In 2013 the US was still reeling from the collapse of the housing market in 2008. While hundreds of thousands of Americans unjustly lost their homes, many foreclosed on illegally, there was one upside to this collapse. For a few years at least, irresponsible sprawl development was put on hold across most the nation. I wrote about this shift in development, and how it was a more significant change than just a market-driven trend.
At the time I celebrated the fact that car ownership among 16-25 year olds had plummeted by a staggering 25% over the last decade. It was a time to rethink our relationship to the land, to our air and water, to abandon the suburbs and cars altogether. Despite conservationists and urbanists calling for a return to living a local, sustainable existence in the city, sprawl lobbyists had other ideas.
In 2013 Ford Motor Company chief sales analyst Erich Merkle predicted on CNN: “[Millennials]… might be able to hold off for a period of time, but at some point they will have families, move to the suburbs, and they are going to purchase many, many new cars.”
I mocked his assertion at the time, knowing full well that these kinds of consultant aren’t paid to analyze markets, they’re paid to drive markets with propaganda.
Anyone who’s studied traffic engineering knows about induced demand. Build a freeway and it will fill with cars. Add a lane to ease congestion and you’ll only create more congestion. The same goes for housing development. Scatter single-family dwellings over the horizon of cheap, flat land and tell everyone it’s cheaper to drive a car two hours a day to work and people will be convinced they’ve found a bargain. Meanwhile, our climate crisis rages.
The auto industry and home builders associations work hand in hand to keep people addicted to fossil fuels and car-centric suburbs – placeless stretches of America where mass shootings and drug addiction are the visible symptoms of societal collapse. As urban rents are inflated into the stratosphere by real estate speculators and gentrifying developers, we’ve tragically arrived at the point where the predictions of Erich Merkle are getting the last laugh.
Phoenix’s housing market is completely dependent on cheap gas and sprawl. How unsustainable. These exurbs will be the first to suffer when the next housing correction comes, and that’s when, not if.A Decade After the Housing Bust, the Exurbs Are Backhttps://t.co/6GXOKkIvbG
This week Wall Street Journal housing economics reporter Laura Kusisto penned perhaps the most horrifying preview of a dystopian future in which Americans continue to take no action as the world burns. If anything, she detailed how we’re not just doing nothing, we’re racing to make our climate crisis worse.
From her article: “Josh Bush and Danielle Rhee were drawn to Maricopa county from Portland, Oregon for the housing prices. They bought a $250,000 six-bedroom home there last year – less than it would have cost them to get two bedrooms in Oregon, said Mr. Bush, who is 29 years old. Bush leaves for his job in Phoenix before 6 a.m. each morning to keep his commute to about 50 minutes. The drive can take two hours if he hits traffic. He considers the trade-off worthwhile.”
Where to begin? First off, yes, buying a house is expensive as hell in Portland, as I’ve written about before. But it’s absolutely absurd to think a six bedroom house is necessary for a family. Thousands of Portland families happily enjoy living in apartments.
It’s equally absurd, and flat out reckless, for Kusisto’s WSJ article to try and re-normalize the insanity of hours-long daily car commutes at a time when climate scientists say we have less than 12 years left to avert massive ecological collapse, desertification of farmland, and the loss of millions of homes in coastal cities due to sea level rise. Killing the planet for a cheaper house is not a fucking worthwhile trade off.
Please pause to consider this article.This simply CANNOT continue indefinitely.#unsustainablehttps://t.co/OuL9RsxIhs
This is what these ‘analysts’ are paid to do; shill for industries complicit with murdering the planet. As Utah Philips accurately asserted, the Earth is not dying, it is being killed, and those who are killing it have names and addresses.
Calling them on their bullshit is imperative, but more important is fundamentally changing how we live, how we consume, and how we commute. Burning a single gallon of gas pumps 25 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere. How many hundreds of pounds of carbon pollution is that per person if they’re driving two hours to work?
The crisis in housing is by design. There isn’t a lack of housing supply, as so many neoliberal urbanists will argue. There is a lack of affordability, and this lack is pricing people back into the suburbs. Building more unaffordable housing only worsens this crisis. Portland, OR has over 16,000 empty rental units that its residents simply cannot afford. They exist as commodity, pure real estate, doing nothing to lower cost by increasing housing stock.
San Franciscans have crowdfunded $46,000 to stop a homeless shelter in a wealthy area. Some other San Franciscans have just launched a rival appeal and have raised $5,000 in five hours. https://t.co/Cpg3uZQu5u
There is some hope though, but barely. Oregon just passed the first rent control legislation of its kind anywhere in the nation. Senate Bill 608 prohibits Oregon landlords from raising the rent more than 7% annually beyond CPI. It also curbs no-cause evictions, Oregon being only one of two states to have given landlords such unethical power.
