Tag Archives: environmentalism

NIMBYs and the Environmentalists Fighting the Wrong Battle

By Dom Nozzi

November 26, 2000

While I agree that it is nearly always suburbanites who are cloaking their NIMBY arguments under the moral-high-ground mantle of environmentalism, it is far too often the case that strong, intelligent environmentalists (who perhaps should know better) often get caught up in the NIMBY hysteria. It has only been recently that the national Sierra Club has started to stop (at least in some of their public statements) their widespread NIMBY efforts and focused more attention on the real culprit — sprawl.

In the Florida town where I worked as a town planner, a number of in-town projects were hammered by intelligent environmentalists — environmentalists who were comparatively silent in the face of the incremental, relentless, profound, larger-scale ecological destruction that happens in outlying (sprawl) areas.

In the grander scheme of things, the natural environment is much better off if a few urban trees are lost, a disturbed urban woodland is replaced by housing, or the habitat for a few raccoons and squirrels is removed rather than the common alternative: the loss of hundreds of acres of nearly pristine woodlands, and high-quality habitat that is home to, say, eagles, fox squirrels, and gopher tortoise.

I honestly don’t believe there is a third choice: Loss of neither. I believe that south Florida and southern California are testaments to the belief that there was a third choice.

I continue to remain highly annoyed (but not surprised) that for many intelligent environmentalists, minimizing residential densities is the be-all-and-end-all of NIMBY-protest-Toronto-Boston-SanFrancisco-neighbourhood-airport-housing-preservation-Condo.ca_-512x341environmental conservation when it comes to urban development. I shall not name names, but there are local environmentalists who were guilty of this just this past week. There is little that I can think of that is a more ruinous strategy for our future in this county than to persist in the strategy of thinking that low densities will save us.

Environmentalists must get on board with the idea that we need higher, livable densities (or to give it a less controversial name, “compact development”) in proper locations. If this does not happen, we will have no chance of averting a car-happy south Florida future…

My experience, in other words, is that it is not just suburbanites cloaked as environmentalists.

The key to a future rich in sustainability, quality of life, transportation choice, and civic pride is modest size. Modestly sized street dimensions. Modest distances between land uses (and, implicitly, modest community and neighborhood size). Modest building setbacks. By stark contrast, sprawl is most accurately defined by large size. Big setbacks, large distances to destinations, tall lights, massive parking lots, and huge street dimensions. In other words, sprawl is characterized by being scaled for cars, not people.

Far too many environmentalists fight, ironically, for excessive sizes in their advocacy regarding local development.

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Educated Environmentalists and Missing the Forest for the Trees

 

By Dom Nozzi

November 22, 2000

It is common for those opposed to new development (the extreme form of this being the “not in my back yard” NIMBY) to cloak their opposition to a new development under the moral-high-ground mantle of environmentalism.

Nearly always, it is suburbanites who do this.

But it is far too often the case that intelligent environmentalists — who perhaps should know better — get caught up in the NIMBY hysteria. It has only been recently that the national Sierra Club has stopped their widespread NIMBY efforts and focused more attention on the real culprit — sprawl.

When I worked as a town planner in Gainesville, Florida, there were many neighborhood development proposals (including a bike path, of all things!) that were battered by NIMBYs. In each case, these in-town projects were hammered by intelligent environmentalists — environmentalists who were comparatively silent in the face of the incremental, relentless, profound, larger-scale ecological destruction that happens in outlying areas (and, ironically, at an accelerated pace due to the actions of in-town NIMBYism).

By the way, I did not hold up most of those proposed developments in Gainesville as models of good design. I just think they are, in the grander scheme of things, in much more ecologically preferred LOCATIONS — I prefer the loss of a few trees in urban, disturbed woodlands, and the loss of a few raccoons and squirrels, to the loss of hundreds of acres of nearly pristine woodlands, and high-quality habitat that is home to, say, eagles, fox squirrels, and gopher tortoise. I honestly don’t believe there is a third choice: Loss of neither. I believe that south Florida and southern California are testaments to the belief that there WAS a third choice.

