Read these two articles (one and two)and peruse this list of car friendly cities. Take a moment or two. Synthesize the information. I start, if I’m being honest, with a tremendous, overwhelming feeling of schadenfreude lightly dusted with some righteous indignation and just a hint of despair.
Changes in mortality by region due to climate change:
In the depths of the last recession people were obligated by circumstances to stay where they were, drive less, and live in cities. As the worst days of the last economic downturn recede in the collective memory people have resumed the behavior of business as usual. It’s not quite hypocritical of me to chide these people for their preferences, but I should acknowledge that my ability to live as I have lived so inexpensively over the three decades of my adulthood is due to the distaste people have for the environment that I prefer: If people had fled the South and Southwest en masse to live in walkable urban environments in the North and Northeast of the United States then my whole lifestyle model would have gone down the drain.
I’ve read that people feel a rush of endorphins, a kind of pure pleasure, when they reject facts which run contrary to their previously held beliefs; I know I’ve felt it…which of course means I’ve done it. As an evolutionary artifact then, it’s hard not to conclude that it has, paradoxically, some survival value for individuals; perhaps in the same way “faith” in a shaman’s healing ability engaging the placebo effect gave evidence free belief a survival advantage over skepticism in the days before scientific medicine.
More people move to greater Phoenix in a day than move to Springfield in a year. Phoenix. 119 degree, no water Phoenix. It’s a great place to drive, not that driving is a bad thing…except for that it’s all the bad things: It spreads people out, makes our air unbreathable, it kills us directly and then indirectly, it makes the young, the old, the blind, the poor, many of the disabled, and the mentally impaired prisoners in their environments and even more dependent than they would otherwise be and it does all of this without, in the end, adding to our quality of life. And people not only want to move to places where driving is easier, they are willing to destroy the places they already live in order to make them more amenable to the automobile.
The analogy of cigarette smoking comes to mind. People get some kind of immediate gratification from doing it, but it costs them enormous sums of money, they know that it shortens their lives and makes what lives they do have worse. People move to the south where it’s hot and getting hotter to engage in a lifestyle that makes all the bad things worse instead of staying put, living in places where the costly behaviors of others can potentially improve your quality and length of life, live in ways that lessen your negative impact on the environment, and take advantage of the current potential undervaluation of those places in the short run as cheap to get into and in the long run as places with increasing relative value.
I’m not surprised by any of this. I’m convinced that we’ll change our behaviors precisely at the moment when we have no other choice but to change. When Phoenix and the Deep South literally become unlivable, people will stop living there, but not before. When people are forced to walk instead of drive they’ll choose to walk and not drive. My dad stopped smoking when he died; he was one of those guys who puffed on cigarettes with the oxygen tube wrapped around his head: “I smoked over Germany on a B-24 with an oxygen mask on”. To his credit, he never set fire to himself!
I enjoy walking, not having air conditioning, setting my thermostat to 60 in the winter, growing my own food, harvesting my own rain water…and feeling smug about it. If those things were destroying society and at the same time driving me to live in a place with a bleak climatological future I’m pretty sure I’d still do them and live “there”. How hard is it to not read The Atlantic and not believe in climate change?