Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.

Thinking Too Big? or Too Small? or 'Hearts & Minds'**

by DeAnander Wed May 31st, 2006 at 08:21:17 AM EST

Proposals to reform energy generation and reduce demand are often rejected as excessively Utopian or radical.  But at the same time most informed participants in the problem-solving effort admit that such plans fall far short of what is really needed -- even in the versions that are critiqued as excessively radical!  Many plan-proposers hope to use a "camel's nose" or "wedge" effect, i.e. get people used to moderate changes of emphasis without violating anyone's comfort zone, and thus create a slow cultural drift towards sustainability.

The problem is urgent.  The burning question is one of effectiveness and optimal use of effort in a limited time:  is gradualism self-defeating?  will it be a case of too little too late?  is radicalism self-defeating?  will it cause a mulish resistance and denial that wastes more precious time or risks a backlash?

If the public understood the real magnitude of the problem would they be paralysed entirely by fear or despair and unable to act?  Should we downplay the various threats of peak oil and climate destab?  or is the public jaded and drama-addicted, needing a compelling bleed/lead story line to shake it out of apathy and complacency?
**From the front page - whataboutbob

If we represent the problem in its true magnitude, do we enable action by suggesting "7 Simple and Painless Things You Can Do" (mostly ineffectual but encouraging -- the "baby steps" principle)?  Or do we need bold ideas and big ideas to be credible when offering proposed solutions to such an enormous problem?

Is a puzzlement.  ET relevance: I and a couple of other folks griped that the Energise America proposal was too timid.  Others said that more radical proposals would scare people off.  More discussion below the fold.

Here's the truly inconvenient truth: Scientists have long been warning that the world must cut back on greenhouse-gas emissions by as much as 70 percent, as soon as possible, if we're to have a fighting chance of stabilizing the climate. Yet even with full participation by the United States, the controversial Kyoto Protocol -- the only global plan in the works -- would hardly begin to do that. Its goal is to reduce emissions by 5.2 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. And so far, the best plan offered by American politicians -- the Climate Stewardship act sponsored by Senators John McCain and Joseph Lieberman -- has an even more modest goal: it aims to cut emissions in the United States merely to 2000 levels by 2010. And the Senate has rejected it twice.

What we need is something more imaginative and daring. But where's the discussion of anything like that? The "Take Action" page on the Web site for Mr. Gore's movie offers no such vision -- the boldest action it suggests is to back the McCain-Lieberman bill. And when I recently asked David Yarnold, Environmental Defense's executive vice president, why his group wasn't offering solutions more dramatic than Congress has thought up, he replied, "Why would you want to lobby for something that can't get done?"

Last June, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California became one of the few elected politicians with the courage to talk about climate change in the language it requires by promoting a plan to reduce his state's greenhouse-gas emissions to 80 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2050. But Mr. Schwarzenegger has since warned of the need to move slowly so as not to "scare the business community."

Turned Off by Global Warming

The author appeals to all of us:  Well, I for one am very, very worried. As the mother of two young boys, I want to do everything I can to protect their future. But I feel like a shnook buying fluorescent light bulbs -- as Environmental Defense recommends -- when at last count, China, India and the United States were building a total of 850 new coal-fired power plants. Clearly, it's time for some radical ideas about solving global warming. But where's the radical realism when we need it?

Radical Realism.  Now there's a phrase to bookmark.

Here I'm gonna jump to Simon Retallack's article 'Ankelohe and Beyond: Communicating Climate Change' from Open Democracy.

More newsprint, broadcast time and web space is being devoted to the issue of climate change than ever before, so it would not be a surprise if journalists were to pat themselves on the back for their efforts. Far from it. On 18-21 May 2006 at a country retreat in northern Germany, journalists and writers from Britain, Germany and the United States will be meeting to discuss where they are going wrong and how they can do better.

    Writers taking part in the "Ankelohe Conversations" on the twin problems of climate change and the oil endgame will be asking themselves why - despite all the coverage they are now giving these issues - the public is doing so little to take action.

I will skip over, for the nonce, the painful irony of all these do-good journos flying and driving to a remote country retreat to talk about climate change, rather than teleconferencing.   Anyway, I recommend the article in its entirety.  To summarise, despite all the media coverage of climate change, actual changes in consumer behaviour are very small.  In the UK:

   * Less than 1% of the population has switched to an energy company supplying renewably-sourced electricity.

    * Under 0.3% has installed a form of renewable micro-generation such as solar PV or thermal panels

    * Many people admit to not even trying to use their cars less.

    * Purchases of highly-efficient cars represent less than 0.2% of new cars sold.

    * Just 2% of people claim to offset their emissions from flying.

Clearly there is a hysteresis, or an outright disconnect between the perception or admission of a problem (leaving the state of denial or ignorance) and actual attempts at mitigation.  Now here comes the interesting part.  

Research conducted in the United States as part of the Climate Message Project led by the FrameWorks Institute discovered that some of the ways in which climate change is commonly being reported is actually having a counterproductive effect - by immobilizing people.

    The FrameWorks Institute conducted a linguistic analysis of elite discourse on climate change in media coverage as well as of environmental groups' own communications on the issue, followed by one-on-one interviews and focus groups with members of the public and a national poll.

