System green

The car-dependent suburbs were created by an interlocking set of policies:

  • Cheap federal mortgage programs
  • Federal tax programs subsidizing suburban home ownership.
  • Funding the Interstate Highway System at the expense of public transportation
  • Zoning policies that stratify business, single-family, and multi-family housing

That’s less glib than this week’s political grandstanding, lifting gas taxes (D, R), taxing oil companies (D) or relaxing environmental regulations (R). The Oil Drum has a strong critique of the demagoguery.
The interesting thing about the policies that created the gas-dependent suburbs is the relationship between national government, local government and private action.
National government made a few critical investments and commitments
* the interstate highway system
* tax-deduction and subsidy programs for mortgages
Local governments made zoning and transit mix decisions.
Private businesses and citizens decided where to live, where to site their busiensses, which cars and trucks to buy, how to get to work. Their decisions were strongly shaped by the infrastructure.
The oil drum recommends:
” large-scale research, development, and implementation programs to improve the scalability of alternative sources of energy
* improving mass transit and carpooling programs
* providing incentives to buy smaller and more fuel efficient vehicles
* promoting a campaign to increase awareness about conservation.
Inspired by the original programs that created the suburbs, other logical steps include:
* government backing for financial products that make conservation technology cost-effective (these things apparently exist but are hard to use)
* government investment and policy changes facilitating distributed energy generation
* repairing local zoning for mixed use
Pull for these kinds of policies would come from businesses that make money from green energy and finance, citizens demanding solutions. Somebody somewhere is doing this stuff.
The suburb-creation policy list is taken out of context from this comment about about cities and race on Talking Points Memo.

In which the Oil Drum eviscerates the Economist

One of the bloggers at The Oil Drum takes out his trusty napkin and does a number on the latest sanguine article in The Economist about oil supply. It’s true that new technologies help wring more oil from a reserve. But the more efficient technologies also result in faster depletion rates once a reserve starts declining.
It is also true that as oil gets more expensive, then lower quality and harder-to-reach reserves become economical to produce. But it takes more time to set up that production, making it hard for supply to keep up with demand.
Meanwhile, the LA Times has a column praising the California energy strategy, including:
* a mandate to generate 20% of electricity from renewable sources by 2020
* legislation to reduce auto emissions
* a “cap and trade” policy for greenhouse gas emissions (Schwartzenagger just backed off from the “cap” side.
Perhaps California can take the lead. I’d love to find out what citizens’ groups cover the legislation and promote good green policy. A search on AB32 — Assembleywoman Fran Pavley’s cap and trade bill — yields few results.
Meanwhile, the Environmental Economics explains that the current spike in oil prices might be due to the financial market, not oil supply. Futures are bid up, so oil suppliers are hoarding oil for more expensive future delivery.

Walmart sets goal of 100% sustainable fish sales

Walmart’s experiments with eco-buildings reek of greenwashing, since its big box format is inextricably tied to sprawl and its economic model tied to global shipment.
But this announcement that Walmart pledges to source all of its fish from fisheries that meet Marine Stewardship Council’s sustainable criteria sounds real, and sounds like it would make a real difference in avoiding the destruction of wild fish.
I’m not going to shop there because of their treatment of humans, but I’m really happy to hear that a retailer with enough market share to make a difference is planning to avoid overfishing. The march toward fishstock depletion is one of the several scarier threats to human civilization.

Walmart: organic vs. local

Sustainablog writes that Walmart’s getting into organic food. One excellent thing about this is that Walmart scale can help take soil conservation mainstream. Factory farms producing better soil are much better than factory farms mining soil. Another excellent thing is scaling up agricultural practices that don’t depend on petroleum-derived fertilizers.
Walmart’s entry into the market is a big threat to smaller organic farmers, but it also creates an opportunity. Buy local, brand local. The eco-conscious buyers who were buying organic for the environmental benefits will also be thinking about the unsustainability of long-distance food transport. Small players who can brand local will be able to get higher prices from customers buying sustainability.