Sunday, February 18, 2007

Free to be Polluted
The Berlin Senate recently passed a series of measures to “greenify” the city center by forbidding entry to cars that generate harmful emissions through inefficient or dirty technology. While not yet set in stone, the new policy means that as many as 80,000 cars in Berlin will lose access, reports the Berliner Zeitung. This is fantastic news, implying better air quality, less noise pollution, and less congestion. Although the measure will cause consternation among owners of “old-timers,” the German nickname for old-fashioned models, there are also planned concessions that would allow for the occasional Sunday spin while precluding daily commute. With the city’s infamously punctual and efficient public transportation system, as well as extensive bike lanes, there isn’t much of an excuse to be driving anyway.

In taking this step, Berlin is ahead of a fellow city across the sea. Although New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration has toyed with the idea of introducing “congestion pricing,” the idea has been criticized as a regressive tax that would disproportionately hurt the lower and middle classes. Congestion pricing charges vehicles more during times of high use, and it has been successful in London, for example, in keeping more cars out the cramped metropolis’ busy hub during rush hour. Yet New Yorkers were strangely resistant to the idea, although they live in a city with the nation’s second-longest commuting time.

Equally strange is the response of residents in a rural pocket of Virginia to a proposed wind farm to be built on a local mountain ridge. Although they take pride in the beauty of their land and encourage eco-tourism, they view a wind farm as “industrialization in the wilderness,” reports the New York Times. Owners of a lodge promoting ecological tourism are afraid turbines in the distance will "ruin" the nature their guests come to see. Yet the idea of “untouched wilderness,” though a favorite American founding myth, needs to be viewed critically. It is a falsehood sometimes used to justify morally atrocious acts, as when the US Army exterminated the native inhabitants of Yosemite Valley to claim the “untouched land” for a national park for white people.

As well, these rural residents are idealizing a lifestyle more environmentally damaging than they perhaps realize. In the modern world, little wooden shacks do not sit alone on prairies as self-contained family-units. Rather, modern houses in somewhat isolated locales hook up to an electrical grid and use large amounts of energy to heat and cool themselves. This consumption makes a far larger ecological footprint than that demanded by urban apartment-dwellers surrounded on all sides. This is not to say everyone should moves to Queens; just think of what the traffic would be like then! It is rather to point out that romanticizing certain lifestyles causes people to see things fuzzily and miss the bigger picture, especially in Highland County, where turbines able to power 15,000 homes with clean energy may not be built.

What links the wary Virginians with their stubborn metropolitan cousins is resistance to changing individual lifestyles for a greater social good. In New York, critics claim that poorer drivers will lose out—despite a Transportation Alternatives report showing that 90% of auto commuters also have access to nearby public transportation with a maximum fifteen minute time difference from their car commute. For fifteen minutes longer, many can enjoy less air and noise pollution, as well as, for those willing to ante up the cash, a better commute. Yet small individual sacrifice is not taken to kindly by Americans, who are inclined to feel that laws and rules infringe their rights rather than enhancing their quality of life. As New York indicates, this viewpoint is certainly not dismissible as a red-state or even generational problem; a poll in Jane magazine last year asked its young, liberal readership if introducing gasoline taxes would be fair or “fascist;” a whopping half replied “fascist”!

Similarly, Virginians don’t want to look at turbines on a mountain ridge they would rather conceptualize as “pristine.” Their discomfort with this lifestyle adjustment obscures the fact that turbines could also be seen as a hopeful sign of the future, not as a scar on the untouched landscape, but only if individuals are willing to let an unwanted measure force them to change their minds. This change-of-heart in a small community would in turn provide 200,000 tax dollars for the potential benefit of all residents of the poor county. However, in the land of the free, such a change will be a long time in coming.

2 comments:

Little Blue PD said...

.
We all have to wonder what Bloomberg is really thinking of with this congestion pricing tax scheme. Maybe he mostly just wants a new tax. Just wrap it up in ‘concern for the environment’, and then people can just demonize those who oppose it.

If he cares so much about traffic jams, congestion and air pollution, why does he let Park Avenue be blocked off? Why doesn’t he do anything about that?

It's true, Pershing Square Restaurant blocks Park Avenue going South at 42nd St. for about 12 hours a day/5 months of the year! This Causes Massive Congestion & Air Pollution!

But apparently it does not bother NYC’s Nanny-in-Chief Mike “Congestion Pricing Tax” Bloomberg? Check out the map!

http://whataplanet.blogspot.com
http://preview.tinyurl.com/38obfd

Check it out!

Thanks,

Little Blue PD
:)

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