    What the FrameWorks Institute found was startling. It found that the more people are bombarded with words or images of devastating, quasi-Biblical effects of global warming, the more likely they are to tune out and switch instead into "adaptationist" mode, focusing on protecting themselves and their families, such as by buying large vehicles to secure their safety.  [yes, you read that right.  scare (some) people enough about global warming and peak oil, and their instinctive kingroup protection response is to go out and buy a gas guzzling polluting SUV.]

    FrameWorks found that depicting global warming as being about "scary weather" evokes the weather "frame" which sets up a highly pernicious set of reactions, as weather is something we react to and is outside human control. We do not prevent or change it, we prepare for it, adjust to it or move away from it. Also, focusing on the long timelines and scale of global warming further encourages people to adapt, encouraging people to think "it won't happen in my lifetime" and "there's nothing an individual can do".

    As importantly, the FrameWorks Institute found that stressing the large scale of global warming and then telling people they can solve it through small actions like changing a light-bulb evokes a disconnect that undermines credibility and encourages people to think that action is meaningless. The common practice of throwing solutions in at the end of a discussion fails to signal to people that this is a problem that could be solved at all.

    These findings were significant because they applied to modes of communication that represented the norm in terms of US news coverage and environmental groups' own communications on the issue. They showed that a typical global warming news story - outlining the scientific proof, stressing the severe consequences of inaction and urging immediate [baby] steps - was causing people to think that preventive action was futile.

    Developing more effective ways of communicating on these issues is a huge challenge. Every country is different and will require its own approach. The FrameWorks institute developed proposals for use by US climate communicators in the first few years of the Bush-Cheney administration using a distinctive approach - the strategic frame analysis.

    According to this approach, how an issue is "framed" - what words, metaphors, stories and images are used to communicate about it - will determine what frames are triggered, which deeply held worldviews, widely held assumptions or cultural models it will be judged against, and accepted or rejected accordingly. If the facts don't fit the frames that are triggered, it's the facts that are rejected not the frame.

It is that last bolded quote that speaks to the individual writing earlier, But I feel like a shnook buying fluorescent light bulbs # as Environmental Defense recommends # when at last count, China, India and the United States were building a total of 850 new coal-fired power plants.  She has been told to undertake an obviously trivial action to counteract an obviously massive crisis.

Based on that understanding, it can be decided whether a cause is best served by repeating or breaking dominant frames of discourse, or reframing an issue using different concepts, language and images, to evoke a different way of thinking, facilitating alternative choices.

    Applying this approach to communications on climate change in the United States, the FrameWorks Institute drew several conclusions:
    * It recommended placing the issue in the context of higher-level values, such as responsibility, stewardship, competence, vision and ingenuity.

    * It proposed that action to prevent climate change should be characterised as being about new thinking, new technologies, planning ahead, smartness, forward-thinking, balanced alternatives, efficiency, prudence and caring.

    * Conversely, it proposed that opponents of action be charged with the reverse of these values - irresponsibility, old thinking and inefficiency.

    FrameWorks also recommended using a simplifying model, analogy or metaphor to help the public understand how global warming works - a "conceptual hook" to make sense of information about the issue. Instead of the "greenhouse-gas effect", which was found did not perform for most people, FrameWorks recommended talking about the "CO2 blanket" or "heat-trap" to set up appropriate reasoning. This would help, it argued, to refocus communications towards establishing the man-made causes of the problem and the solutions that already exist to address it, suggesting that humans can and should act to prevent the problem now.

    The need to evoke the existence and effectiveness of solutions upfront, the FrameWorks research stressed, was paramount. And if the consequences of climate change are cited, the analysis concluded they should not appear extreme in size or scale.

Now this dumps us right back into the issue of professional and scientific integrity in the  reportage and policy proposals for climate change and peak oil.  The FrameWorks people seem to be a bit schizy themselves on the issue:  we need to represent the problem as realistically large in order to justify realistically major adjustments and mitigations, yet if we represent it as too large or too imminent, we may induce despair.

I'm writing this in haste w/o any real editing because Fearless Leader requested some discussion prior to Energise America's debut at YearlyKos, so forgive a certain fragmented or scatty quality.  I'm gonna hop back now to the godawful blockbuster "Day After Tomorrow", a proud continuation of the long tradition of modelling really bad physics with really slick CGI.  At the time of its release, while deploring the sensationalism and startrek science, many climateers (dunno what else to call "persons deeply concerned about climate destabilisation") said, "Yes it is sensationalistic, but that's what the public needs to wake up and smell tye coffee."  But according to FW study above, the doomsday sensationalism might just lead to a disinclination on the part of viewers to take any concrete action in their own lives to reduce their carbon/fossil footprint.  Since Corporateland knows everything there is to know about motivation and demotivation and agitprop, is it possible that this might have been the point?  that they knew a dose of sensationalism would have only a numbing effect and therefore was nonthreatening to advertisers, financial backers and all the rest of the GiG cult whose cooperation/permission is required to make a major film?

