The most difficult part of the climate change question for me is that the best and least catastrophic responses, at least in the United States, would all seem to promote agendas which are favorable to ideologies, concepts, and even regions I prefer. I can’t help but recall my reaction to Peak Oil being remarkably similar. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t changed my mind regarding the finite nature of the planet Earth, nor do I conclude that 97% percent of scientists are wrong (or lying) regarding anthropogenic global warming, it is just that when the “correct response” to a question seems to be everything I’d want it to be it’s hard not to wonder if I’m delusional.
In a conversation between two of the giants I greatly admire from the world of urbanism, Jim Kunstler asks Chuck Marohn if people in the Midwest are taking the improvement of their passenger rail system seriously. They’re not, and nor are most people in most regions of the United States, but at that very moment my daughter was returning from her honeymoon on a train from Penn Station to Springfield’s Union Station. I open the browser on my iPad and the Amtrak live tracking map shows two trains on their way to my hometown from Penn Station and, while that may be pathetic compared to Europe, it’s pretty impressive for the U.S.. I flip on the local news, and I see an update on improvements to that same Union Station and I see that its renovation will be concluded within a year.
Whether referencing heat, rainfall, sea level rise, the importance of local agriculture, or even relatively obscure concepts like the renaissance of America’s rivers as highways of commerce, everything takes my region and my city and places it in a superior position to where it currently sits. Absolutely spectacular. Except some experts see the end of human civilization as an eventuality, while at the same time the general public, even “believers” in climate change, aren’t really doing any more than buying LED light bulbs and driving their hybrids to the farmer’s market.
The idea that the most carbon friendly lifestyle involves a car that’s never manufactured because you’ve moved to a place where the existing infrastructure was arranged to be used in such a way you can get everywhere you need to go on foot or using transit has not penetrated the zeitgeist. So far the only popular green responses are the ones which carry strong branding and no real changes to anyone’s lifestyle.
All of which frustrates so much of what I’ve tried to do. Structural “walkability” is a good thing, but that structural walkability only functions if the necessary programming exists, and the necessary programming will only exist when the people are in place who might make the programming profitable. Such is the frustration of either being ahead of one’s time or simply being wrong. People aren’t moving west to east, south to north, or from suburbs to cities (except for a handful of exceptional cities, boutique cities, and college towns). I have felt for quite some time that Americans in general will only make changes to their lifestyle when it is forced upon them, hearing James Howard Kunstler echo that sentiment in the aforementioned podcast confirmed for me that that hunch might very well be correct.
I have a hunch that even a great many vocal supporters of a renaissance of American urbanism, public transit, walkability, and localization are singing the praises of these transformations mostly in hope that others will do the changing, and that they will then enjoy the decrease in traffic on the way to fill up their SUV’s with bulk items at a Costco where parking near the front is a tad easier to find.