idea why the police were trying to get into our apartment and was terrified. She tried to call me, but because they had confiscated my phone, I couldn’t answer.

Meanwhile, a white officer put me in the back of the police car. I was still handcuffed. The officer asked if I had any marijuana, and I said no. He removed and searched my shoes and patted down my socks. I asked why they were searching me, and he told me someone in my building complained that a person they believed fit my description had been ringing their bell. After the other officer returned from inside my apartment building, they opened the door to the police car, told me to get out, removed the handcuffs and simply drove off. I was deeply shaken.

For young people in my neighborhood, getting stopped and frisked is a rite of passage. We expect the police to jump us at any moment. We know the rules: don’t run and don’t try to explain, because speaking up for yourself might get you arrested or worse. And we all feel the same way — degraded, harassed, violated and criminalized because we’re black or Latino. Have I been stopped more than the average young black person? I don’t know, but I look like a zillion other people on the street. And we’re all just trying to live our lives.

MSC certification of a swordfish fishery in Florida may come at the expense of loggerhead turtles. Meanwhile, conservationists are upset that the EU is ignoring the science on the state of fisheries when establishing fishing quotas.

Brazil has done a better and better job at controlling deforestation in the Amazon. Could the new forest code turn back the progress?

Climate change and viticulture.

The WaPo takes a look at the last US servicemember to die for a mistake. More than 4,000 dead Americans, likely more than 100,000 dead Iraqis, more than $1 trillion wasted, and Leon Panetta says it was worth it.

The kabuki theater nonsense that is TSA-mandated security screening is exposed as a complete joke yet again: millimeter-wave scanners have a false positive rate that exceeds 50%, so you might as well just opt-out and get the intrusive sexytime pat-down:
In Germany, the false positive rate was 54 percent, meaning that every other person who went through the scanner had to undergo at least a limited pat-down that found nothing. Jan Korte, a German parliament member who focuses on homeland security, called the millimeter-wave scanner "a defective product."

While it's difficult to know for sure if the millimeter-wave machine has a worse false-alarm rate than the X-ray machine, recent tests suggests that it does. The TSA wouldn't release its results, citing national security. But a British study found the X-ray machine had a false-alarm rate of just 5 percent.

It's probably a good time to revist Vaclav Havel's essay, “Politics and Conscience.” 

And finally, two videos comprise Heather's Happy Link(s) of the Day:

No comments:

Post a Comment