Cultural Inertia is definitely a factor:

Yet while I can't dispute the need for massive improvements in the energy efficiency of our buildings and the necessity to localize food production to deal with our coming energy crisis, the biggest obstacle to change seems to be cultural inertia. Most of us are zooming along blissfully in exactly the wrong direction: building more freeways, more malls, more auto-dependent housing developments, increasingly grotesque and demeaning commercial enterprises sucking the meaning out of our lives and American society as a whole. It's the collective insanity of our society that makes it possible for us to drive, consume and build freeways as though we could go on forever.

    It was on that topic that Kunstler delivered his lecture, on what he called the "psychological dimension" of what's needed to get things going on the right track, which he says is "as important as the geological dimension."

    I half expected Kunstler to say that the conference was pointless, that there was no hope for a society that needed to change its energy consumption if it were to survive. But while he was merciless in his critique of American society, I left the conference believing he was as optimistic as the rest.

[...]I think Kunstler was dead right - many of the ideas and practices about how we can make other arrangements are already in existence, but there isn't a wide demand for them. There must be a language that competes with the standing fantasies in our consumer society that makes people want to ditch their cars, stop their consumptive impulses, and make our standing commercialized social narratives as appealing as the idea of taking a bath with a corpse.

    But I wonder if the winning rhetoric involves direct insults, like calling middle Americans who live in suburbia "craven f---ups" to their face. I wouldn't write it off instantly, given the popularity of serial insult artists like Dr. Phil. Kunstler also emphasized that talking about peak oil and automobile dependency just once to someone isn't going to make any converts. "You're going to have to employ repetition ... to an uncomfortable degree."

    I know what I'd do if someone kept telling me I was a craven f---up; I'd react angrily and cling to my way of life all the more desperately. Finding the right rhetoric that makes people want to change is a high art and one of our greatest challenges.

The received wisdom is that you don't insult or confront people if you want to change behaviour;  they will just get angry and sulky.  OTOH, we praise the work of satirical shows like Sat Night Live and The Spitting Image which insult, mock, and deride in an effort to critique social inertia and government policies.  Is there a place for attack-dog humour and journalism in the struggle for a soft landing?

Fiction Writers can have tremendous cultural power, for good or ill.  No one I think seriously denies the social-change impact of Dickens' novels or Ibsen's plays.  A darned good story well told, with compelling characters (or even a ripsnorting read poorly told with cardboard characters, as in Atlas Shrugged which we all critiqued on another thread) can have tremendous power to inform, to influence, to endure across generations.  Crichton has probably singlehandedly done more damage to the "environmental" cause than AEI and Cato and the WSJ oped page put together.

It hardly seems necessary to reiterate the power of narrative and The Myths We Live By... perhaps an opportunity window is opening precisely because many cherished myths are in crisis at present.  Could this be the moment to forge some new ones?

 "Our most important task at the present moment," wrote Lewis Mumford in 1922, "is to build castles in the air."

I have a bunch more links on this general theme, but this'll have to do for now.  In the comments I'll actually try to makes some suggestions, but here is some relatively big thinking cited in the first article quoted above:

While the California governor backpedals, a team of scientists, economists and business executives have put forward a potentially revolutionary plan. Outlined by Ross Gelbspan, a former Boston Globe reporter and editor, in his book "Boiling Point," the so-called Clean Energy Transition would start by turning over an estimated $25 billion in annual federal government payments now supporting the fossil-fuel industry to a new fund for renewable energy investments. It would also create a $300 billion clean-energy fund for developing countries through a tax on international currency transactions, while calling on industry to get in line with a progressive fossil-fuel efficiency standard, forcing greenhouse-gas emitters to immediately work on conservation.

If megaproposals like the Clean Energy Transition, which would get the ball rolling on a global level, still strike us as romantic and implausible, it's only because our politicians, including the well-intentioned Mr. Gore, and smart, well-financed groups like Environmental Defense have denied us the leadership we need to achieve global warming solutions on par with the problem. Lacking such leadership, we're left with little more than our increasing anxiety and that scary, speeding train.

OK, fastest diary on record.  Have at it.  Typos and all...

Climate Change, Peak Oil, and Me
. I have taken trivial actions to reduce my fossil/carbon footprint (FCFP) 38%
. I have taken major lifestyle-altering steps to reduce my FCFP 38%
. I am never sure how to evaluate the real impact of steps I could take so I remain paralysed 0%
. The whole subject fills me with a sense of doom and futility so I remain paralysed 0%
. My cynical despair is complete -- so I figure, 'Party while it lasts.' 7%
. I just don't think the situation is all that dire; the alarmists are exaggerating and any crisis won't be in my lifetime 0%
. It's all a hoax engineered by those loonies at Greenpeace 0%
. What does it matter what individuals do? what we need are structural/political changes 15%

Votes: 13
Results | Other Polls
OK, here is my chaotic set of thoughts on all the above... and some wildeyed ideas for winning hearts and minds and changing behaviours.

  1. a challenge of this proportion requires an heroic mythos to galvanise public support.  the measures proposed have to be in keeping with an heroic mythos -- and the "New Apollo Project" concept is one way of doing this... however it risks overestimating the appeal of the space program to the current electorate because of the sentimentality w/which two generations of technocrats who dream up policy proposals regard it.  Could backfire in some demographics.

