Getting past the ‘War on the Car’ | #TOpoli #ClimateChange

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(This grew out of a Facebook discussion with the divine Septembre Anderson, so it’ll be a little abrupt. Indulge me. Tips of the chapeau are also due to Rosalind Robertson, Breeyn McCarney, and Daniel Cowans.)

A lot of this is boilerplate, and it’s already been tackled by folks like Daren Foster and Ed Keenan, but what the hey. I’d also recommend a necessary and illuminating piece by the indispensible Steve Munro, who’s forgotten more about transit than I’ll ever know.

The context was a juxtaposition of revenue from city recreational programs, and a proposal that those programs should be free, and the loss of municipal revenue from the Vehicle Registration Tax, regularly caricatured as part of the Leftie Downtown Elitist War on the Car. This isn’t really intended to get into the specifics of that; it’s more of a step back, let’s look at the big picture and try and see this in historical context (oh Christ, there he goes again — ed.) kind of thing.

Anyway, someone on Septembre’s FB feed was talking about the way we “penalize” car owners whenever the city needs revenue. I jumped on it, perhaps a little more intemperately than I might have:

The idea that you’re being “penalized” by having to pay a tax is where the debunking begins. I’d suggest a review of Alex Himelfarb‘s Tax is Not a Four Letter Word for starters. And if you do something as fundamentally self-centred, anti-social and environmentally destructive as driving a private automobile on a regular basis, then quite frankly I don’t have a problem with you being required to pony up more …

I’ve never met a group of people more obsessed with their own privilege — and less willing to acknowledge it — than motorists. Their sense of entitlement to absolute primacy on the roads is boundless. I don’t care about other users, and why do I have to stop for that goddamn streetcar, and get the fuck out of my way cyclists because I just wanna go wherever the fuck I want as fast as I can. And it’s my god-given right to park my private car directly in front of my destination, as opposed to actually having to walk a block or two from a bus stop or something. Angry, aggressive, impatient, and selfish. Ford is just an extreme and grotesque example.

Bluntly, I’m out of patience. Don’t like gridlock? Don’t like road tolls? Don’t like scrambling for parking spots (which are also heavily subsidized, BTW)? Get out of your fucking car and take transit. Or ride a bike. Honestly, just stop whining and grow up.

The discussion continued, with the same participant arguing, not without justification, that he couldn’t rely on public transit to get where he needed to go in a timely manner. He also complained, again with some reason, about the wasted time and lost productivity due to service interruptions, overcrowding, poor service, and all the other problems besetting public transit in Toronto. (I’m paraphrasing, and in truth, it would be fairer for me to allow him to speak for himself, so in that regard, if he wants to respond here, I’ll commit to publishing whatever he wants to say, unedited, at as much length as he wants.)

At any rate, that prompted this additional outburst of sanctimonious wankery:

… if you find public transit inefficient, perhaps you should work to improve it, and support public initiatives that will do the same. (Ruinously wasteful subways that will never justify themselves in terms of ridership might be a good place to start.) Honestly, where is it written that public transit has to be slow, inefficient, dirty, overcrowded, poorly maintained and unreliable? It doesn’t have to be that way at all. There are jurisdictions all over the globe where a well-maintained and functional public transit system is recognized as the Public Good that it is, and in fact it’s the preferred method of getting around. Private cars are well down the list.

Now, I’ll grant you that it’s not necessarily the best or fastest way to get around in the GTA. It’s no secret that our current urban form has been built around private automobiles: large highways, single-family homes on large lots, huge malls with large parking lots, low population density have all combined to make public transit very difficult to operate efficiently. And we’ve structured our lives and jobs and communities accordingly. You drive to work, you drive the kids to school or daycare, you drive to the mall to get groceries, you shlep all your stuff around in a car. It’s just the way it is.

