5.6.17

Climate Change is a Local Issue Too

Last week, when Trump announced he was pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord, I was neither surprised nor alarmed. From Day One, the Trump White House has been dedicated to undermining meaningful action on reducing CO2, appointing people like Scott Pruitt, scrapping the Clean Power Plan and CAFE standards, and (still to come?) selling off Federal lands for mining. There was never any chance that anything good for climate change would come from last year's election results

That's why the announcement didn't really bother me. It just made the apocalyptic politics explicit, brought the dynamics over climate change into sharper focus. The speech itself was like a cheese grater to the brain, angry ignorant bluster, equal parts dog whistle and bullshit. Listening to it made me flee to the nearest bluest-collar dive bar to see how working class white folks in the first-ring suburbs were perceiving the speech.  

It turned out that Marty's Bar, just over the West Saint Paul border, was full. I was the youngest person there, and to my surprise, everyone was watching women's softball and ignoring the world-historical moment.

One hardscrabble older lady sipping Diet Coke from a mug offered up, unprompted, "I had to get out of my house; I couldn't keep listening to Trump."

"Same here," I muttered.

Even when compared to other great liberal lost causes such as ending poverty, world peace, or erasing the legacy of racism, the politics of climate change are particularly impossible. Compared to those pies in the sky, the causes and effects of climate change are so temporally and spatially diffuse. Our actions today will have effects not right away, but in a generation. Oil burned in Minnesota becomes borderless. It might cause the butterfly in China to go extinct, a flood in Fargo, or a civil war in Chad. It's all atmospheric, and there's no direct causality to be found, much to the delight of the Oklahoma skeptics.

[Historical analysis of who "caused" climate change in the first place.]

In a way, that's why Trump's politically unnecessary grandstanding in the name of backwards ignorance was helpful. Pulling out of a weak, voluntary agreement did little except to (hopefully) galvanize more people around this diffuse geologic problem. Mayors and governors and corporations alike were able to restate their support of the Paris Accord and reducing CO2.

It's always challenging to draw a connection between global climate change and local politics, but luckily tens of thousands of scientists and policy makers have already spent lifetimes working on this problem. The whole "carbon footprint" and "sustainable action" problem has already been researched. To the best of anyone's ability, we understand of how our local policies translate into greenhouse gases. (Even though a huge part of the problem is embedded within consumer capitalism itself; every time you spend money on a new product, you are creating CO2 emissions somewhere in the globalized world.)

[FYI, there's a bible college near this Alberta town.]
This helpful list of things you can do includes (from two years ago, but this crap is evergreen because nothing has changed) "2. take the bus" and "3. don't buy a second car." In fact, the Times prescription is just like a list I made a while back.

You've heard it all before, the "first order" direct actions that are basically recycled (! yay !) from Al Gore's 2006 movie which was recycled from every other environmental tract leading all the way back to the first Earth Day or Ivan Illich's amazing 70s tract on the revolutionary effects of bicycling.

But as I said in my earlier post, there are second order less-direct actions you can also take. Let's say you, personally, can't take the bus very often. You can still help other people take the bus by supporting Metro Transit, supporting dedicated bus lanes, yielding to buses pulling out in front of your car, little things like that. These add up and still make a difference for people taking their lives into their hands every day by trying to ride a bicycle or walk across the street.

To put it another way, even if you can't stop driving your car, you can "stop stopping" people from driving their car:
Stop stopping people from driving less

Support bike lanes / dedicated transit lanes
Be willing to pay (more) for parking 
Support walkable safety improvements like bumpouts
Support a gas / transit tax
Don't speed; stop for pedestrians

This seems easy but has turned out to be really hard, and illustrates the mammoth hypocrisy hard boiled into first-world environmentalism.

Take one of the more ignominious moments in recent Saint Paul politics: the evening when city held a public meeting on installing a mile of parking meters. It was and is a sound public policy that would minimally price an environmentally harmful externality, help better allocate scarce on-street parking spaces, and also raising money for a cash-strapped city full of poor people. Yet at the packed-and-angry public meeting, the crowd saved its most lusty shouting for when Mayor Coleman brought up the topic of environmentalism. (This happened and I transcribed it for you...)

The howling politically mothballed commercial parking meters in Saint Paul for another ten years, which is a huge shame because it's an ideal public policy tool. Priced parking simultaneously nudges behavior while it raises needed money with a "user fee" instead of a general tax. Parking meters are exactly the kind of precisely targeted policy tool that cities should be emphasizing if they want to be serious about climate change.

It doesn't end there. Other recent great moments in local Trumpism include a garden store named Mother Earth Gardens (!) fighting a bike lane because of a parking spot. Or neighbors on a quiet wealthy street trying to scuttle the city's most sustainable development in generations because of small changes in car traffic. Or Saint Paul spending over $100K to build a few parking spots for a VHS-to-DVD business while desperately needed bike connections (like Kellogg Boulevard) go unfunded.

If the people speaking up in cities like Saint Paul, Minneapolis, or any of our potentially walkable suburbs want to actually do anything about Trump's blatant attack on the future -- as our leaders say they do -- we have to built a movement around some basic sustainability principles. We need to stop complaining about parking, density or the price of gas. Stop talking the talk, and start walking the walk. That's the only worthwhile reaction to Trump's moment in the warming sun. 

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