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The New York Times this week published a guest opinion column headlined, “Why Housing Policy Is Climate Policy.” 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 its premises are beyond debate. The climate will change catastrophically, and emissions from burning fossil fuel are the culprit. Low-density housing is the reason fossil fuel emissions remain too high. 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 and commendable to suppress opinions like ours and silence debate. They are part of the “consensus” that brands us as “deniers,” impugns our motives, questions our integrity, and dismisses facts and evidence that do not support their premises.
Irony and Lack of Vision
When you look at the policies 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 all who share their perspective, have no apparent faith in technology to solve the challenges they claim are upon us. After all, the epicenter of “green” consciousness is California, and California also happens to be the epicenter of the global high-technology industry. So why can’t these California greens look optimistically into the future a few years, 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.
Stultifying Stagnation as a Utopian Principle
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 things stopping them are people like Scott Wiener and Daniel Kammen as well as 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 miles per hour. 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 miles per hour. And far overhead, at around 50,000 feet, supersonic electric planes will fly at speeds well in excess of 1,000 miles per hour.
Kammen . . . Wiener . . . get the hell 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. Raise the Shasta Dam by 200 feet, instead of today’s tepidly promoted, still politically unpalatable 18 feet. Then 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.
Progress That Facilitates Freedom and Choice
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. The job of government emphatically is 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 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, 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.” While he’s at it, let him get rid of his car, place his children in the nearest public school, and practice what he preaches. But don’t expect him to actually do it.
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Photo credit: eqsk134 via Getty Images