Eco-Hypocrisy

 

By Dom Nozzi

March 15, 1990

 

“Live simply so that others may simply live”

“Think globally, act locally”

Noble sentiments, these are. And ones often proclaimed by environmentalists (usually through bumper stickers or at public meetings). But do we really mean it? When an environmental activist goes before local elected officials to self-righteously condemn officials and developers for raping the environment, does s/he do so from a position free of hypocrisy? Is the activist, in other words, able to cast the first stone because s/he is free of sin?

My observations lead me to believe that environmentalists are often guilty of many of the environmental crimes they so loudly accuse others of committing. Don’t take this to mean that I oppose activists who speak out against environmental crimes. On the contrary, I strongly support such efforts, and encourage it even by those who commit eco-crimes themselves. The earth is being so severely abused that it needs all the help it can get.

My point here is that we are all relatively destructive of the environment simply by being American citizens, and only a very select few of us (perhaps a couple of hermits living in caves) are ecologically safe for the earth. Because we are so likely to be committing various eco-crimes unknowingly, we should temper our advocacy with a bit more humility, especially because an observant, wetlands-destroying developer may embarrass us in a public meeting (and undercut our argument) by pointing out our “eco-hypocrisy.”

Below is my list of the most significant, yet commonly unrecognized, eco-crimes committed by even the most careful and politically correct environmentalist.

Having Babies

Environmentalists often pride themselves in having “only” one or two children, thereby doing their part to ease overpopulation. However, it is commonly estimated that despite having only 6 percent of the earth’s population, the U.S. consumes about 33 percent of the earth’s resources.

And we produce a similar amount of waste. For example, a study in 1990 estimated that the U.S. produces 50 percent of all solid waste generated worldwide, and 95 percent of all hazardous and special waste.

Using these assumptions, a simple calculation indicates that the average American child will have the same environmental impact on the earth as eight children from any other nation. (Remember that the next time you feel anger over a Third-World parent having five kids.) Have we exceeded the earth’s capacity to accommodate humans?

What You Can Do: (1) Vigorously support sex education in schools (especially information telling kids it’s okay not to have children when they grow up); (2) Support freely available contraceptives and access to sterilization services; (3) If you want a family, try adoption (after all, what’s so important about “passing on your genes” when we’re trying to save the earth?); (4) Oppose efforts which penalize people for not having children or reward people for having children (such as tax laws).

Driving a Car

I laugh a cynical laugh when I see bumper stickers advocating efforts to save endangered species. Road kills and habitat fragmentation are just two of the many ways in which roads are rapidly destroying our remaining wildlife. Excessive roads ROADRAGE1and cars are the leading cause of noise pollution, air pollution, and water pollution in our cities. They have destroyed our sense of community, ruined the appearance of our landscape, killed thousands of our citizens in accidents every year, promoted very costly forms of suburban sprawl, and bankrupted us through car payments, insurance payments, gasoline expenditures, and repair costs.

What You Can Do: (1) Use your car only when absolutely necessary. Someday, in-city driving will be either extremely costly or prohibited (due to fees, car costs, or regulations). Now is the time to get accustomed to this inevitability. Walk, ride a bike, take the bus, carpool; (2) Support compact urban development and fight sprawl. Sprawl forces people to use cars because the distance to work, shopping, or recreation areas is too great to do otherwise; (3) Live in a location where you can go to work, shopping, and recreation areas without needing to do so by car; (4) Strongly support increases in the gas tax and parking fees. The pocketbook is the only effective educator when it comes to transportation and most elections; (5) Support a local moratorium on new roads and parking lots.

Shopping at the Local Mall or Other Non-Locally-Owned Stores

Locally-owned stores keep your purchasing dollar circulating mostly in the local economy, where it can be used to improve our local quality of life, rather than buy yachts in the Caribbean. Shopping at the mall means another instance where you must hop into your pollution-belching car for a cross-town drive. It also harms the smaller in-town stores that are losing customers to the mall. When the in-town stores go bankrupt, the tax base of the town is harmed. The town then has less tax money to improve our quality of life, yet has to pay for services made more costly by remote developments such as the mall. Shopping at other stores where the owners live outside the county means you are supporting people who have little or no concern for our quality of life because they don’t live here to see what damage they are doing.

