Hm. Just days after my post on the global warming impacts of highway widening, BC premier Gordon Campbell comes along to prove why this issue is so ripe. From a Vancouver Sun article on the premier’s otherwise quite nifty global warming policy:
Campbell…continued to defend the Gateway project, which will twin the Port Mann bridge, saying that it will reduce emissions and make room for rapid-bus services along the highway.
There’s that disturbing meme again: widen a highway, and GHG emissions will fall. Grrrr.
Like most urban legends, the “lane building is good” meme owes some of its stickiness to the fact that it’s unexpected. Like a man-bites-dog story, it’s memorable because it seems counterintuitive, even crazy. And somehow, the fact that it sounds wrong on its face may actually make the idea more plausible, not less. (Or if not plausible, at least interesting enough for people to file away, and repeat as if it were a known fact.)
The problem: the reason that that the “more lanes is good” meme sounds crazy is that, well, it is crazy. We cranked through the numbers and found that widening a congested highway will almost certainly increase GHG emissions over the long haul. So in this case, there’s a reason that the idea is counterintuitive: it’s simply false!
We’ve had high praise for Campbell’s aggressive global warming stance for a while. But on this point, it looks like he’s been suckered by an urban legend.
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For the record, Campbell’s global warming plan sounds really nice on the surface, but it seems be a bit misguided the deeper I’ve delved. First of all, it’s taken him until this year (or possibly late last year, I forget) to put his weight behind wind power in BC. There are ZERO utility-grade wind turbines online up there as of now. They’re being worked on finally, but it’s a bit late because he was so against them making the power company against them until green became cool.Additionally, at the end of September, when he outlined a bunch of things the province would be doing to combat global warming (and it’s ranking as the 5th highest emitter of GHGs in Canada) he directed BC Hydro (the power company up there) to “seriously consider” (ie: officially study) the construction of a brand new massive dam project on the Peace River that would generate about 900 MW. Oh, and flood about 80 square KM of the Peace River Valley.Campbell talks about a lot of good things, but he sneaks in some really questionable stuff in the name of combating global warming and energy independence (something BC doesn’t actually need according to many people there).c
Good thoughts, Charlie. To some extent, I expect political rhetoric not to match up with reality. So I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s less there than meets the eye. That dam sounds especially troubling…
Clark, as a participant in Prop 1 discussions recently, I’ve been wondering if the persistent popularity of the meme, “expanding capacity reduces automobile exhaust”, has more to do with our culture’s way of looking at the world than a Gladwellian rule of epidemics. After all, at the individual level, the meme holds some truth. It’s my observation that we first and primarily bound our judgments using our own experiences. Frequently, we include experiences of our friends and family—those whose stories we hear, trust and value. However, we infrequently consider experiences of those we do not know. I think this behavior is related to our inability to see externalities, secondary/tertiary effects and a whole concatenation of systemic relationships that when taken together can be far more powerful. Over the millennia, who needed to see things this way anyhow? I think it is precisely these human faults that rational, data driven analysis helps us correct. But, if the public isn’t learning the results of such analysis (or doesn’t want to accept the consequences of believing it), I guess we’re left to rely on more primitive perceptions like, ‘my emissions go down when I drive on uncongested highways, so must everyone else’s, therefore building roads reduces emissions’.I’m left wondering why we don’t accept science and rational analysis more than we do, when it is precisely such modes of thinking that have given us the lifestyles we value so greatly.
I’m left wondering why we don’t accept science and rational analysis more than we do, when it is precisely such modes of thinking that have given us the lifestyles we value so greatly. Yes. But tell that to half of our population who don’t believe in evolution. Nonetheless, different approaches – different ‘ways of knowing’ – forms the human condition, and was the basis for the first Star Trek. Plus, some say that Cartesian reductionism hasn’t solved our most basic, fundamental problems. I say this often, in fact.
“It’s my observation that we first and primarily bound our judgments using our own experiences.” That’s a mighty smart observation bahouse. It explains, well, an awful lot. In a way, thought, you can’t blame people for an “inability to see externalities” since…that’s largely what externalities are: things you can’t see, but can only learn about through thought & analysis.
Greetings from the largest city in the US and Canada without a downtown freeway.Great to see Gateway and GHG emissions covered here. Our premier Gordon Campbell only recently stopped denying the seriousness of the climate crisis. So he has lots of old policies that seem designed to maximize GHG emissions, like the Gateway freeway expansion scheme.It still remains to be seen if he is serous about reducing GHG emissions, or if he is full of hot air. But pushing freeway expansion is very bad politics in Vancouver, many residents still spit when they refer to Tom Campbell who tried to demolish our Chinatown for a downtown freeway in the early 1970s.Check out the Metro Vancouver uprising against freeway expansion (and for better public transit) on the livable blog at http://www.livableregion.ca.Better Transit, Not Freeways!Eric Doherty