As Kristin notes below, Vancouver Sun let Candadian eco-guru David Suzuki guest-edit an issue today. There’s lots of good stuff in there, but I think my favorite article in the day’s paper was this interview with UBC prof. Bill Rees—perhaps because his point of view reinforces my own biases:
“It’s very difficult for a person living in a North American city to have a sound lifestyle, because the context in which we live demands it,” [Rees]says.
“Look at our area; we can’t afford a house in town, so people are forced to live in the suburbs…Once you have a low-density suburb, it’s not viable for transit, and a car becomes absolutely necessary.”
To be clear, this doesn’t ring completely true. People choose to live in low-density suburbs for all sorts of reasons, not just because housing close to city and town centers is expensive.
That said, the relative lack of affordable housing close to population and job centers—where transit, walking and biking are viable options—does drive some people to the suburbs. And that, in turn, increases a metro area’s ecological footprint (a concept that Rees pioneered).
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Another of my biases that Rees reinforces: a broken system can trump individual virtue.
“I ride a bike, but that makes one more hole in the road for a big SUV…We’re all on the same ship and what we do in our individual cabins is of almost no consequence in terms of the direction the ship is going.”
As an ardent bike rider himself, Rees isn’t saying that riding a bike is useless. What he’s saying is more subtle: the properties of the transportation system overall—the number of lanes for cars, the incentives for driving, the amount of parking, the kind of cars the automakers sell, etc.—are what determine the system’s cost and climate impact. So, in the absence of a truly massive increase in voluntary lifestyle changes (he doesn’t seem to be holding his breath for that), getting the system’s incentives right is the key to reducing overall impacts.
But stop listening to me paraphrasing Rees—read what he has to say for himself.