I continue to remain highly annoyed (but not surprised) that for many intelligent environmentalists, minimizing residential densities is the be-all-and-end-all of environmental conservation when it comes to urban development. There is little that I can think of that is a more ruinous strategy for our future than to persist in the strategy of thinking that low densities will save us. Environmentalists MUST get on board with the idea that we need more compact development in proper locations. If this does not happen, we will have no chance of averting a south Florida future…

My experience, in other words, is that it is NOT just suburbanites cloaked as environmentalists. Many educated environmentalists must share the shame.

The key to a future rich in sustainability, quality of life, transportation choice, and civic pride is modest size. Modestly sized street dimensions. Modest distances between land uses french-quarter-inn-charleston-city-view1(and, implicitly, modest community and neighborhood size). Modest building setbacks. By stark contrast, sprawl is most accurately defined by LARGE size. Big setbacks, huge street dimensions. Monstrous setbacks.

In other words, the latter is scaled for cars, not people.

 

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Easing Our Guilty Conscience Can Subvert Quality Urban Design

By Dom Nozzi

September 19, 2003

Over the past few decades, environmental advocacy groups have had great success in making most people feel “sinful” for “damaging” nature. Such guilt leads to an increased desire to, for example, recycle soda cans. Or object to cutting down a few low-value trees. We ease our guilty conscience — guilt felt because many of us know, in the back of our minds, that we lead environmentally destructive lives. So recycling a few cans is our way to do penance and avoid damnation.

Another result is that arm-chair enviros often naively think that making our world tidy and neat is a meaningful and sufficient form of environmental conservation.

For both the can recyclers living in remote, car-dependent subdivisions with their SUVs, and the tidy and neat “enviros,” we see that most in our society have internalized the idea that “protecting the environment” is good. It is a cultural norm that most everyone takes for granted. It is now pretty much a bi-partisan consensus.

The end result of such a cultural victory, unfortunately, is unintended consequences. Many seem to believe that a tree or a shrub is ALWAYS a good idea in EVERY POSSIBLE location. It is inconceivable that a tree is not a good idea in some places.

That is, nature is sacred.

Given this cultural norm, naive enviros who don’t see the big picture too often decide to exclude a town design decision that has overall positive benefits for both humans and nature. For example, naive enviros will occasionally succeed in stopping an in-town project by convincing decision-makers to save a low-quality wetland or woodlot located in a town center. Naive enviros are often joined by commissioners who are naive about the needs of quality urbanism. Lacking any knowledge of what the ingredients might be for urbanism, it often seems case, that it is a no-brainer that we should save a few trees in exchange for loss of, say, a retail corner on an otherwise sterile building.

But is it really a no-brainer?

Is it really true that we can afford to give up a retail space in a part of a town center that is a scary, uninhabited prostitute- and drug-saturated no-man’s-land? A part of our town center where no one (except the homeless) walk, because there is nothing to walk to except empty parking lots and vacant buildings? (and a tired clump of trees)

The unintended consequence of saving every tree in a town center is that the town center ends up becoming, incrementally, a dead zone that no one wants to be a part of. Nothing happens there. It is not hip to be there, or be seen there. The hip, safe, happening places instead are in the outlying areas — areas that are incrementally wiping out our REALLY important woodlands and wetlands.

Preserving natural habitat by creating better human habitat. So says – correctly — the Smart Growth America’s web site.

The campaign over the past few decades to make environmental conservation (however naively practiced) a cultural norm has meant that we end up unintentionally harming other societal objectives — an example of “knowing just enough to be dangerous.” We strip commercial sidewalkoften fight and win easy “environmental” victories (such as saving a scraggly tree or degraded wetland), and pat ourselves on the back. But we are either blind to, or have given up on, the REAL war: stopping auto-oriented roadway and town design.

Because there are few, if any, citizens or decision-makers who know anything at all about what the ingredients consist of for a quality, compact, walkable habitat for humans, we easily and blindly harm that habitat as we zealously continue winning tiny, trivial battles to save Bambi.

No one objects, because no one sees any harm.

 

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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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