Common Sense Planning for Global Warming
The following is nonstop brainstorming from a morning just before Thanksgiving, 2007.
Transport: Start adjusting
to the consequences of smaller, slower automobiles. a) Think twice about widening streets and
highways. b) Restrict zones of urban
sprawl—suburbs with large lots—“starter castles” interspersed with
farmland. c) Arrange “universal” public
transportation as existed in the early days of the age of the automobile. I remember that in the 1930s
Buildings: Tighten efficiency standards of building and appliance codes—even “shoot ahead of a moving target” by making these codes temporarily too stringent and only cost-effective at some future date or, better yet, use a carbon tax to motivate the change to the new regimes promptly. Incidentally countercurrent air-to-air heat exchangers permit ventilation with very little lost heat. The Japanese have even invented one with a paper core that passes water vapor but no other components of air. Promote co-housing with its many efficiencies such as common areas for laundry and entertaining. Improved social support is an extra freebee.
Counterproductive activities: Figure out some way to limit excessive packaging especially of food because it wastes material and landfill space (saran wrap and its ilk also require energy to produce). b) Create a new category of activities which are not quite legal and not quite illegal. Into this category place fossil fuel consuming recreational vehicles (and, incidentally, tobacco, marijuana, other currently illegal drugs, and probably distilled spirits and gambling). “Commercial free speech” could no longer be invoked to promote these. Gradually expand this category to include more items such as junk food and jet skis (woops, they are already included under recreational vehicles). Does food need to be advertised at all other than where to buy it? Incidentally, we must rise above the classic academic economists’ concept that economies must grow continuously (without limit?!) in order to be healthy—this is even mathematical nonsense; neglecting human population growth is also mathematical and social nonsense.
Agriculture: a) Develop
perennial food crops to reduce the fuel use of annual tilling and planting (not
to mention reducing soil erosion). See
> b) A carbon tax will of itself encourage use of local fresh foods in
season by the added transportation costs of long distance transport. c) Phase out ethanol production from corn—the
fuel value of the ethanol approximates the fuel used in producing it. Biofuels should not
be made from any needed annual (food) crops and certainly are no substitute for
efficient use of energy especially because using even all of our cropland for
raising biofuels would replace less than half of our
current petroleum consumption. Some biofuel
production could easily be coordinated with flood prevention, which also has
some bearing on sustainability and global warming as we have been discussing
because of increasing frequency of extreme climatic events. The past performance of levees and other engineering structures have provided
only scant relief. Obviously we
cannot suddenly begin to stay out of trouble the way the primitive people of
1) Permit no new construction in flood plains anywhere along rivers and their major tributaries.
2) Permit only minor repairs of flood damage during a few centuries of transition.
3) Require that insurance payments for flood damage cover only replacement on higher ground.
4) Encourage (or require) incorporated villages and cities to purchase conservation easements of undeveloped land on high ground sufficient to replace the at-risk structures in their jurisdictions. Eminent domain could be invoked if needed to implement this option.
As more and more of the floodplain of the entire
watershed reverts to undeveloped status, put the avoided costs of maintaining
levees and other flood prevention costs, no longer needed, into sinking funds
to subsidize moving surviving undamaged structures from the flood zones to
hasten the final goal: retaining almost all floods in the restored natural
flood plains throughout the watershed.
An added advantage: temporarily retained floodwaters upstream prolong
the period of discharging it downstream.
This will reduce the height of all future flood crests (from Thoughts
6) It will be best to plant the newly undeveloped floodplain with perennial crops that do not require harvest during a narrow window of time. This will prevent erosion of freshly cultivated areas during untimely floods. Switchgrass or woody plants for biofuel production would serve this purpose very well indeed (and perhaps perennial sunflowers for biodiesel). All sources of cellulose can produce various fuels—even hydrogen.
Social Psychology: My brainstorming seems to be leading to a broader question as mentioned above: how can we restrict advertising of products and activities that are worse than useless to society? Refraining from promoting these things is a more gentle change than trying to prohibit them especially since they have recently been so seemingly legitimately prevalent. So we need the new category of activities and products that are neither legal nor illegal. Incidentally, the absence of tobacco advertising on TV is actually voluntary on the part of all tobacco companies, suggested by them in return for stopping very effective anti-tobacco ads by the cancer society--a good step, but not a very strong precedent for our new program. What shall we call the new category?—the big bang to stop global warming--not good enough! Would quasi-illegal work better?
As we make the transition to a sustainable economy that does not trash the planet, many less obvious new ideas will emerge (and no doubt some even better ones for initial application). The above is merely a plea to get the public and their representatives started brainstorming. How do we persuade the public to get their minds around these questions and begin to change their attitudes and everyday decisions? This morning of brainstorming is a step in that direction along with getting in touch with our representative in congress.
John A. Frantz, MD, NASW