What You Can Do: (1) Patronize in-town, locally-owned stores exclusively; (2) Shop at stores less often. Try garage sales more often (they’re a great way to recycle and keep things out of the landfill).

Watching Television

TV is extremely effective at teaching us to be insatiable consumers and unending wasters. It also teaches us to be passive and submissive, rather than the eco-activist citizens we should be. How many times in the past have we decided to tranquilize ourselves in front of the tube rather than running downtown to attend an important meeting of our elected officials? How many of us opt for an episode of “Cheers” rather than reading the latest book by a leading environmentalist?

What You Can Do: (1) Throw out your TV, or keep it in a closet; (2) If you must keep the TV out in the living room, keep your kids away from it (buy a lock) to prevent their becoming TV addicts.

Living Near an Environmentally Sensitive Area

I have been shocked in recent years by the large number of self-styled environmentalists who live in a home next to a creek, river, marsh, or lake. They apparently feel the need, as environmentalists, to “commune with nature” on a daily basis. Amazingly enough, some of these people were not only living in the home but were actually the ones who had the home built in that location. By clearing the land and building a home, they are pouring tons of sediment and other pollutants into their formerly pristine creek or lake. And because these areas surrounding such water bodies are critical wildlife habitat areas, they are destroying essential habitat for huge numbers of wildlife. Of course, any time a new home is built in a formerly undeveloped rural area, important wildlife habitat is being lost to provide habitat for the invasive Environmentalicus humanis species.

What You Can Do: (1) Buy or rent an existing home, rather than buying or building a new home; (2) If you must buy or build a new house, do it on vacant land within town and away from water.

Air Conditioning

Up until several decades ago, Floridians lived without air-conditioning. You wouldn’t think it was possible if you asked most Floridians today. We merrily drive around in air-conditioned cars and cool our homes to the point of converting them into huge refrigerators. We are oblivious to the polluting power plants needed to run the air conditioners, the gas our cars burn to run the air conditioners, and the ozone-depleting “CFCs” being emitted by air conditioners.

What You Can Do: (1) Cool your home with shade trees, ceiling fans, and attic vents; (2) Roll down your car windows; (3) Stay in the shade; (4) Dress comfortably; (5) Go for a swim.

Eating Meat

How many of us eat hamburgers one day and denounce rainforest destruction the next? According to John Robbins (Diet for a New America), the livestock industry supporting our carnivorous diet is a significant cause of soil erosion, deforestation, water waste, energy waste, cropland waste, protein waste, water pollution, and pesticides in our diet.

What You Can Do: (1) Consult with a vegetarian or the public library to learn how to wean yourself from meat; (2) If you must continue eating meat, find a small farmer who raises meat in an ecologically sound manner, or switch to less polluting meats such as chicken, fish, or tuna.

Lawn and Household Maintenance

How many of us have a big lawn which is regularly manicured with gas-powered lawn mowers, noisy air blowers, and massive amounts of water, pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers? How many of us clean and maintain our homes with caustic drain cleaners, bleach, rug cleaners, paint thinners, polishes, pool chemicals, and ammonias?

What You Can Do: (1) Consult with local landscaping companies, the public library, the university, or the County Extension Office to learn how to “xeriscape” your yard (that is, a landscape needing little or no maintenance); (2) Consult with your local environmental protection office about earth-friendly alternatives to those nasty chemicals used to clean our kitchens and bathrooms.

 

 

 

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Traffic Congestion, Suburban Sprawl, Quality of Life

By Dom Nozzi

December 7, 2007

Cars are the enemy of cities.

Cars and people have clashing values. Cars seek high-speed, gigantic roads and parking lots to be happy. People, on the other hand, are repelled by such designs. As the world expands for cars, the world shrinks for people. Consequently, we must understand that in a community designed for people, the motorist should feel like an intruder. Driving a car should be an inconvenience. As Enrique Penalosa has said, a community can design for cars, or it can design for people. But it cannot do both at the same time.