  2. the climateers desperately need a novelist and a poet laureate and a good rock band :-) to provide minatory tales, anthems, solidarity songs, text to be typeset on posters and lettered on protest signs, etc.  they also need, in this iconographic age, some kind of logo.  I have told this story before but in Brunner's prescient novel The Sheep Look Up, the environmentalist underground used a very simple grafitti symbol and a slogan.  the symbol was a circle with a flattened X under it (a minimalist skull and bones) and the slogan was "Stop You're Killing Me."  it was easy to spraypaint or sticker.  never underestimate street cred.

  3. there is already an appetite among tv viewers for two kinds of shows:  "survivor" shows and "how to" shows.  travelogues are also popular.  if I were a multigazillionaire I would put together a line up of tv shows as follows:
"Green My House", a DIY and major remodel show featuring really neat, reasonably sized "green homes" inhabited by happy people who are saving money.  lots of how-to and lifestyle chitchat.
"Survivor:  Earth", a competition show where a limited cast of people tries to get their global footprint down to 1 terron and the audience votes them out if they are not trying hard enough or thinking of all the possible options.
"What Car?" a show about people who live without cars, discussing what tradeoffs they made, why they made this choice, how much money they save, where they live and how local policies make it easier or harder, etc.
"Kewl Green" a show featuring the kewlest green technology around the world, particularly showcasing competition between nation states to make the kewlest lighest cheapest greenest stuff
"Back Story" a show which in each episode takes one familiar product and traces its entire back story and carbon costs from shop shelf to raw materials and forward to disposal, showing true energy costs.
"Traditional Green" an eye-candy travelogue showing how traditional architecture and lifeways worldwide are intelligently adapted to various climates, soil conditions, etc. and how this traditional inventiveness can be applied to materials and applications in other contexts such as western projects.
"climatewatch" a show featuring each episode a Bad and a Good news story about some climate or biosphere issue.
"Going Green" a show featuring enjoyable travelogue to attractive places without car or airplane use -- by bus, rail, bike, ferry, steamboat, etc.
"Real Food" a cooking show about making delicious meals from local/sustainably grown ingredients, each episode filmed in a different region or county.

sure, it's propaganda.  so is 100 percent of what's on TV today.  let's fight back :-)

  1. get some comicbook artist or more than one to crank out some graphic novels set in a Green future, very visionary, very ingenious and geek-friendly

  2. campaign like hell for lifting restrictions on freedoms where this helps to reduce demand and encourage green behavioural changes.  for example repeal zoning laws that prohibit mixed use;  overrule all CC&Rs that prohibit any energy saving behaviour like hanging laundry, installing passive or PV solar, putting in a green roof, windmill, planting veggies, composting etc.  relax planning dept procedures and allow faster processing for all construction projects using green/low-burn technology;  axe stupid restrictions banning (in my city) houses of a shape other than rectangular, earth houses, etc.  make it easier, not harder, to build state of the art green homes.  lift planning restrictions on homes under 1500 sf to encourage smaller home building;  tax the hell out of homes over 2500 sf.   show the public that some red tape is being cut through and tossed overboard in response to an emergency situation, so that they will be less resentful of taxation or constraint elsewhere.  revoke all bicycle registration requirements and helmet laws, offer legal privilege to cyclists in all collision investigations (there is precedent for this last in at least 2 countries).  make it easy and hasslefree to walk, use PT, and cycle.  make it slowly less convenient, over a period of years, to drive.  require all PT carriers to accept bicycles unboxed (this is a major psychological obstacle to extending bike journeys by bus or rail in the US).

  3. the US currently has more prisoners than farmers.  for all nonviolent incarcerees, commute sentence to a lesser number of years of labour on public energy conservation and biotic restoration projects (like restoring wetlands around NOLA to save the enormous costs of bigger and tougher seawalls).  WPA all over again but with a "radical realist" green agenda.

  4. institute longhaul taxation in addition to rising fuel prices to discourage the routine and insane transport of perishables over enormous distances.  provide strong tax and subsidy incentives to relocalise agriculture and wean farmers off fossil dependency.

  5. revive national rail networks with a major investment for upgrade and overhaul.  provide fed matching funds for all bus and lightrail public transit projects in major cities.  subsidise "try it for a month free" passes for any metro/commute network.

  6. cut subsidies to all ag activities that are fossil fuel, fossil water, and soil intensive liquidators.  shame them for what they are -- welfare queens on an unprecedented scale -- and start subsidising land and water stewardship and fossil frugality.

  7. mandate K-12 curriculum in energy and biotic literacy, with bioregional literacy required at about the 9th grade level.  no one should graduate from HS without knowing where their city/town/village's water/food/power come from and what it costs in energy to provide.

  8. institute a Green competition at all county fairs nationwide -- with prizes for biggest energy or water savings, biggest pesticide or synthofertiliser use reduction, in several categories from 4H to a few hundred acres.  make the prizes worth competing for.

  9. institute a Green category for all Science Fairs, for both implementations of existing ideas, new idea prototypes and models, etc. for sustainable tech.

  10. stop providing free parking.  period.  anywhere.