Ironically, despite its reputation for good urban planning, Portland is also moving forward with widening its urban freeways, despite all logic. A plan that will only induce more demand for driving was actually branded as “better for the environment” by its backers, while costing taxpayers billions.
Just imagine a billion dollar investment into a city’s bicycle commuting infrastructure. Why aren’t we inducing that demand? Why aren’t we doing every single thing possible to save this planet? Why aren’t we passing a Green New Deal right this very fucking instant?
Critical Mass Brussels! ????????? pic.twitter.com/rR1D2wZrFR
The answer is the realtors. The lobbyists. The consultants. The Washington think tanks. The capitalists. These death cultists are happy to watch the world burn; even more, they’ll find a way to make profit from our collective extinction. We must oppose them, where ever they are, where ever they go. Stand up, fight back.
Do not accept their poison logic that says you “need” a car, or that you “need” to own a house. You can live with less space, hell you probably spend 90% of your time at home parked in front of your computer barely moving any way.
You can bike to work, you absolutely can. And the more you ride, the better your health, and the better you think. These aren’t just lifestyle changes: easily a third of city trips can be taken by bike. Imagine if just 5,000 people biked to work in your city. If even 50 cities did, that would change a nation. Change just 50 nations, and now you’re changing the world. That is how you begin to arrive at system change.
The realtors don’t want you living a local, affordable, sustainable life. They want you commuting hours to a cul de sac suburb where the only public space are parking lots. Fuck them. Now more than ever, if capitalism is getting you down, ride your fucking bike.
See you in the streets.
I kinda prefer a house. I don’t really relish the idea of living in a cramped space with a bunch of asshats I don’t know on the other side of the wall. Totally agree on the pollution and commuting stuff, but I think most desk jobs should just shift to teleworking if able. And apartments are a complete money sink. You will never get your rent back, ever. House on the other hand, once it’s paid off it’s yours
Nothing is as simple as it seems. We can’t all live in the city. In-fact in Metro-Denver only 23% of our metro-area population lives within Denver’s city limits, and only 29% of Metro-Denver job commuting involves trips between our suburbs and our central city. The other 71% are suburb-to-suburb.
We spent a fortune in building a half-dozen light rail lines and three commuter rail lines and now our eight-county regional public transit agency is on the ragged edge of bankruptcy with two long-promised rail lines unfinished, that they won’t have the funds to finish until 2045 unless Federal mass transit funding changes greatly. Right now they are having to cannibalize older buses for parts to try to keep other buses running . Mind-you that our economy locally has absolutely been on-fire since 2012. Today public transit ridership has been falling off for the last 3 years to only 4.6% of trips today.
Moreover, Denver is an unusual city in that it has been able to annex well into the suburbs, in-fact there are parts of Denver that are more than 20 miles from downtown. Denver is engaging in the same suburban sprawl that our suburbs are. Today in Denver’s Green Valley Ranch golf course neighborhood you can buy brand-new homes for $300K up to $600K base, even though they are 18-20 miles from downtown. There are older inner suburbs that are only 1/3rd that far from downtown.
Downtown Denver and neighborhoods within 5 miles have seen a tremendous amount of gentrification, with lots of older single-family homes being scraped and replaced with modern designer duplexes, triplexes, and quads. The problem has been that there is no more road infrastructure than before, and each new unit costs double to triple what the old single that was torn-down cost. Downtown Denver is doing great except that the working class has been driven out as the lower-middle-class.
Over the last 18 years central city Denver has seen about 15,000 new housing units built but our suburban fringe has seen about 75,000 new homes built and today several hundred subdivisions of single-family homes are under-construction, along with new shopping centers, new malls, lots of new suburban office space, and lots of new restaurants, bars, and golf courses too.
My opinion says that about all we can do at this point is to try to create as many suburban mixed-use town center projects as we can where some part of the population can walk or ride bikes to jobs and supply. We are stuck with close to 500,000 single-family homes and close to that many condos, attached townhouses, and apartments but maybe we can reduce commuting if more people can telecommute and work for home. If we build enough suburban mixed-use town centers perhaps suburbanites can bike or ride electric golf carts to and from such developments.
My wife and I live 20 miles from downtown Denver and only 15 miles from downtown Boulder in a mid-priced to upscale suburb. Within 1 mile of our house is one of the largest Kings (Kroger) stores in the US along with a dozen restaurants, several bars, a couple of dry cleaners, a couple liquor stores, a hair salon, a couple of dentist’s offices, one hospital, several convenience stores, and one upscale public golf course. Two major shopping malls are within 2 miles, both of which have huge super-stores, plus another shopping center with groceries. Within 3 miles there is another mall and several more shopping centers plus two more golf courses and another hospital.