Cars, as I noted in my December 5 presentation, consume an enormous amount of space (approximately 17 times more space is used by a person driving a car than a person sitting in a chair). Indeed, I believe it is essential to understand that our 40 people without blk textproblem is not too many people. It is too many people in cars.

Because cars consume so much space, traffic congestion occurs very quickly. Only a small handful of cars are necessary to crowd a road given how much space cars take up. Because so few cars can congest a road, it is nearly impossible for a healthy, attractive city to escape congestion. In fact, one can accurately argue that the lack of congestion is the sign of a declining, unhealthy community. Urging a reduction in congestion conjures up Yogi Berra, who once observed that “the place became so crowded that no one went there anymore.”

For this reason, I am convinced that it is a tactical mistake for community improvement advocates to strive to reduce traffic congestion. Because congestion is nearly impossible to avoid, strategies such as “better transit” or “improved bicycle and pedestrian” facilities or “enhanced carpooling” will inevitably fail to reduce congestion in any meaningful way. This plays directly into the hands of the sprawl/Big Roads lobby, as this faction can point to efforts to improve transit or bicycling and claim that such efforts were wasteful, as they failed to reduce congestion.

The lobby can then claim that we should use “real” solutions, instead of soft-headed, unrealistic strategies, to reduce congestion. And their default strategy: widen roads.

One sign of a healthy community is traffic congestion. It is a sign that people want to congregate in the town due to its attractiveness. Any community worth its salt, then, has a “traffic problem.”

In sum, it is in the interest of local residents and their neighborhoods to welcome congestion as an ally. It is only out-of-towners (and those who live in auto-dependent peripheral locations) who want to drive through the town at high speeds. It is only they who benefit from wide roads, and high-speed, free-flowing traffic.

Wide, high-speed highways and large parking lots are a community dispersant. Car-happy design spreads out a community and guarantees suburban sprawl. Quality transit, bicycling and pedestrian facilities, on the other hand, aggregate, concentrate and condense community elements in a compact, sustainable way. Healthy, affordable, economically vibrant communities depend on these “agglomeration economies.”

A strong community, therefore, does not seek to “reduce congestion.” “Reducing congestion,” too often, is sought after by widening roads, which is a damaging, bankrupting, counterproductive strategy for a community. The community-building, prosperous method, instead, is to ensure that the community provides alternatives to the congestion. In other words, people who are unwilling to tolerate the congestion are instead able to live closer to work, use transit, bicycle, walk, travel different routes, or live in more compact settings proximate to retail, offices, schools, civic institutions and jobs.

Richard Florida, in his ground-breaking book entitled The Rise of the Creative Class makes the essential point that economic development strategies have reversed in recent decades. Formerly, businesses were attracted to a community by promising them tax breaks, subsidies and lax development regulations. This sort of “doormat” method of wooing new business results, of course, in a worsened quality of life for existing residents.

However, in recent times, a new paradigm has emerged. Today, Florida describes what he calls the “creative class,” which consists of quality, well-educated knowledge- and idea workers. Businesses have come to covet such employees, due to the substantial business improvements such employees can deliver. The result is that economic development specialists are now focused on attracting and retaining quality employees, rather than businesses. The essential task is to create and protect a community that boasts the high quality of life that such employees demand. When quality of life is high, quality creative class employees are likely to want to remain in the community, or migrate into the community from elsewhere. Businesses now increasingly understand that the key for attracting and retaining quality employees is to ensure a quality of life in the community where the business is located.

Quality of life, rather than low taxes or lax regulations, is therefore attracting and retaining high-quality businesses which seek high-quality employees. Happily, this is a win-win recipe, as economic development founded on quality of life in the community benefits both economic development and the lives of existing residents of the community.

Quality of life is a powerful economic engine, in other words.

Thus, in today’s economic environment, a community must effectively create and protect its quality of life if it is to realize a healthy future. How does a community build political support for quality of life strategies?

By promoting widespread community pride on the part of local residents.

Pride that is sufficient to ensure that large numbers of local citizens will always be eager to defend the qualities of the community, and fight to improve qualities when they have been degraded.