  11. equalise subsidies for air/road/rail/river with a compensatory preference for rail and river to make up for decades of favouritism for air and road.

  12. phase in product labelling showing energy/carbon/GHG costs ("externalities") and miles travelled to shelf, for all consumer goods.  over about 4 years.  after 4 years, mandate such labels and make it an offence for any company larger than a certain size to ship product without such label.

  13. relax absurd ag/food laws designed to suppress smallholders, market gardeners, etc.  in general relax constraints on business operations under a fixed size limit, to encourage ingenuity and localisation.  tighten emissions standards and jack up penalties for operations over a certain size threshold.

  14. cancel all tax writeoffs for business travel.  provide tax credits for teleconferencing equipment and facilities.

  15. of course, stop giving away logging and extraction rights on public lands.  charge very dearly for stripping the larder.

  16. tax not only the production and sale of carbon/fossil intensive product, but the advertising of such products, at a swingeing rate.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...
by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Thu May 25th, 2006 at 09:05:48 PM EST
wow...you should be advising the democrats on their campaign...

a jewel of a post.


'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Fri May 26th, 2006 at 07:29:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Great ideas. Americans are more near-term realistic than anyone gives us credit for. Or you could say that is one of the major criticisms of Americans. Thus you might be surprised at how quickly some of your suggestions become possible as gasoline and natural gas prices continue to rise. The TV ideas are almost trivially simple as there is little bureaucratic inertia to overcome. Business resistance will die off (ha) quickly once people are talking about how they can't pay their bills and businesses that focus on frivilous goods start to drop off. Yes, this does mean I view pro-active solutions as a non-starter, but I don't think that is the end of the world. There is so much energy used (wasted) by this culture that adds nothing to it that can be removed without long term pain.

Given our level of individualism we're as competitive as anyone, which will make demand side solutions easier. What I mean is this: transitioning the competitive spirit from "he with the most toys wins" to "he with the smallest eco footprint wins" will be easier than people think. We're burned out as we have nothing left to give to the work-all-day consume-all-night lifestyle: it has reached its zenith and can only go into decline. We desperately want something different but most don't dare try it (or even think it) until it's socially "safe" to do so. People like you/us need to lead the way to provide the example and social safety. I really believe this by the way - at least on nights when I'm not wearing my "end is nigh" t-shirt.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Sat May 27th, 2006 at 11:16:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It is not even necessary to say either toys or eco-footprint. There must be lots of cool toys you could market by their eco-friendliness, don't you think?
by danjo (rdjonsson at gmail) on Sun May 28th, 2006 at 08:55:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]

 # 20.  Whenever news articles refer to current  office-holders or to candidates for public office by name, their net worth as last available should follow (in parentheses) their name.

"In such an environment it is not surprising that the ills of technology should seem curable only through the application of more technology..." John W Aldridge
by proximity1 on Sun May 28th, 2006 at 12:59:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It is repeatedly stated that energy saving proposals cannot and must not mention public transit or cycling, because "people just won't stand for it."  The assumption as I have heard it many times, is that carcentric transport is a behaviour/cultural pattern so ingrained that it would take prefrontal lobotomy to alter it.

But it;s already being altered -- and in Los Angeles, Car Heaven just by a puny (by euro standards) rise in gas prices.

"I was really, really worried that first day," Petersen says. "Within one week, I was going fast and enjoying going fast."

    Petersen is a good example of the new face of bike commuting - professional and average folks who are abandoning their daily drive for bikes in increasing numbers for a variety of reasons: fitness, a refusal to sit in traffic, politics or pocketbook, especially during days of skyrocketing gas prices.

    Every day, according to the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, between 100,000 and 240,000 Angelenos ride a bike and 24,000 commute by bicycle. There are signs that the number is climbing and set to climb higher. For the last seven years, large employers in the El Segundo area have been conducting a Bike-to-Work challenge - including one last Tuesday, during national Bike-to-Work week, that saw 306 cyclists pedaling to work versus 245 the year before. (This year's winner: Raytheon, which beat Aerospace Corp., Los Angeles Air Force Base and Boeing when 61 of its employees showed up to work on bikes.)

    Demand for on-site bike commuting seminars at workplaces has surged, including requests from big employers such as LAX, 20th Century Fox and Disneyland, according to Kastle Lund, executive director of Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition.

    Demand has surged too, for hybrids, the kinds of bikes often ridden by new commuters - bicycles with wide tires, flat handle bars and a relaxed riding position - and they're being purchased by customers who haven't ridden much in the past, says David Landia, assistant manager of Budget Pro Bikes in Eagle Rock. According to the National Bicycle Dealers Assn., last year was a bumper one for bike sales, which totaled close to 20 million.

    Los Angeles is working to become more bike friendly. It recently completed a bike lane that runs parallel to the Orange Line, and the first phase of the San Fernando Road Bike Path, which will run from Roxford to San Fernando, is scheduled to open in a few months, says Michelle Mowery, senior bicycle coordinator for the City of Los Angeles.

OK this is not hordes of people, but it's a measurable response, it's behaviour change from people who were not already in the choir .... and this is mostly without major incentives or penalties, just pricey parking and rising gas costs.  Imagine what behavioural changes creative policy could encourage?

