On March 25th, the New York Times published a guest opinion column entitled “Why Housing Policy Is Climate Policy.” The authors, Scott Wiener and Daniel Kammen, argue that in order to reduce “greenhouse gas,” we need “denser housing and public transportation.” They go on to state that “low-density, single-family-home zoning is effectively a ban on economically diverse communities.”
Like so much coming from the corporate Left in America, probably the most dangerous aspect of this column is the blithe presumption that every premise they put forth is beyond debate. The climate is going to catastrophically change, and emissions from burning fossil fuel are the culprit. High density housing will help lower CO2 emissions. Public transportation is a good thing.
Just hold on. Stop right there. Emissions of CO2 may not change the climate very much at all, and the cost of precipitously curtailing them condemns billions of people around the world to prolonged poverty and misery. And in any case, high density housing is creating more CO2 emissions, because existing roads cannot handle the increased traffic. And no, public transportation is not always a good thing.
Scott Wiener, a California legislator, and Daniel Kammen, a Berkeley professor who submits reports to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, are part of the “consensus” that has decided any of us who question their premises are either stupid, evil, or paid hacks. They are part of the “consensus” that thinks it’s not just ok, but morally necessary to suppress our opinions and silence debate. They are part of the “consensus” that brands us as “deniers,” impugns our motives, questions our integrity, and dismisses our facts and evidence.
When you look at the policies being promoted and enacted by Wiener and Kammen’s fellow travelers in business and politics, there is irony in every direction. It is ironic that the people who they claim to want to help are harmed the most by the insanely expensive enforcement of renewable energy, housing density and housing scarcity. It is ironic that the fossil fuel industry, which they claim to oppose, becomes more profitable when new drilling is curtailed, and new power plants using coal and natural gas have to be constructed to fill in every time the sun goes down, the wind stops blowing, or yet another nuclear power plant is decommissioned. It is ironic that they decry the “footprint” of fossil fuel, but are blind to the sprawling blight of windmills and solar farms. It is ironic that they care about “environmental justice,” yet seem completely indifferent to the exploitation endured by miners in Africa who scrap for the cobalt needed in batteries. It is ironic that every time another government regulation or grant or subsidy or tax is enacted to “help create housing and house the homeless,” the attendant corruption and fraud and monstrous inefficiencies manage to waste nearly every dime.
Perhaps the biggest irony is how Wiener and Kammen, and everyone who agrees with them, have no apparent faith in technology to solve the challenges they claim to care about so much. After all, the epicenter of “green” consciousness is California, which also happens to be the epicenter of the global high technology industry. So why can’t they optimistically see a few years into the future, and quit trying to make everyone’s lives so constrained and so expensive? Imagine.
Within the next few decades there will be modular, plug-and-play desalination units that coastal municipalities can put offshore to supply abundant water to their residents. In turn, these desalination units can be powered by modular, safe, plug-and-play nuclear reactors, scaled to whatever size is required, and nearly maintenance free. Within the next fifty years or so, energy will be beamed from orbiting solar power stations to earth-based receivers to deliver uninterrupted electricity. We’re probably less than 100 years from having commercial, scalable fusion power.
These are just a few of the wondrous innovations that are only one or two generations away, a mere heartbeat in the span of human civilization, and the only thing stopping them are people like Scott Wiener, Daniel Kammen, and organizations like the California Air Resources Board, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Let these dogmatic, tyrannical utopians have their way, and we will sink into a stultifying mire of politically anointed and narrowly specified approved technologies. We will stagnate. The great arc of human progress will come to a crashing halt.
Within a few decades, self-driving cars, some owned for personal use, others privately owned but serving the public, will zoom along smart hyperlanes at speeds well in excess of 100 MPH. They will convoy with each other, running close together, using linked navigation systems, to facilitate far more throughput per lane mile than today’s freeways. Overhead, within a few decades, electric drones will shuttle people to and from their chosen destinations at speeds well in excess of 200 MPH. And far overhead, at around 50,000 feet, supersonic electric planes will fly at speeds well in excess of 1,000 MPH. Mr. Kammen. Mr. Wiener. Get out of the way.
Meanwhile, conventional solutions abound in spacious California, and most everywhere else on earth. There’s nothing wrong with increasing density in the urban core of existing cities. But why not also open up empty rangeland for development? California, for example, is only 5 percent urbanized. Why not increase that by 50 percent? Recommission the San Onofre nuclear power plant, adding a few reactors, and raise the Shasta Dam (by 200 feet, instead of today’s tepidly promoted, still politically unpalatable 18 feet), and you’d have all the power and water you’ll ever need for millions of new residents, living in single family dwellings, with private backyards.
Some people like to live in urban high rises. Others prefer homes with yards. That’s called choice. It’s also called freedom. It’s the blessing of capitalism and the American way. And facilitating the ability for the private sector to compete to make those choices available and affordable to anyone with a decent job, is the legitimate duty of government. Not coming up with all these theoretical crises and using them as an excuse to cram us into apartments, make us ride trains, and rig the system so that a mandated, constrained life is actually more expensive.
More caustic than Mr. Kammen’s dogmatism, or the ironic contradictions that inform his premises and his convictions, is his hypocrisy. Rather than suggest everyone else lose the opportunity to have a home with a yard, Mr. Kammen, who lives in a five bedroom house on an expansive lot in the Oakland hills, is invited to move himself and his family into one of the new units to be offered in a six story “economically diverse” condominium situated in a “transit village.” He is invited to get rid of his car, place his children in the nearest public school, and practice what he preaches.
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Edward Ring is a contributing editor and senior fellow with the California Policy Center, which he co-founded in 2013 and served as its first president. He is also a senior fellow with the Center for American Greatness, and a regular contributor to the California Globe. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Economist, Forbes, and other media outlets.
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