There are two prongs that improve and protect a community quality of life:

(1) Effective, careful, well-researched promotion of environmental conservation. Protecting valuable, healthy ecosystems in the region is essential for quality of life, reduced costs, and a sustainable future. Public visibility of the success of a community struggling to protect its natural features is important, and is attained by assembling and publishing “trend indicators” that clearly show whether ecological health is being maintained. Over the past 10 years, has carbon dioxide emissions gone down? Has the population of songbirds gone up?

(2) Deployment of a transect-based, form-based land development code that ensures a comprehensive range of lifestyle and transportation choices are provided in a quality manner. Walkable, compact, high-quality urbanism, attractive suburban, and sustainable rural farming and preservation are ensured by context-sensitive development regulations. As Victor Dover suggests, “know where you are in your community, and design for that location.” In other words, designing a community in which we return to the timeless way in which communities were created before the destructive emergence of the car.

Another way of putting it is to say that the problem is not growth, per se. The problem is how the growth occurs.

It is with the establishment and maintenance of these two prongs that a community can ensure quality of life, which is the wellspring of sustainable, healthy economic development and citizen satisfaction.

 

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Urbanism is the New Green

By Dom Nozzi

With less compact, lower-density, suburban development, extremely high per capita car use is inevitable, and high levels of walking, bicycling and transit is impossible.

With more compact, higher-density, urban development, car use is relatively inconvenient and costly (which substantially reduces car travel), and walking, bicycling and transit is much more convenient, safe & enjoyable (which dramatically increases such travel).Catania Italy walkable

Both Boulder CO (where I now live) and Gainesville FL (where I toiled for 20 years as a long-range city planner) have exceptionally low, unsustainable suburban densities, which makes extremely high per capita car travel a locked in certainty. In both cities, per capita air emissions are shamefully VERY high due to low-density-induced car dependence.

Boulder has fooled itself into thinking it can achieve high levels of walking, bicycling and transit use simply by leveraging its wealth to build lots of sidewalks, bike paths and bus service. Nevertheless, very high car use remains (as illustrated quite well by the extreme rage directed against the Folsom right-sizing project in 2015).

The only effective way to induce high levels of walking, bicycling and transit use is to take away speed, space, and subsidies from cars (the fourth essential “S” is to Shorten travel distances via compact, mixed use development). Cars need to be slowed down (particularly in town centers) with traffic calming street design. Oversized streets and parking lots (which are found over and over again in all American cities) need to be shrunk down to sustainable, human-scaled size. Huge motorist subsidies have persisted for nearly a century, and must be reduced. Giant subsidies are found in abundant free parking and city requirements that new development provide parking; untolled roads, which bicyclists, pedestrians and transit users pay for – not just motorists; and unpriced gasoline and too-low gas taxes (there are many other subsidies, by the way).

Boulder and Gainesville have almost no development that is compact & mixed use, which make both cities rather unsustainable and extremely car dependent.

Worldwide, studies have found that lower-density, less compact cities emit extremely high levels per capita of toxic air emissions due mostly to extreme car dependence. Conversely, more compact, higher-density cities emit extremely low per capita levels of air emissions due mostly to low car dependence. Shame on Boulder for the several decades of maintaining a political consensus that compact (more dense) development is bad.

There is an emerging consensus (outside of Boulder) that density (urbanism) is the New Green.

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Should Neighborhoods Be Given the Right to Vote on Land Use Changes?

By Dom Nozzi

In the fall 2015 elections, Boulder citizens will be voting on Ballot Issue 300, “Neighborhoods’ Right to Vote on Land Use Regulation Changes.” It is a form of direct democracy. Many citizens in Boulder have lost confidence in the ability of their elected representatives to “listen” to neighborhoods and vote accordingly.

But there are reasons our society is a representative democracy rather than a direct democracy. Direct democracy does not work – particularly in a complex society such as ours. If it did, we would simply need computers to measure public opinion on community issues rather than electing representatives.

