John Mott-Smith Credit: Davis Enterprise

I recently traveled to New York, home of the United Nations, ostensibly for the purpose of observing an example of dense development and the ensuing consequences for greenhouse gas emissions. That was my cover story.

The real (secret) purpose of my journey was to report in to my United Nations comrade, Agent 2100, about my activities and progress in perpetrating the hoax of global climate change. I was to receive further training from the secretive One World (aka “OW”) institute and return to the quiet burg of Davis, Calif., with new marching orders. Unfortunately, my cell leader sent me an encrypted message warning ominously that the Heartland Institute was on to us, so I could only realize my first purpose and take stock of how a big city copes with the challenges of sustainability.

Actually, if I take my tongue out my cheek, where it was firmly planted in the last paragraph, it occurs to me that this whole notion of a global hoax is backwards. It’s not the scientific community, or some secret cabal of internationalists, or a bunch of starry-eyed environmentalists who have concocted a conspiracy. Rather, the conspiracy seems to involve the deniers.

By this, I don’t mean “skeptics” — there are people who are genuinely and honestly skeptical based on their understanding of the facts, and there is a small percentage of chance that they are correct. But it seems to me that the “deniers,” those who seem impervious to information, include many who are funded by the coal, oil and other industries self-interested in perpetuating the energy status quo. These folks are organized, work together and otherwise conspire to debunk science and scientists.

It’s curious that so many who blast government as ineffective also ascribe to government the complex and sophisticated ability to conduct and coordinate a conspiracy among scientists and governments worldwide. It does seem to be a common tactic: accuse the other side of what you yourself are doing; in this case, conspiring.

New York (Manhattan) was fascinating, and several things related to sustainability stood out right away. The city is remarkably vertical; huge buildings housing huge numbers of people. This density results in lower per capita energy usage since apartments are smaller than homes, and shared walls, floors and ceilings limit leakage of conditioned air to the outside environment and similarly limit penetration of hot or cold air from outside the building.

It’s curious that so many who blast government as ineffective also ascribe to government the complex and sophisticated ability to conduct and coordinate a conspiracy among scientists and governments worldwide.

Just before I left for New York, a friend in Davis mentioned a photo in a magazine of air-conditioners on buildings in India. It was part of a story about how both India and China are beginning to develop a consumer-oriented middle class, and how many people are buying and installing air-conditioners. The picture in the magazine looked a lot like what I saw in New York; outside the building, attached to seemingly every window, from the first floor to the 50th floor, was an air-conditioner.

There is very little private open space in Manhattan; few yards or gardens. But there is Central Park, essentially functioning as a yard or open space for everyone living in the gigantic buildings surrounding it. This is the most amazing park I have ever seen: very well maintained and always full of people walking, jogging, riding, sitting, taking the sun, talking, walking the dog, pushing a stroller, meeting, playing, watching performances, boating, singing, playing instruments and otherwise enjoying the outside. Because the common open space is so accessible, they’re not really missing private open space.

Only about half the driving age population has a car. A car is a major headache when it comes to garaging (several hundred dollars a month) and parking (impossible — they even have high-rise parking lots where cars are lifted by a forklift onto shelves and stacked five or more stories high), not to mention trying to get anywhere in the traffic. Instead, there are taxis (some 14,000 of them). The underground metro system is clean, safe, inexpensive, operates at all hours, and can get you wherever you want to go quickly and cheaply. What’s weird is that people who do own cars don’t have small ones.

Perhaps my favorite feature is the “10-Minute Neighborhood” quality of life in Manhattan. There are, almost on every block, small-scale commercial services to meet your daily needs: coffee in the morning on the way to the subway and work, a laundry, a corner market for food so you can shop for a day rather than a week’s worth of meals, more than one restaurant, a drug store, a spa if you want your nails done, flowers, a clothing store, etc. Many of the local stores have a fleet of bikes locked to a lamp post outside, and riders paid to deliver whatever you need to wherever you live.

There’s a lot to like about New York, but I wouldn’t want to live there. Increasing density in Davis is important, and big cities can be more energy-efficient, but New York is too big for me.

And, for the record, I never did make it to the U.N.