Posts Tagged ‘Greenwash’

Pay No Attention to the Trainwreck on the Left

Saturday, March 20th, 2010

Reluctantly, very reluctantly, and after much pleading from the organizers, I agreed to show up to a meeting entitled, “What’s Up With The Left in Madison.”

My reluctance was based in my long involvement with Progressive Dane from its inception (’93?) until a couple of years ago. For all of those years I tried to get the party’s leadership as well as elected officials to understand the economic & environmental trainwreck around the bend if they didn’t start applying the brakes to all of that car-mandatory development out in the ‘burbs. I even worked hard for countless candidates — many of whom won — who promised to do something about all of the bad planning.

All of those efforts were to no avail.

Not only did they not listen, but PD alders & county supervisors actively accelerated the paving at an alarming rate.

The result:   An economic and environmental policy trainwreck with one train piling into the next in a fog of bad decisionmaking.

Trainwreck #1: Foreclosures. Housing in Madison’s ‘burbs, extending out into rural subdivisions and horsey-doggie sprawl, is now so far flung and anti-pedestrian and anti-transit that the poor, the young, the elderly and the conscientiously carless cannot access it. And for those who just value a human-scaled place (regardless of their socio-economic demographic pigeonhole), it has no value. This destruction of value was brought about by a widely recognized lack of universal access planned into these developments. Walls of distance and speeding car traffic as it were.

In a sense, cosmic justice prevailed as the foreclosure crisis hit car-mandatory places the hardest. Unfortunately, however, it is hurting us all, as the cratering real estate values out there are devastating Madison & Dane County’s tax base.

These economically unsustainable development patterns were heartily supported by elected progressives with nary a peep from party membership (yours truly excepted, of course).

Did the price crash have to happen, given the national foreclosure crisis? Nope. Most of our walking/biking/transit-friendly ‘hoods have either a) maintained their value or b) actually increased in value. This same trend has occurred across the country with human-scaled neighborhoods holding their value while cul-de-sacs tank in the same region. Instead of seeing the foreclosure crisis for what it is — a disaster for all — progressives see it as an opportunity to…squat! (Yes, this is the next direct action actually proposed at the meeting.) So ok, it will make for great theater. And I like theater. But then what? Do we sit there all self-satisfied that we have stuck-it-to-the-man while continuing to support policies that continually drive down our tax base?! What sort of vicious cycle of insanity is this?

Trainwreck #2: The abovedescribed tax base destruction (developers churning out soulless subdivisions -> 1960s-educated planners collaborating -> ‘progressive’ elected officials wielding rubber stamps approving every car-mandatory subdivision ->  gullible homebuyers (or, perhaps more likely, homebuyers given no choice) -> crazy bankers -> (soon) crazy squatters) is now squeezing every city & county department, including those departments forming the social safety net advocated for by the good progressives. At today’s meeting, progressives at first stood stunned, then started casting about for scapegoats. People, only one department has continued to receive double digit year-over-year budget increases, and it is the very people who brought the housing crisis to you in the first place: The highway department! Pavement expansion is raging at 10 times population growth + inflation. TEN times! That’s good money chasing after bad, folks. We’ve been there, done that…and crashed. Yet we keep piling the people’s cash into the same bad land use patterns. It’s not a goat you’re looking for, it’s a hog; and the hog sits in the chief of highways seat. And your endorsed ‘progressive’ elected officials continue to slop that hog.

The car-mandatory nature of our elected leaders’ policies has created trainwreck #3: Increasingly filthy air, thanks to city-mandated driving (a direct result of car-mandatory places). The air is getting so filthy, in fact, that Madison is soon to be designated a dirty air zone by the EPA (‘non-attainment’ in the jargon). This will seriously damage Madison’s ability to attract & retain good jobs, as potential employers will recoil at the extra hoops mandated by the feds when air pollution exceeds the allowable levels.

And while progressives perseverate mightily about the need for good, family-supporting jobs, they fail to see the environment as anything but a white environmentalist/elitist/hobbyist’s concern. (Emphasis on white; there was much hand-wringing about the overwhelming whiteness of the progressive community.). Folks, dirty air is bad for everybody. But the poor — disproportionately non-white — will be disproportionately hit. Those jobs the poor need? Gone thanks to dirty air. (Milwaukee and other rustbelt cities, perpetually under the EPA’s thumb have been hemorrhaging jobs since the inception of the Clean Air Act. Coincidence? Me thinks not. And no, it isn’t the Act’s fault, it is the fault of short-sighted local & state leaders who worship cars more than their constituents’ economic and physical health.)