Problem being, that’s simply not sustainable. I don’t need to get into greenhouse gases or climate change or emissions control; suffice it to say that our addiction to private automobiles is one of the biggest sources of smog and air pollution in North America, so there’s the impact on health and productivity to consider, never mind the environmental impact. Factor in the advent of peak oil and it becomes clear: we simply can’t structure our cities and our lives around cheap gasoline and abundant energy and inefficient land use any more. Sadly, we’re stuck with infrastructure and urban form that’s built around that, so it makes efficient and low-impact transit that much harder to achieve. But that also makes it that much more imperative. It’s not a question of cars being evil so much as a recognition that reliance on them as the primary means of getting around simply doesn’t work any more. And part of fixing that includes getting motorists to assume a greater share of the costs they’ve been offloading onto the rest of us. Whether you want to admit it or not, private automobiles are subsidized up the yingyang. As those subsidies are phased out, more and more people will make the rational economic choice of opting for other ways of getting around.

What I’ve impatiently characterized as selfishness and entitlement on the part of motorists, in that context, has to be seen for what it is: privileged distress. When you have a group of people who’ve enjoyed preferential treatment for so long that they’ve come to see it as the natural order of things, they’re going to see any revisiting of the arrangement as an attack on themselves. Suddenly they’ve become victims. It’s like MRAs who see feminism as a giant conspiracy to attack men, or bigots who whine about Political Correctness. It’s where you get idiotic memes like the “War On The Car.”

And so on. Again, nothing that hasn’t already been said, previously and more eloquently, by better people than me, but given the way things are likely to be framed over the next twelve months, worth emphasizing.

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guardiancomment:

scipsy:

It’s curious how some people can’t believe what the major scientific organizations in the world say about something, but then they are willing to trust a chart put together by some guy with a website, or what politicians say (they are, we all know, the people you can trust more).

Our contributor Sunny Hundal touched on this yesterday: The climate change message is not being heard. Here’s how to change tack

Far-right wackjobs: they’re not just tedious – they’re a genuine threat | via AlterNet | #uspoli

December 25, 2011  |  

Photo Credit: Agence-France Presse {AFP]

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The paranoia infecting a broad swath of the American right-wing can be comical at times — think about Orly Taitz and her fellow Birthers. But we laugh at our own peril, because what Richard Hofstadter famously characterized as “the paranoid style in American politics” poses a serious threat to our future: the right’s snowballing conspiracy theories could ultimately lead to disaster.

Consider what’s happening in Virginia’s Middle Peninsula on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay, among the areas in the U.S. most vulnerable to climate change. Earlier this month, Darryl Fears, reporting for the Washington Postoffered a glimpse into the madness that city planners have faced in recent months as a local Tea Party group, convinced that a nefarious plot by scientists and city officials is afoot, have disrupted their work trying to mitigate the potential impacts of rising sea levels.

“The uprising,” wrote Fears, “began at a February meeting about starting a business park for farming oysters in Mathews County.” He continued:

The program to help restore the Chesapeake Bay oyster population was slated for land owned by the county, but it was shouted down as a useless federal program that would expand the national debt. The proposal was tabled.

As the opposition grew over the summer, confrontations became so heated that some planners posted uniformed police officers at meetings and others hired consultants to help calm audiences and manage the indoor environment, several planners said.

In James City County, speakers were shouted away from a podium. In Page County, angry farmers forced commissioners to stop a meeting. In Gloucester County, planners sat stone-faced as activists took turns reading portions of the 500-page Agenda 21 text, delaying a meeting for more than an hour.

“Agenda 21” is one of a number of silly but dangerous conspiracy theories sweeping through the fever swamps of the right. Although admittedly sinister-sounding, Agenda 21 is just a blueprint for sustainable development, especially in emerging economies. It outlines how wealthier countries can contribute to smarter growth through technology transfers and public education. It stresses the importance of fighting deforestation and conserving bio-diversity — all things that normal people would consider wise.

The important thing to understand about Agenda 21 is that there is absolutely nothing binding or compelling member countries to implement any part of it. It’s not a treaty — it is entirely voluntary and certainly doesn’t have any connection to local governments. Yet for the right, with its long John Birch Society undercurrent of paranoia about international institutions, Agenda 21 represents some kind of dark UN conspiracy to impose socialism on the “free world.”