If most of us could limit ourselves to just a 3-mile radius from our house and either walk, ride bikes, or ride electric golf carts for most of our trips we could cut our carbon emissions substantially. Rooftop solar power is big here as is utility-scale windpower, in-fact our largest public utility is rapidly moving toward their goals of shutting down all coal-fired power by 2023 and to 60% renewable generation by 2026. Still, all these homes and buildings have to be heated and cooled, and a golf cart isn’t going to haul a lot home from Home Depot or Lowe’s. We have both.
I am still hoping to be able to buy a hybrid or EV big-enough for me to get into, as I am the size of an NFL lineman, and large enough to tow our 26-foot travel trailer, which weighs about 5000 lbs. What are all these building and repair contractors going to do as they need fairly substantial vehicles? Right now the only US choices that will do both are Wrightspeed’s Class 5 hybrid stepvan, the Workhorse S-15 hybrid pickup truck, Bollinger’s giant EV pickup and SUV models, which aren’t expected to be available until 2020, and the Rivian EV pickup that also won’t be available until 2020. Jeep has said that it will produce a Grand Cherokee hybrid in the 2021 model year, and other car manufacturers are also promising more EV and hybrid models.
It is quite possible that we might cut auto greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030 if we can move rapidly-enough toward EVs, hybrids, rooftop solar, home batteries, and perhaps some small rooftop windpower designs that are available, as well as move toward far less commuting and more living and working locally or from home. What do we do about our food supply and other consumer goods supply? We can’t possibly keep shipping stuff halfway around the world just to save a buck nor can we keep shipping fresh food from the Southern Hemisphere or even from Mexico in the off-season as we don’t have the remaining carbon budget necessary to do either.
If we were able to localize our food supply, as much of it into rural fringe or urban hydroponic or aquaponic greenhouses as possible ,we might cut food supply system loss by half, which in-turn would cut food supply emissions by half and save us food supply transport emissions too. Just yesterday I wrote a piece on how metropolitan NYC’s entire fruit, vegetable, and grain supply could be produced by 20 square miles of high-tech aquaponic greenhouses. That is for 19 million people. For an urban area the size of Metro-Denver we need just one-sixth that much greenhouse space. Then we can produce dairy products, poultry, and limited amounts of other meat on farms surrounding cities.
If we can cut food supply loss by half and localize our food supply that will leave us approximately 15% of current carbon and carbon-equivalent emissions to be spread among several critical carbon emitters. Otherwise after 2040 we have no spare carbon budget other than that used producing and shipping our food supply.
What is more-challenging, changing-over to EVs, hybrids, cycling, walking, and limiting commuting as much as possible; retrofitting the HVAC systems of every house and building to renewable-source heat, hot water, and cooling; completely eliminating non-renewable power generation; building a local metals, paper, glass, and plastics recycling capability in every city, giving up flying unless very-efficient hybrid airliners can be developed within 10-15 years or going back to dirigibles, localizing our food supply in-order to cut food loss and shipping emissions; giving-up most inter-city passenger travel and most inter-city consumer goods, raw materials, and building materials shipment; and retrofitting all national railroads to electric power except where hybrid locomotives are required to climb steep grades.
Frankly we have to do everything on the list above by 2035 if we don’t want to roast our own kids right off their only planet by 2060. Can we afford to pump fresh water a substantial distance? What happens if we see substantial numbers of refugees from south of our border, from South Asia, where 1 billion people are already forecast to suffer severe water scarcity by 2035, or a similar number from the Middle East and Africa with the same problem?
It is hard to believe that if we don’t take rapid responsible steps to mitigate the worst effects of climate change up to billions of people will die after billions of people are driven from their homes and forced to become refugees, but we can’t say that we weren’t repeatedly warned that this would happen either.
This piece is 4 & 1/2 years old. Its author is one of the most-respected people in his field worldwide .
Lord Stern: global warming may create billions of climate refugees:
Here is a piece on the need to localize our economies in-order to cut greenhouse gas emissions. This piece is almost 5 years old. Its author was a senior PHD and director of the city and regional planning program at the University of British Columbia at the time this was written:
Avoiding Collapse: An agenda for sustainable degrowth and relocalizing the economy, Dr. William Rees
Dr. Rees is now a research fellow at the Post-Carbon Institute:
Here is a presentation of his on resource scarcity from September, 2017. He also has several other older presentations available on You Tube:
If you can find or order a copy of Richard Heinberg’s book The End of Growth or any of his newer research I recommend it . Heinberg is the senior research director at the Post Carbon Institute:
There are a whole lot more sources where these came from, plenty of them peer-reviewed.
Can we solve our crisis if we all work together as quickly as possible? Maybe. I am afraid that we have procrastinated for at-least a couple of decades already. If we don’t work together to rapidly solve these issues our long-term future has large-scale collapse, up to a couple billion refugees, and up to billions of unnecessary deaths to look forward to as soon as 30-40 years from now.
At the very least if we all work together to achieve responsible climate change mitigation we can delay the inevitable for up to several decades. Hopefully it doesn’t come to that.
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