Then there are the children of the poor. We know that they will suffer disproportionately from air pollution-induced asthma (do I need to go into how bad this is for the developmental progress of a child?).

Fighting against dirty air is not a hobby. Nor is it only a concern of only white enviros.

Trainwreck #4: Dirty drinking water. So much land is paved over that our aquifers are no longer recharging as they should, thus rendering increasingly contaminated water. Combine the paving with constant leaking of petrochemicals onto that pavement (tire & brake grit, exhaust that settles on soil & pavement, oil leaks, etc.); then, after a rain, that filth rushes across that pavement, to sewers, then directly to our surface waters (which now feed the aquifer thanks to paving over of infiltration zones) and you’ve got a recipe for hydrologic disaster…. Case in point: the combination described here has put the kibosh on developing a well for the industrial southeast side, perhaps imperiling hundreds of jobs. Jobs, people!

The biggest trainwreck of all is upcoming: energy. The $4/gallon summers of 2007 & 2008 were the first dominos to set in motion the housing market catastrophe. (In car-mandatory places families faced 2 choices: fill the SUV or pay the mortgage; in the end, neither was economically sustainable.)

But that is nothing compared to what we will be facing soon.

So far, the military has been able to keep the oil supplies open, but the endless wars over oil are proving to be costly in lives, treasure, constitutional rights and basic justice. Social justice advocates often bemoan the de-facto military draft (crushing economic necessity forcing individuals to ‘volunteer’ for the military, etc.), but they typically fail to see first causes: Most of our military is now dedicated to fighting for oil. The world’s #1 consumer of oil? The military. For what? Fighting for oil. The snake is eating its tail.

That is to say, expect even more of the above.

Unless. Unless, we get a handle on our resource consumption and the fouling of our own nests. Because folks, if we don’t, there won’t be any justice left to attain. For anyone.

But this was entirely too mind-blowing for the good progressives to grasp at the meeting Saturday. When we were asked to write down our vision for the city if we achieved a progressive majority on the city council, most people dreamed their dreams as the exercise intended. Affordable housing for all. Racial harmony. Family supporting jobs. Full funding for social services. A strong Regional Transit Authority. And on & on, the same litany we’ve come to know & love about the progressive vision. (And yes, I do love it. As far as it goes. Which isn’t far enough to do any of the above….)

My response to what Madison would look like with a progressive majority? Massively increased paving over of rich, precious, Dane County farmland. Dirtier air. Filthier water. More car traffic. Poor people cut off from jobs due to walls of distance. Planning that plans universal access out of our urban landscape.

Face it, our ‘progressive’ elected officials voted for all of the above in the past and continue to do so. There is no evidence it would change with a majority.

Thus, many of us have simply quit working for any candidates. (At least until we see some evidence of real change.) With the loss of key electoral volunteers, progressives have continued to lose strength on the council.

For no amount of pressure from organized groups seems to have any bearing on their decisions. Neither 20 hours a week of volunteer labor….Nor being a ward captain turning out margins of victories….Nor cold hard progressive cash…Nothing seems to work with these people. (This was, thankfully, alluded to by several other participants).

Many at the meeting lamented the high level of apathy in Madison. I strongly disagree. This city is so organized around mutually supporting — and countless — progressive causes that it should be clear to our elected officials that we do, in fact, want progress. Not Detroit’s vision of a city-enforced car mandate. Not the Teabaggers’ vision of an unstable, grindingly impoverished and violent future. We have stated over & over that we want something better. In fact, I view Madison’s strong civic culture much like a venerable Roman arch, with each organization forming the arch & wall (each brick in the pillar or stone in the arch representing an organization) mutually reinforcing neighboring, allied organizations.

We all hang together or....

But when the keystone element at the top is missing/weak/lacking in conviction, the whole edifice falls apart. In this metaphor, the keystone element is each of our elected officials. Given that they are universally AWOL with regard to the desires of their constituents, the whole edifice falls apart, just as a Roman arch would.

