The Livable Region
July 21, 2006

Nice planet – but not a priority

Today’s New York Times:

From 2002 until this year, NASA’s mission statement, prominently featured in its budget and planning documents, read: “To understand and protect our home planet; to explore the universe and search for life; to inspire the next generation of explorers … as only NASA can.”

In early February, the statement was quietly altered, with the phrase “to understand and protect our home planet” deleted.

Pathetic, and tragic.

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Vancouver Sun columnist Pete McMartin is in full curmungeon today: Little Mother just wants you to know who’s the boss.” (Registration required.)

Little Mother is nice. She has the best of intentions. Of this, she is absolutely convinced. She believes she knows what is good for you, because, after all, she is a mother, and mothers know best…

McMartin’s latest scourge:

The City of Vancouver passed an anti-idling bylaw Tuesday that calls for drivers who leave a car running for more than three minutes to be levied a $50 fine…

You see how benign that is? How good for you that is? Little Mother has your best interests at heart. An idling car wastes gasoline. Gasoline, when combusted, causes greenhouses gases. Greenhouse gases cause global warming. Global warming is bad. Therefore, idling is bad. Therefore, we need a bylaw against it.

The usual formula: treat the issue with contempt while acknowledging its logic. And then, the coup-de-grace:

… every study of the Greater Vancouver region has shown that the air quality here has grown better every year since the late 1980s. Not worse, better….

The question could be asked then:

Why is there a need for this bylaw when the effect of its enforcement would have, at best, minimal impact on air quality?

But why, Pete, has air quality improved?

Could it be that all those Little-Mother laws, those interventions in our lives by government since the 1970s, have made the difference, have actually achieved the improvements which you can now use as justification to oppose anything similar?

In Jack Doyle’s Taken For A Ride: Detroit’s Big Three and the Politics of Air Pollution, you can find a detailed account of the automotive industry’s fight against environmental regulation and health legislation – every step of the way. From seat belts to catalytic converters, there wasn’t an improvement they didn’t oppose. And the techniques are all familiar: pretty much the same tools being used today to oppose action to deal with climate change.

Including ridicule and contempt.

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Today on Andrew Sullivan‘s blog:

The real danger is a newly emboldened Islamist region with a chokehold on the world’s oil….  We can pretend we can affect that outcome, but I fear we cannot. We can only watch and redouble our efforts to get energy from sources other than from a region on the verge of full-scale conflict. (Emphasis mine.)

B.C.’s strategy: redouble our efforts to build more roads, bridges and an urban form dependent on an oil-based transportation system.  And then price the system as though it were free. 

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