That craziness lies at the heart of Michele Bachmann’s quixotic war on energy-efficient lightbulbs. Tim Murphy reported, “The Minnesota congresswoman is part of a movement that considers ‘sustainability’ an existential threat to the United States, one with far-reaching consequences for education, transportation, and family values.”

Last year, during the Denver mayoral race, Tea Party candidate Dan Maes argued that a local bike-sharing program, a popular initiative among city residents, was a “very well-disguised” part of a plan by then-Denver mayor (and now Colorado governor) John Hickenlooper for “converting Denver into a United Nations community.” Alex Jones constantly hawks the conspiracy. Glenn Beck warned it would lead to “centralized control over all of human life on planet Earth.” And in September, Newt Gingrich, hoping to burnish his wingnutty creds, told a group of Orlando Tea Partiers that, if elected, his first order of business would be “to cease all federal funding of any kind of activity that relates to United Nations Agenda 21.” (Currently, no federal funding of any kind is used for implementing Agenda 21.)

Sorry. Didn’t mean to interrupt the shopping.

Carry on.

Don’t Betray Our Generation. Get It Done. | Common Dreams | #climatechange #kyoto

And again …

… this is where we juxtapose: this speech from a couple of days ago, and today’s announcement that Canada will formally withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol.

No comment from me necessary. Anjali’s said it all.

The four-wheel fetish: moving beyond the car | #mobilityTO #moveTO

Back to the whole War on the Car thing.

A recent post at All Fired Up suggests that driving cars essentially turns people into sociopaths. Perhaps I’m not giving the argument the space it deserves here, but it’s pretty compelling. A sample:

… if we’re looking around for a culprit for the serious democratic deficit currently facing us, the toxic public discourse that now passes for political debate, the unbridgeable left-right schism, we can stop searching right now. It’s all about car ownership.

The unnatural attachment some people have to their cars could be the subject of an entire book. It  was very much in evidence at City Hall last night in some of the questions at the opening of Toronto Talks Mobility. And, as in almost any discussion of this, someone just had to bring up one of the first things Rob Ford said as our newly installed Chief Magistrate: “The War on the Car is over.”

Yeah, well. I’ve gone on at some length about that meme, so not much point in rehashing it, but there was one guy at the microphone, fairly shortly after moderator Christopher Hume opened things up to questions from the audience, prompting me to tweet:

[View the story “Toronto talks mobility: one tweet … ” on Storify]

Apparently, it struck a chord.

The staying power of the “War on the Car” meme isn’t just about stupidity. It also speaks to the lingering effects of bad planning and misguided nostalgia for better times that never were. So let’s consider some of the things that should guide our thinking when we’re designing our communities and shaping infrastructure, because those are essential to the way we move people and goods around.

  • Peak oil.
  • Carbon emissions. 
  • Non-sustainable urban form.
  • And this cheery piece from the Guardian, which says, basically, that if we don’t manage to get thing turned around by 2017, we’re fucked.

Not an exhaustive list, of course, but rethinking how we design our communities and how we get around isn’t just good policy any more — it’s survival. We can’t build things around the car any more.

In fact, I’ll recycle Justin Beach’s argument from last summer — there is no war on the car. As recent events shows, what we’ve got is open season on anyone who *isn’t* in a car.

Can we finally, at last, please, retire that idiotic meme?

P.S. What was that about cars turning people into sociopaths?

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Climate-change denial made even stupider

Sonny Bono’s Brother, Cui

By: John Caruso

When it comes to global warming denial, this has always been my favorite accusation:

Did you ever think that many of the scientists could be in error? I guess not. The falsifying of data probably didn’t enter your little minds. Perhaps the data was changed to get more grants? Follow the money.

This is what it means to be a conservative*: you think it’s obvious that 98% of climate scientists are falsifying data and/or supporting transparently bogus theories because they want to get their greedy little hands on some of that sweet, sweet grant money, while at the same time recognizing no financial incentive whatsoever on the part of oil company-funded “skeptics”—much less the oil companies themselves.

God, I love the internet sometimes. Although, again, I wouldn’t associate this kind of headuptheassness with genuine conservatism.