In the case of Madison, the people are doing a yeoman’s job of holding things together, pulling together the increasingly tight resources they have in their non-profits to make things work as best they can for those who have very little. Yet there was a lot of self-flaggelation/blaming ourselves for this sorry situation. Again, I vehemently disagree; the hardworking, civically-engaged people of Madison are not to blame. What is missing is that strong keystone element, starting with the out-of-touch mayor, but including every alder — yes, the ‘progressive’ ones inclusive.

There is no hope of getting through to the current crop of elected officials. In their hands, our destiny lies in gluttonous energy use, car-mandatory land use patterns, transportation only for the well-wheeled, dirtier & dirtier air  and filthier & filthier water.

They simply do not have the capacity to get it.

Pick Up an Isthmus! Then read more about Jevons Paradox here….

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

If you are coming here because of my article in the Isthmus, and for the first time, welcome!

[Regular readers: Please pick up an Isthmus Thursday, because I’ll have an Op-Ed in there. I’ll try to post the direct link once it is up there. Update: here’s the link. If you like it, please consider clicking the “recommend” box, just to the right of the article. ]

The Op-Ed deals with entropy & ethics* as it has been playing out in the political arena here in Madison. For reasons of space constraints and unity of theme, I kept it pretty narrowly focused on the issue of over-paving, the resultant forced car use and the resulting increased overall energy use citywide, despite all the hoopla surrounding the mayor’s groovey-green gizmos sprouting atop fire stations around the city.

I make the case that the big environmental issue facing us all is the issue of Jevons Paradox,

the proposition that technological progress that increases the efficiency with which a resource is used, tends to increase (rather than decrease) the rate of consumption of that resource.

In other words, as we get more efficient, we end up burning even more. Wants, now easily attainable through efficiencies, become needs.

Mayor Pave’s glorified solar panel sitting atop a “green” building, set in the energy intensive carscapes of suburbia, is just one example of Jevons at work. Some might call it cognitive dissonance. Some might call it greenwashing. Others hypocrisy. I’ll just blame Jevons. (For now.)

Other examples….Take for instance the US car fleet and the Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency (CAFE) standards. From 1970-1990 we doubled the average MPG of the “fleet.” Guess what we did in the meantime? We drove more than twice as much on a per capita basis. Same with houses. In 1970 the average house size was 1200 square feet. And they were seives; energy hogs in the extreme. At least on a per square foot basis. By 1990 the average new home was twice as efficient, on a per square foot basis. But guess what happened? The average home not only got twice as big, there were fewer people living in each house! In both cases we actually moved backward in terms of total per capita energy expenditure despite having gotten more efficient in a technological sense.

Now we’ve got mainstream enviros telling us that we’ll be just fine if we just get more solar panels on roofs, if we just all bought Toyota Piouses. But we’ve seen that movie before…double efficiency…more consumption…double efficiency again…more consumption….

That we have made such technological progress and are relentlessly consuming ever more, More, MORE! tells me that something is missing from the dialogue — ethics.

I would suggest that a radical overhaul of our ethic — personal, professional, community — is in order. We will have to start with a big, heaping helping  of plain, old self-control. [Gasp!] Thus, at the personal level, when we make an investment in, say, an energy efficient furnace, we shouldn’t then use the savings to buy a giant professional-grade refrigerator, add onto the house, pump out a second or third kid, or go jetting off somewhere. At the policy level, when our politicians vote to build green buildings, they shouldn’t site them in car-only neighborhoods. Hell, they shouldn’t create car-only neighborhoods at all.

We’ll also have to agree that there are no silver bullets, no messianic miracle fuels (no, not even solar, nor switchgrass), no groovey-green fixes (no, not even windpower; and here) that will get us all the way back down to 350 (ppm CO2 in the atmosphere). Every form of concentrated energy has its limitations and drawbacks.

Even if we were to discover a messianic miracle fuel that was cheap, easy to produce, burned nothing and created no pollution, think about what we would do with all that energy. First think of all the wasteful ways we use the limited energy we do have. Now imagine that it is unlimited. I reckon we’d pave the world. Why? Because we could.

Thus, self-control will be the key ingredient in getting us down from our current 387 ppm — on a trajectory to 700 — to 350 and cleaning up the other environmental messes we’ve already made….