Direct democracy is a form of “mob rule.” Emotions and lack of knowledge will mean that citizens will regularly vote against their own best interests.saintreportpicture3

Had direct democracy been used in Boulder in the 1970s for the conversion of Pearl Street Mall into what has become a much loved pedestrian mall, it would have never been approved, as it would have lost badly in a direct vote. There would be no Boulderado hotel – perhaps the most loved building in Boulder today, no Holiday neighborhood – an excellent and admired example of a walkable mixed-use neighborhood, much less residential and office development in downtown Boulder, and no Mapleton neighborhood – a charming and attractive Victorian neighborhood that is so cherished by so many that its homes are exceptionally expensive.

There are many additional reasons why direct voting as proposed by Measure 300 is a bad idea.

For example, the town planning profession is trivialized by suggesting that no advanced knowledge is necessary to make intelligent decisions about community development.

If direct voting is a good idea, why are we not, say, having a neighborhood vote on whether a community tax increase should apply to the neighborhood?

Is Boulder comfortable with its taxes being increased substantially to pay for such a large increase in community voting and added time needed by staff to prepare such votes?

Renters will not be allowed to vote.

In a society such as ours where there are enormous, counterproductive subsidies in place that distort the “signals” we citizens get, it is inevitable that many votes will be counter to neighborhood and community interests. For example, very high subsidies for car travel (free parking and underpriced gas) lead many to be artificially over-wedded to car travel.

“Right to Vote” will give even more advantages to more wealthy, large developers who are powerful enough to mount successful campaigns to prevail in a neighborhood vote (compared to smaller, less wealthy, local developers). Similarly, more wealthy neighborhoods will be advantaged over less wealthy neighborhoods for similar reasons.

Measure 300 really does nothing, when it comes right down to it, to protect or promote quality of life. It turns out that it is a “no growth” effort masquerading as a community benefit.

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Getting Around without a Car

By Dom Nozzi

For me, getting around without a car is much easier than most think.

To start with, it is usually a good idea to live in a college town, where one typically finds relatively good facilities for walking, bicycling, and transit (which tends to be coupled with the “safety in numbers” benefit: studies show that when a lot of nature coast rail trailpeople are bicycling, it is much safer — and more enjoyable).

Because Boulder, Colorado is relatively compact in terms of where places are located (and is not overloaded with high-speed, multi-lane roads that are too dangerous to bike), it is fairly easy for me to get nearly everywhere I need to go by bike. Or walking. If distances are too long or weather is unpleasant, there is a great bus system here (best of any city the size of Boulder in the nation, and I have a free bus pass).

And when there is no bus service, it is easy for me to share a ride with someone else going to the same place. This is particularly easy when I am in a relationship and my significant other and I are sharing her car and its expenses.

I have never had to do this, but another option is the growing availability of car-share companies such as Zip Car or Uber.

Why did I choose to be car-free? Well, it makes me quite secure, financially (I was able to retire at age 47!). Cars cost a lot more money than most realize. In addition, when I drive a car, it induces stress, high blood pressure, and hostility in me. bikes save cars fattenSo I feel those things much less by not driving. Also, I am naturally more physically fit by not driving (a big cause of our obesity epidemic is excessive car travel and resulting inactivity). I like the fringe benefit that bicycling or walking puts me in a happy mood. And I am able to be much more sociable than if I am inside a high-speed metal box.

In sum, I was MORE than happy to trade off a slight increase in travel inconvenience for all of the benefits I list above.

I often wonder why so many Americans have NOT made the choice I have made.

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What is Causing the Fierce Opposition to Right Sizing Folsom?

By Dom Nozzi

In my opinion, there are three things that are primarily creating the extreme opposition to right-sizing Folsom Street in Boulder, Colorado.