<obligatory carping disclaimer>I have very mixed feelings about all this "facilities construction" stuff     justified by increasing cycling numbers (or alleged to lure increasing numbers to cycling) but the facilities debate is far too deep and wide for a general thread.</ocd>

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Thu May 25th, 2006 at 09:45:13 PM EST
can we fast-rewind the wil.e.coyote cartoon drop?

the odds loom large and heavy against us...

what other choice but to try?

loved your poems at your website, btw...

microdoggerel, indeed

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Thu May 25th, 2006 at 10:55:00 PM EST
Most of us are zooming along blissfully in exactly the wrong direction: building more freeways, more malls, more auto-dependent housing developments, increasingly grotesque and demeaning commercial enterprises sucking the meaning out of our lives and American society as a whole. It's the collective insanity of our society that makes it possible for us to drive, consume and build freeways as though we could go on forever.

You want to change that then you need to change the policies that make such behaviour rational for individuals. There is no contradiction between people on the one hand doing what's best for them under the current circumstances - e.g. buying a house way out in the exurbs because of the astronomical prices for family housing in the city and inner suburbs, or buying goods that have been shipped halfway around the world and back again - and supporting policies that will bring the individual good in line with the social good.  Teaching people about choices that make sense on both the individual and the social level is a good idea.  Berating middle and working class families for not spending more for less, as if they just had the luxury to choose otherwise, is counterproductive arrogance. So push for more money for public transport as opposed to roads, for changing zoning laws so that you can build new housing in urban and inner suburbs with commuter rail, to tax inefficient vehicles, for laws that encourage renewable energy.

The neolibs were able to do it for stuff that hurts both individual and society, surely progressives should be able to figure out how to do it for policies that help society.  At the same time convince upper middle class progressives that they have to make sacrifices too, and not just the old style progressive ones like taxation. When I listen to people in my neighbourhood complaining about the evils of exurban sprawl in one breath, while opposing building high-rise urban housing in the next, I feel like slamming my head on the wall.

by MarekNYC on Fri May 26th, 2006 at 01:33:58 PM EST

high-rise urban housing in the next, I feel like slamming my head on the wall.

Why does urban housing have to be high-rise?  Most European cities have higher population densities than their American counterparts, yet high-rise buildings are not permitted.  I tend to agree that it would ruin the historic nature (i.e. soul) of a city.

Maybe if Americans were not so insistent on living in single-family homes, rather than in apartments...

by slaboymni on Fri May 26th, 2006 at 08:26:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Why does urban housing have to be high-rise?  Most European cities have higher population densities than their American counterparts, yet high-rise buildings are not permitted.  I tend to agree that it would ruin the historic nature (i.e. soul) of a city.

Higher densities change the character of neighbourhoods, but given growing populations you need to build somewhere. That means that someplace is going to get changed. NYC is quite densely populated - over ten thousand per square km in 2000 and rising. What I'm talking about here is whether a strip of old industrial area lying between a six lane road plus rail tracks and a very pretty old low to mid rise area should be developed as high rises or not. The proposed development is also right next to a commuter rail station and the highest concentration of subway lines after downtown and midtown Manhattan (both primarily office districts), making it ideal for high density living. The nice neighbourhood will remain intact, its skyline will change and there will be more people in the area. My neighbourhood which lies on the other side of that big road and is also beautiful will see that skyline from the other side. We'll be fine.  

As for ruining the character of a city - I don't know about that. Areas like the Upper West Side have their own character even though the main streets tend to be built up quite high

_Maybe if Americans were not so insistent on living in single-family homes, rather than in apartments... _

Well yes, but again, I'm in NYC, so you're preaching to the choir...

by MarekNYC on Sat May 27th, 2006 at 02:53:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
 . . . is that we go down in the most spectacular, thorough, and painful crash in human history.  

That said, people will come around when they have to, and not a moment before.  Everyone has a different comfort zone with regard to facing truth; the art is to find that zone, and push right to the edge.  If you want to know the absolute, dead worst that can happen, read about Easter Island.  I used to think that scenerio was unavailable to us but I am no longer so sure.  Every step we can take away from that outcome we can count as an actual plus.  

At this moment, Cuba is our foremost example of successful, sudden de-industrialization, but its political system, which played a key role in the process, is rather unique.  "Success" not in quotes, because they avoided outright starvation--it doesn't get much better than that.  

No matter what happens, the world will become local again.  Europe perhaps less so than the US, since you have functioning rail systems that will be usable well into the crisis.  Still, the point is that the essentials of life, such as food, will consist of that which can be obtained locallly.  This is why organic farming is so important (industrial agriculture is going down soon) and permaculture is a beacon of hope.  

Political chaos is sure to ensue, and only robust, local social structures have any hope of surviving this.  The essential nature of this chaos will be people grabbing what they can to maintain their past ways, and thus sealing off their own and their neighbors' futures.  It will happen:  Once you have dealt with the basics of survival, it is the biggest threat, and can undo everything.  (A typical example:  Right now the city of Los Angeles is trying to shut down community gardens and take the land to build more freeways.  The gardens will determine whether people live or die, but before it is finished that freeway will be useless.)  