I also think that part of the ethic will include good, old fashioned shaming. Polite Midwesterners will be horrified at the prospect, no doubt. Polite (though direct) Midwesterner Hans Noeldner has written extensively about the element of shaming in fashioning a new consciousness, and my buddy Tim Wong has been practicing it regularly on local listservs for years (Bikies, And I’m not exactly quiet, either. Making it real, bringing it down from the policy level to the personal, Hans hammered the point home on the Madison Area Bus Advocates listserv:

We need to tell people that their choices and behaviors really matter.  And that all of us have much to learn.  Thus the most important thing is to challenge people to just get out there and begin occupying their communities as HUMAN BEINGS again.  So long as well-meaning people remain behind that damned windshield, they will not learn the first thing about what we/collectively must do to create – not “walkable communities” – but “communities that walk”…and bike…and have enough people walking and biking to make transit viable.
Perhaps our message should be in-your-face: “Stop passing the buck!  Habitat follows behavior.”

We need to tell people that their choices and behaviors really matter.  And that all of us have much to learn.  Thus the most important thing is to challenge people to just get out there and begin occupying their communities as HUMAN BEINGS again.  So long as well-meaning people remain behind that damned windshield, they will not learn the first thing about what we/collectively must do to create – not “walkable communities” – but “communities that walk”…and bike…and have enough people walking and biking to make transit viable.

Perhaps our message should be in-your-face: “Stop passing the buck!  Habitat follows behavior.”

Amen, Brother Hans.

And finally, those who end up getting shamed need to learn how to disassociate their person from their machinery. You are not your deathmobile, no matter how tightly you grip that steering wheel.

So sustainability, resiliency, green living — whatever buzzword you choose — is going to require extreme responsibility at all levels of government, all types of business enterprises, for-profits, non-profits, and yes, each and every individual in their daily lives whether at home, in their community or at work.

Maybe start by  learning how to make your community more sustainable…like at the upcoming Sustainable Atwood “Big Picture” event on January 28, 2010, 7-9 PM at the United Way Building, 2059 Atwood Avenue.

And consider walking, biking or taking the bus there (bus lines #3 & 4 run within a block of this address).

It’s a start.

*I’d like to thank the Brothers Noeldner, Paul and Hans, for generating insight into these issues and how they relate to our current environmental dilemmas.

Mayor Pave on the March: Massive Paving Budget Passes

Thursday, November 12th, 2009

They passed it. On a voice vote (for all intents & purposes, unanimously).

Mayor Pave is on the march.

And the zombies on the council are following.

Meanwhile, Dean Mosiman, ‘dean’ of the local Dying Mainstream Media completely missed the record borrowing for paving in the budget he ‘covered.’ He could only focus on Ald. Jed Sanborn’s tantrums against projects that actually improve our quality of life. (What is it about fiscal conservatives and their hatred of fun?)

The fact that not one “progressive” member of the council stood up to the massive paving spree is continuing proof that there are no friends of the enivronment, our health, or fiscal prudence at the political level in Madison, Wisconsin. Indeed, I’d agree with Mikhail Gorbachev’s recent assessment that

There is the wall between those who cause climate change and those who suffer the consequences. There is the wall between those who heed the scientific evidence and those who pander to vested interests. And there is the wall between the citizens who are changing their own behavior and want strong global action, and the leaders who are so far letting them down.

By passing this pro-car budget, our local leaders ignored the scientific evidence regarding car emissions and global climate catastrophe; instead they pandered to the shrinking-but-still-powerful motoring interests. They ignored the fact that their own constituents are indeed “changing their own behavior” and consciously driving less than they have in a generation. (Yes, driving has been down year-over-year for three years in a row in Madison, Wisconsin. The only mode of transportation to increase? Bicycling.) They are ignoring the local calls to action (and here, and here, and here, etc., et cetera, Et Cetera).

Our local leaders have, as Gorby said, let us down. Gorby was a brave leader who had the guts to open up his Stalinist system to the light of day and let it wither and die a relatively peaceful death. Our leaders, unfortunately, cling to a failed ideology; an ideology of car-worship that rivals Stalinism in its brutal results. The evidence is all around us: the carnage on our streets; the destruction of our climate; the cascading fiscal catastrophes emanating from the automobile industry out to the cul-de-sacs; and then the obvious — our recent oil-wars in Iraq & Afghanistan (and those are just appetizers for more oil wars to come).