40 people without blk text

  1. When people travel inside huge metal boxes, they inevitably are slowed down on roads, even if there are only a few other metal boxes out there (because the boxes take up so much space). The result is that pretty much every time a person drives a car, they are frustrated by being slowed down, so for their city to deliberately slow them down even MORE is an outrage!
  2. The local newspaper has spun this project to make it seem like there are only trivial, inappropriate reasons to do the right-sizing: slightly widen existing bike lanes, and FORCING EVERYONE to stop driving and start biking. This spin understandably provokes rage, as the benefits seem minor and only benefits a tiny number of people. But doing so ignores the many other benefits: far fewer crashes and near misses, far less speeding, calmer traffic, less air emissions, better environment for businesses and homes, safer for walking, discretionary car trips are reduced, and more space for beautifying the street. The newspaper also runs a steady drumbeat of letters by folks who are SCREAMING about the catastrophic, 24/7 gridlock (I have been on the street all days of the week and all hours of the day and have seen no real congestion). The result is that many who read the letters are convinced that there IS 24/7 gridlock and therefore conclude that the project is an utter failure (and state they are no longer driving the road to patronize businesses).
  3. We lead extremely busy lives these days, so losing even 30 seconds on the road is utterly unacceptable.

In Boulder, I have learned that nearly everyone (including those who should know better) has made the tragic mistake of equating free flowing car travel and easy parking with quality of life. That helps explain why opposition to density and tall buildings is so severe here (such development will crowd streets and parking, which therefore is a degradation of our quality of life).

Forgotten, of course, are the many awful impacts of happy driving and happy parking. Happy driving delivers more sprawl, higher taxes, more strip commercial “sellscapes,” more injuries and deaths, reduced travel by walking or bicycling or transit, less affordability, more air pollution due to more of us driving, more huge parking lots and huge intersections and huge roads, and more noise pollution.

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What’s with the Double Standard on Right-Sizing a Road?

By Dom Nozzi

Over the past several weeks, there has been an avalanche of letters attacking the City proposal to right-size Folsom. Hundreds of opponents filled the Council auditorium to denounce the idea at multiple meetings. The complaints have been repetitive: There are no metrics telling us whether the projects have succeeded or not! Not enough involvement by stakeholders such as businesses and neighborhoods! Not enough public involvement! No studies showing whether they will work! It will cause terrible congestion and air pollution! No before and after studies! Pro-bike bias! Waste of a huge Folsom-N.-rendering_web-400x267amount of money!

First of all, citizens should know that City staff has done many studies and public meetings that are alleged to be lacking. Far more than most other transportation projects conducted in the past.

Second and much more importantly, I am utterly shocked by the double standard here. I have been working professionally and academically in transportation for over 30 years, and I have never seen this level of enraged opposition, calls for studies, and requests for more public input. One would think that the City was proposing to bring about the end of the world.

The double standard is that I don’t recall ANY opposition when the City has proposed to install a second left-turn lane at an intersection (which has been done several times in Boulder), among many other pro-car projects. No calls for studies. No demands that stakeholders be involved. No metrics telling us if the double-left had the intended benefits a year later. No before and after studies. No cries that it will increase air pollution or car dependence. No demands that the double-left turn be tested first before it is made permanent. No whining that the double-left turn is a big waste of money (for the record, double-left turns cost a lot more money, generally, than right-sizing).

Few people, if any, attend meetings to oppose such an enormous expansion of an intersection.

I would think that the outcry from a proposed double-left would be furious. After all, double-left turns increase air pollution, car trips, local taxes, regional car trips, car crashes, speeding, inattentiveness, injuries and deaths. They reduce walking trips, biking trips, and transit trips (because the intersection is now much more dangerous to walk through or bicycle through). They are toxic to businesses and homes near the intersection.

double left turn lane intersection boulderBy striking contrast, national studies show that right-sizing reduces air pollution, speeding, inattentiveness, car trips, car crashes, injuries and deaths. They increase walking trips, biking trips, and transit trips. They improve the health of retail and residences (I understand that many businesses in Seattle now ask that their street be right-sized after they have seen their competitors benefit after their streets were right-sized).

Yet in Boulder, we see furious opposition to right-sizing and hardly any objection to a proposed double-left turn. And by the way, unlike right-sizing, double-left turns are NEVER tested first to see if they will work. They are just “rammed down our throats,” as many right-sizing opponents oddly tell us about right-sizing.

Making a road change that eases bicycling and walking is met with fury. Making a road change that eases driving (and discourages bicycling and walking) is met with silence.

Given this, one would think that there is a very pro-CAR bias in Boulder. One also has to ask: Who needs enemies when we have ourselves?

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