Bringing #ClimateForward Back Home

Climate Forward Rally - DC
I’m currently rolling out (on Amtrak) of Washington D.C. following what has shaped up to biggest rally ever held specifically to confront global warming and climate change as an issue in the United States (the estimates I find most likely were that there were around 35,000 marchers in the street).

Our Santa Monica weekly column is supported by Bike Center in Santa Monica.

I made a last minute decision to make the trip. The more I come to grasp the science of the dilemma as well as the many non-climate related impacts of our society’s endless thirst for ever more fossil fuel energy, I am compelled to go out of my way to try and be part of anything moving this issue to a topic of serious national debate.

Climate activist and environmental author Bill McKibben, and the 350 Organization have made disinvestment in the fossil industry a central platform of their recent activism, along with pushing Obama to not approve the keystone pipeline project. Grist has a great follow post on why choosing the Keystone XL Pipeline as a target, and going for broke on resisting it, matters, despite some “middle of the road” environmental writers wishing for different targets or different plans, or some grand bargain of congress to materialize.

The rally itself, and it’s satellite gatherings that included Los Angeles, have spent some time at the the top of the twitter trends. But rather than try to dig into covering the massive day of action myself, and many photos I have left to go through, I want to share some of my thoughts relating this back to what we can do in Santa Monica to get serious about green house emissions, without depending on acts of congress, or an overthrow of capitalism.

On the financial divestment front, efforts have started first with a focus on college endowments and funds. There has been successes getting some institutions to reconsider and realign their investment funds. Dealing with our own complicity on the demand side is difficult. I’ve also become interested in broadening the concept of disinvestment to include public financing of projects that induce systemic fossil fuel demand including highway expansions and mega parking structures. As well regulations and mandates by governments that push private businesses and developers to invest heavily in outcomes that are energy hungry.

There are many outdated government policies and laws we’ve held onto that no longer exists. Polices which by their very nature act to incentivize, and make logical, the demand for the unsustainable. Many of these policies exist at the local municipal level, where anyone can confront them if they can just marshal some of their neighbors to get involved. Well financed lobbying groups or tens of thousands of activists marching is not required to confront every change we need to make.

2009 GHG emissions by Sector (from 2000-2009 emission inventory) (Source: CA ARB)

On a global basis, transportation is not the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, but in California, the single largest sector of our economy contributing to GHG emissions are transportation related, at 38%. With transportation so central to our own contribution as Californians to the CO2 and other gases that are warming the atmosphere and raising the acidity of the oceans, we must look long and hard at transportation policies.

In Santa Monica we are in the midst of rethinking our zoning code following our general land use and circulation plan update and pending area and specific plans. These are all policies which will shape the manner in which the city develops for many years to come in LUCE and a golden opportunity to start charting a new path. A general view has been articulated, but the details of the final codes matter, & are binding.

We must start by acknowledging the status quo is not mode neutral. Contrary to the commonly quoted mythology of motoring advocates including columnist Bill Bauer, we  stack the deck heavily to keep cars accommodated and central to our transportation system, to the point of dependency for many who may genuinely wish to drive less. This is accomplished by various means of what essentially amounts to government coercion about things like mono-use and parking minimum zoning.

Of course one of the great ironies of all these policies to favor driving is they didn’t really improve driving either. Each capacity enhancement simply filled in. To tackle LA traffic woes even GM once ackowledged it can’t all be about the car. GM proposed in the 50′s (LA traffic sucked then too) that we should ramp up bus service, dedicate space for transit, & shift most parking capacity of congested urban centers (where their usual prescription of make every road a monster highway wouldn’t always fit). We’ve spent decades & decades of expanding, spending & lavishing resources for driving in the region, and traffic is no less an issue than it was decades ago, and often worse.

The fees and taxes which are specific to driving, which drivers love to point to in their defense, cover only a fraction of the costs incurred. This is far more complex than “The Market” at work. We are purposefully by law making automobiles central to urban existence, forcing investment in them and in many instances punishing people who don’t drive in order to do so.

Climate Forward Rally - DCDialing back the manner in which we subsidize and force auto-centrism into our urban landscape, such as loosening or removing parking minimum requirements, is not taking anyone’s car away, it is not a “war on cars”. It does open up the possibility for the future to be less auto-centric, and more balanced in a mix of mode choices. If we undermine our energy efficient travel investments like the coming light rail by not disinvesting some of our economic resources out of expanding capacity for more cars, we’re taking steps backward as we go forward. We have to do better than that if we don’t want to hand off to our kids and theirs, a diminished world.

I hope that the Santa Monica city council, and more importantly many other governments across this nation and all industrial or industrializing nations, can look past the bickering of the present and the faux populist whining of the privileged, to a future where building more parking for ever more cars, will be among the very least of our 21st century worries.