Mayor Pave, Tear Down That Wall of Paving!

Mayor’s Budget Puts Madison on War Footing

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

Last night the mayor made a perfunctory resolution honoring veterans in commemoration of Veterans Day (Kristin Czubkowski live blogged it here; see 5:45 PM). It was sponsored by him and him alone.

How magnanimous.

As a veteran, here’s something I’d like to see him and his pliant council read as they wield their rubber stamps for a budget bloated with paving, automobile promotion, energy gluttony and thus more war forevermore.

Instead of doing something about the repercussions of our automobile addiction (i.e., war), the “green” mayor has budgeted for:

  • Doubling overall spending on paving since taking office ($33M in 2003 -> $68M in 2009).
  • Doubling the overall paving debt of the city (from an already bloated $47M in 2003 to $96M in the 2010 budget).
  • Trebling the annual increase in the paving contribution to the city’s debt ($11.5M in 2003 -> $35.3M in 2010).
  • Bloating debt service by 33% as a percentage of the operating budget (from 9% of the city budget to 12%).
  • An explosion of debt service to a whopping 17% of the operating budget by 2013.

Where does this fit into the big picture of the city budget? Well, guess what the single largest item in the capital budget is? Paving. The fastest growing component (ongoing) of the capital budget? Paving.

And the mayor’s passion for paving isn’t just a fiscal disaster. The capital budget is one of the major determinants of the look and feel of our city for generations to come. The budgets put together by this mayor have been highway heavy in the extreme. So he is creating places that promote automobilism to the exclusion of sustainable ways of getting around. His highwayscapes endanger pedestrians, terrify bicyclists and make transit untenable. Every tool we have to help pull us out of the climate/energy/fiscal tailspin is nixed by his highwayscapes.

Moreover, the ever tightening squeeze on the operations budget will mean budget difficulties for our quality of life, social & basic services. Saliently, Madison Metro bus service, considered an “operating” expense, will forevermore be in a vise between anti-transit/highwayscaped land use patterns (which cost more to serve) and an eternally squeezed operating budget (that is, a squeeze induced by debt service on those selfsame highways.)

Indeed, at this year’s “Neighborhood Roundtable” the mayor declared his intention of completely cutting all city funds to Madison Metro.

Yet he brags that this is a “reasonable budget for hard times.”

I call it a warmongering budget, Mayor Pave.

The Most Disappointing Alder in Madison’s History

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

This is so disappointing. This stalwart of Progressive Dane, the member who was always pushing the party to be more progressive, more environmentally friendly, more alt-transportation friendly, now in elected office (under the power of progressivism) has slouched right back into mediocrity; stuck in the muddy middle right along with Mayor Pave and the rest of his pliant, car-crazed council.

Ald. Satya Rhodes-Conway is probably, technically (SATs, ACTs, GREs, etc.) the smartest person on the council– possibly the smartest in its history. In her day job she burnishes her progressive credentials with extensive research on–as they say in smart people-speak — ‘high road’ public policy strategies. Now that she is in a position to actually make it happen, she cowers before the auto-obsessed rightists in her district. Sure constituents are important when one is an elected official, but the particular constituents she cowers before have never — and never will — vote for her anyway.

But cowering before bellowing blowhards seems to be all the rage among good liberals. Indeed, the trickle down theory seems to be at work here, as The Current Occupant (of the Oval Office) is cowering before the generals, insurance executives and coal barons even as we speak…..

Looks like I’ll be adding Ald. Rhodes-Conway to my ever-lengthening list of zombie politicians.

More Democratic Betrayal on the Environment

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

Laugh or cry?

Clean coal Senator Kerry? It doesn’t exist.

Still suffering from those nuclear too-cheap-to-meter fantasies, dear Senator? Get over it. It is still the wrong energy source. It always be.

Just pass a modest carbon tax that ratchets up over time and watch a billion good ideas spring forth. We don’t need your top-down, Stalinistic plans. We can get it down to 350 on our own.