The US--because of its more extensive wrong choices--will be going down before Europe, so you will get lots of case studies from us what not to do.  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Sat May 27th, 2006 at 05:39:41 PM EST
I am wondering which economic sector or industry will be the first to fail as oil is priced out of its reach. Do you think it might be industrial agriculture?

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat May 27th, 2006 at 05:45:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, actually, air transport will collapse first, it is doing so right now, as James Howard Kuntsler reports.  But air travel is not a true necessity.  

In the US, agriculture is very oil intensive--it depends on oil derived fertilizers and pesticides, farm labor is mechanized, as is processing--which is extensive--and then the food is transported by truck hundreds or thousands of miles.  Gas prices this spring have doubled--merely doubled--and already the farm sector is experiencing distress.  

Agriculture and transport will collapse about the same time, for the same reason.

I think it will collapse within two years.  

At which point our political system will--umm--no longer function in its usual way . . .

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Sat May 27th, 2006 at 05:57:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
One of the reasons I chose to live in a rural area is because I'm literally surrounded by food and fuel. Some of it isn't all that easy to catch - I can't say I like the idea of having to learn how to trap and skin rabbits, especially as a vegetarian, and burning wood becomes a theoretical pastime when you have to chop it and carry it a couple of miles - but the chances of survival here during a crash are still far higher than in a city.

However - I'm fascinated by the persistence of apocalyptic memes. And I've seen so many now that I'll confess to not being entirely convinced by imminent doom. Specifically:

Surviving the end of the cold war, especially during its peak in the early 80s.

Watching various apocalyptic End Times New Age predictions which - coincidentally or not - were also popular in the 80s. Many of these were very, very silly, but that didn't stop people selling - and buying - maps of what the US would look like after Atlantis rose again.

Living through Y2K, which was marginally less silly, and the jury still seems to be out on how apocalyptic it would have been without massive contractor effort in the run up.

And now The Coming Crash...

There almost seems to be a need for this kind of economic disaster, especially on the Left. Possibly because the alternative would be slower, but much worse.

But something about the psychological power of the narrative is still interesting, and it's not clear yet to what extent there's a mythological element to it.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Sat May 27th, 2006 at 07:38:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But I must say first that people have short memories.  The 20th century opened with a disastrous war in Europe.  Battlefield death was unprecedented, and after the war troubles continued:  Political re-arrangements resulted starvation in Austria just for example.  

The Great Depression in the US followed a period of economic centralization and "prosperity" at the top, of relaxing of financial regulations and controls, and gross mismanagement similar in structure though smaller in scale to the economic conditions we are seeing now.  The one great difference was that the GD was a collapse of the banking system only--the physical infrastructure remained intact and the US was able to recover with its strong industrial base.  So while the signs of a banking collapse are present now, the means for recovery are not.  

Even so, food was a problem as farmers destoyed food that people needed but had no money to buy.  

After the Second World War food was again a problem in Europe--at least on the continent.  

By the end of the Second World War nuclear weapons were invented, and were soon extensively deployed.  The possibility of civilization ending through nuclear war has remained with us ever since.  This is new, even if--since the end of the Cold War--the odds seem small, and the effect on people's sense of well-being is deep.  Flying saucers make their public appearance about this time--and without weighing in on that subject--I will venture that the public attention is connected to underlying unease.  I would propose this same unease underlies the public response to disaster predictions you cite.  I might add that now that Bush is promoting nuclear war (those "bunker busters") against Iran, the world can hardly be said to be in good hands.  

In short, recent history gives us no reason to think that people will behave well, or that things will always be fine.  

Of course, the things I described were merely shattering, "civilization" did continue, even if the changes did render one age largely incomprehensible to another.  (And it did--go back and read stuff written before WWI:  The atmosphere of prevailing thought is nearly inaccessible.)  

Let's look at religious trends:  In the 19th century a new fundamentalist Christianity was invented that saw the apocalyptic gospels of the Bible as applying to the immediate future.  Though based on wrong scholarship and bogus interpretation, and despite being proved wrong on particulars several times, this apparently crazy version of Christianity gained adherents in the US to the point where at the turn of the 21st century it is a major political force.  One of the odd things about this fundamentalism is that adherents believe as Christians that they should do the devil's work to advance God's timetable for bringing the end of the world about.  As a practical matter, they support policies of environmental destruction and political disruption that interfere with long-range human survival, deliberately.  

Lastly, geology is rather against us.  Peak oil may be a new topic of public discourse, but the issue has been with us as a practical matter for 35 years, and as a theoretical one longer than that.  There were things that could have been done to prepare--on the scale of an entire civilization--but they weren't, and now arithmetic is not in our favor, in the sense that the civilization we have been living in simply cannot continue, and therefore won't.  I cited Cuba to show that mass-die off is at least theoretically avoidable, but that said, the future can look nothing like the present.  

A newer wrinkle in geology is climate change, which has been a theoretical issue as long as peak oil, but which has shown up as a proven problem in only about the last decade.  As climate changes it will disrupt the biosphere and make human survival more difficult.  How difficult?  The folk of sub-Saharan Africa are already fated to die, as the desert expands south.  As for the rest of us--there is really no way to tell how bad it will be.  Where I live now will be under water before the century is out.

