Why Oh Why Can’t We Have Better Environmental Advocacy Organizations?

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I have to write a more balanced and thoughtful post on tonight’s #PAGov sustainability forum for Next City, so allow me to indulge in a bit of a rant here.

For an event advertising itself as a sustainability forum, those questions fucking sucked. What are the greens thinking with this shit?

Yes, the supply-side energy production issues are incredibly consequential for the environment. But do you know what’s even more consequential? The demand for energy!

The issue of how much energy we need to heat and cool our homes and offices and fuel our vehicles did not come up once as a question. And yet, car-related emissions account for about half of US greenhouse gas pollution. PA’s climate report says our land use and built environment policies acccount for about a quarter (I think more) of the greenhouse gas pollution.

So we’re looking at in the ballpark of between two-thirds and three-quarters of our state’s climate change problem coming from cars and buildings, with the extent of the pollution determined by how much driving people have to do to get between home, work, and other regular destinations.

We didn’t get a single question about land use and the built environment. We didn’t get a single question about transportation. I get it. It hits all the brain’s political pleasure points to unload on those nasty natural gas fracking companies and Corporations. But the actual climate change villains in our state are suburban and exurban commuters who drive long distances to work, heat and cool huge houses on one acre lots, and demand all that energy in the first place.

Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and other central cities emit way way less carbon pollution than their suburbs because suburban land use regulations make it illegal to put the buildings closer together, and so suburban residents have to do more driving than people who live in areas where local government allows walkable mixed-use development. That’s the bulk of our climate problem. That’s what a “sustainability forum” should challenge politicians on. But we got exactly zero questions about any of this, and only Allyson Schwartz even mentioned the words “sustainable communities” a couple of times.

I’m not lumping in PennFuture because I think they do a good job, but the rest of the environmental advocacy space in this state is seriously fucked.

This entry was posted in Governor, Land Use.

11 Responses to Why Oh Why Can’t We Have Better Environmental Advocacy Organizations?

  1. Sean Kitchen says:

    I agree. I think there are a couple of good groups and organizers, with Karen Feridun being one of them. I can write for hours on how pissed I am with those who are unwilling to compromise and sit around and bitch and complain. .

  2. Jon Geeting says:

    It’s not even the uncompromising attitude, it’s focusing on the wrong fucking issues. Plenty of people in western PA are working on fracking. Anybody in the SEPA region who’s not focused like a laser on cutting car trips, cutting car ownership, growing SEPTA ridership, and shifting all new home construction to the core of Philadelphia is doing it wrong.

    • Sean Kitchen says:

      I think it’s OK that people in the area are against fracking because it does affect those who are campers – like myself – or hunters from the area. I do however believe that city people should focus on what you mentioned and I would even put advocating for solar in that category because I believe that it can prosper with the right zoning /land use laws.

      • Jon Geeting says:

        Absolutely. Distributed solar is gonna be a coal killer – I was very glad to hear Katie McGinty make reference to that, especially because the utilities are lobbying hard right now to kill state feed-in tariff laws and stuff like that. Is that the same as net metering, or different? I’m hoping to see us pass a feed-in tariff bill next session to get some more rooftop solar going.

  3. Thanks for this, Sean!!

  4. John says:

    I agree that way too much attention is placed on the energy supply side as opposed to the demand side. There are massive inefficiencies in the use of energy in this country.

  5. Gloria McVeigh says:

    Did anyone there bring up the current PA proposal to *increase* speed limits — along with carbon emissions? Nothing that I read even mentioned that aspect. Something’s seriously wrong in this state.

  6. Jon, You are absolutely right. But the significant thing to extract from this forum is that some of the candidates have shifted their position to at least calling for a moratorium on fracking in state forests and parks, to even calling for a moratorium on fracking in the Delaware Water Shed that Allyson Schwartz stated at the forum. That would not have been the case a couple of months ago. It is also is significant that Ed Pawlowski stated that he will not take oil and gas drilling PAC money and asked the other candidates to do the same. It is up to us to continue the struggle to educate and agitate on the issues you speak of which are spot on. But without our continued struggle nothing changes. We need a study done like the one in New York and the one being done now in California on converting to a totally renewable energy economy that Jacobson and Delucchi have done. Also one like this one from the March 2013 issue of the Journal of Power Sources. Cost Minimized combinations of wind power, solar power and electrochemical storage, powering the grid up to 99.9% of the time
    Cory Budischak a,b,*, DeAnna Sewell c, Heather Thomson c, Leon Mach d, Dana E. Veron c,
    Willett Kempton a,c Journal of Power Sources 225 (2013) 60e74
    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0378775312014759