Just make sure to reduce the income tax (or increase tax credits) by an amount equal to that brought in by the carbon tax. Structure the tax reductions/credits such that the impact on the poor & middle class will be nil (and thereby shutting up both the whiny liberals as well as your tax-phobic buddies over on the Republican side of the aisle).

In the meantime, maybe you & your party should stop taking so much money from the old, gray power industries of yore. It might clear up your judgment.

Madison Metro’s Numbers Crash

Monday, October 5th, 2009

It is worse than I originally thought. By my number crunching (from the latest Madison Metro Operating Statistics For Periods Ending 8/31/2008 &8/31/2009–opens in PDF) Madison Metro lost more than 4.5% of its ridership in August 2009 compared to the same period in ’08. That’s ugly. It is a lot worse than prior months whose numbers were already abysmally depressed.

And it will only get worse. The same bus fare models bus advocates used to predict the current losses also show a steepening dropoff over time (imagine a downward pointing hockey stick on a graph). Here’s what happens: as the higher fares start to inflict their pain, people start seeking out alternatives: walking, carpooling, biking (the only mode to actually increase during this time period), or just eliminating trips altogether. That often takes a few months to work out, but people will work it out, and they will get themselves out of the jam inflicted upon them by this car loving mayor. That is unfortunate for our beloved bus system, but there you have it.

Financially, the numbers are abysmal. It looks like Metro’s revenues have crashed, missing the budget by $799,815. The bulk of that–$630,631–was the result of depressed ridership, thanks to the fare jacking.

Heckuva job, Mayor Pave!

I’m just truly sorry that the bus system and bus riders end up being collateral damage in his jihad against cleaner modes of transportation.

MSN Mayor Paves His Way to a Higher State of Enlightenment*

Saturday, October 3rd, 2009

We are so benighted, yet so lucky to have such an enlightened leader:

While I don’t have a problem with our Capitol view preservation height limit, I generally view height limits and rigid growth boundaries as anti-urban polices that are, in the end, also not in the best interests of our natural environment.

Mansion Hill Neighborhood, he’s talking to you! Just accept that ugly bloatitecture in your midst!

Critics of his bloated paving budgets, just deal with it: more concrete is better; it is a sign of having reached the highest state of enlightenment.

*Alt title: “Mayor Pave’s Ghost in the Growth Machine”

Repercussions of the Bus Fare Jacking: Mayor Pave’s Continued Ass-covering

Saturday, October 3rd, 2009

Mayor Pave’s excuse-mongering continues wrt to decimating transit ridership in Madison. In a blog post that would have made Big Brother proud, he boasts:

…Metro [Magazine] reported that 65% of the top 100 transit operators reported that they were having difficulty providing service due to steady ridership demands and decreased funding. Not us.

Yeah, not us. Not us because The Pavemeister jacked up fares so much that it drove away ridership. After year-over-year gains in ridership of 5-6% over the last 10 or so years, the mayor’s draconian 33% fare increase has been driving ridership down. The latest figures show losses of up to 2%. This, in an economy that makes car ownership prohibitive for more & more people.

Yet the Greenwasher-in-Chief crows,

Thanks to the tough but necessary budget decisions the Council and I have made [what a hero], I can now say for a certainty that my 2010 budget will contain no fare increases or service cuts for the bus system.

…while ignoring the fact that no mayor in the last 20 years has cut bus service as much as he has over the last six.

And no one in the DMSM has the guts enough–much less the analytical abilities–to call him on it.

Olympic Dreams Dashed, but Cyclocross to Come to Olin Park

Saturday, October 3rd, 2009

I suppose it is good to see local business leaders finally recognize the economic power of bicycling. But to see Kathleen Falk and Mayor Pave hogging the limelight on the Olympic bid was, well, quite disgusting given that both have done a lot to destroy all that makes biking great around here: Mayor Pave doesn’t have the first clue about designing a city for bikes; Falk rubber-stamps of all that ticky-tacky sprawl development devouring Dane County’s best cycling landscapes plus the super-sized highways to serve them.


This just in….. exclusive from the first article linked above re:

But Madison officials said Friday they are already working to bring other big biking events to the area, with Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz promising news soon about a “very exciting bicycling event.” The mayor’s office declined to provide additional detail.

It will be a fancy-pants cyclocross event. Likely held at Olin Park. Replete with Belgian beer, no doubt.

You heard it here first!