Is a bang better than a whimper?  A good question.  We are currently in a race between malign technologies and the undermining of the support infrastructure for those technologies.  Which will win?  What the US government has planned in the way of surveillance certainly makes Stalin's police state seem an amateur effort, but whether they will be able to implement their fantasies is far from sure.  Similarly in biology and biological control.  Politically, the age of independent science is just about over, increasingly, new discoveries are going to be paid for and applied to strategies of domination.  This is, fortunately, self-limiting, but the whimper scenerio implies a longer period of truly amazing agony.  Also, the longer the process takes, the greater the destruction to the biosphere--we are already on the boundary of the greated die-off of species since the end of the dinosaurs--the more prolonged, the starker the boundary will be.  That a large die-off means more opportunities for new species, is a good thing if you are alive to enjoy them a million years from now.  

So certainly a crash seems better.  Except.  To traverse the crash well takes preparation, and that needs time.  

A standard optimization problem with contradictory constraints.  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Sun May 28th, 2006 at 02:54:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty
by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Sun May 28th, 2006 at 05:30:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm thinking that perhaps the use of apocalyptic narratives actually makes it harder for people to make gradual changes. And that's partly because when you're locked into a narrative where the choices are either apocalypse or denial, it becomes much harder to deal with reality.

So on the one hand there's the view that things will always carry on as they have done - which will always be popular for a generation that has had a minimum of real social, economic and military dislocation.

On the other there's a kind of unconscious counterpart in Stories of Apocalypse.

In the middle there are real problems which fall into a psychological blindspot because dealing with them realistically would mean stepping out the narrative.

And since there are pay-offs for both extremes - avoidance of anxiety with denial, and satisfaction of revenge and punishment fantasies for apocalypse - the realistic option of dealing maturely with real problems is never quite as popular as it could be.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Sun May 28th, 2006 at 11:03:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
 . . . American behavior at the end of the 1970's.  That was the turning point for the US.  Before 1980, a soft landing was still possible, and proposals were indeed being made for altering and moving to a sustainable energy economy.  In the election of 1980 such a course was rejected and scrapped. Americans chose denial instead, in the absense of the crisis conditions that are now upon us.  

The Fates are kind.
by Gaianne on Sun May 28th, 2006 at 06:21:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The US--because of its more extensive wrong choices--will be going down before Europe

The US has a better arable land per person ratio than Europe does - don't underestimate the importance of that if/when things get really bad. We also have plenty of water (overall that is, the southwest of course is a different matter) and coal. Nor is the US situated near a lot of states that will fail quickly unlike Europe. Basically, don't ignore the non-human factors.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Sat May 27th, 2006 at 10:45:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
good point.

the gap between present lifestyle and preconquest native american is a lot bigger there than here in yurp.

the other big difference is the amount of guns.

i wonder if mexico will build a wall to keep the hungry yankee day-workers out one day.

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Sun May 28th, 2006 at 05:34:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]

The Fates are kind.
by Gaianne on Sun May 28th, 2006 at 06:24:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
A major difficulty is that many in power have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. So Tony has, for instance, been quoted as saying that he will do nothing, nothing whatsoever, that might impact the lifestyles of the UK.

So taxing air fuel ? Nah !! He's building more airport runways instead.

Energy conservation ? Nope, he's building nuclear power stations that can't be ready before the energy crunch.

etc etc.

Also, the Murdoch newspapers often confuse the message of global warming, promoting it as a good thing of hot summers, warmer winters, decent UK wine etc etc. And of course, every time there's a cold snap, they ask "Global warming ? What global warming ?" It is difficult for effective action when there is som much effective propaganda against reason.

So, I think we need an unambiguous sign that this is urgent and now. Which is why I sometimes look interestedly at the Greenland Icecap situation. It might take something as dramatic as that, which may happen in the next few years to convince people that things have to happen now.

It's like the frog in the pot of boiling water, this gentle descent into chaos will never have a moment of clarity and without that we'll just stay still till it's way too late.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sun May 28th, 2006 at 08:09:21 AM EST
I can't gainsay you.  

This reminds me of a passage from Michael Lewis' Liar's Poker, an account of his career in investment banking.  He describes how good investment bankers get promoted to bank management, but traits that made them good managers--ruthlessness, aggressiveness, independence, and the like--make them lousy managers, but "they can only be washed out by proven failure"--i.e, when the enterprises they manage go bankrupt.  Despite plain evidence that they cannot manage, no earlier correction is possible.  

Perhaps our whole civilization is behaving like this.  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Sun May 28th, 2006 at 06:37:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Beppe Grillo, comedian and political activist purged from Italian tv by Berlusconi, has made this wonderful film about alternative energy. He integrates pieces of his show with real life examples from communities in Germany and Switzerland and with interviews with scientists alternative think tanks.

It's 50 min and requires the GOOGLE media viewer.


http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=2386621792940328510&q=genre%3Acomedy+is%3Afree+duration% 3Along

"The USA appears destined by fate to plague America with misery in the name of liberty." Simon Bolivar, Caracas, 1819

by Ritter on Sun May 28th, 2006 at 12:59:16 PM EST

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