Per Capita Davis: Taking stock at the end of 2019?
Another year is ending, and another is beginning. Typically, New Year’s Day is when we can all reboot, put the past behind, make resolutions, and look forward with bright optimism. I confess I instead feel a significant trepidation about the future.
In some very important ways, the discussion around the climate crisis has improved. The percentage of people who continue to deny the existence of a problem has declined around the world and even reaches into the highest levels of policy discussions in the U.S. A big problem, however, is that it is still mostly talk, with little concrete action.
This is perhaps best summarized by an article on the front page of the New York Times this week describing the end of talks in Spain that were supposed to add concrete and specific detail to the promises and goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement.
Remembering back to 2015, there was general congratulatory celebration at the conclusion of the Paris talks that finally the world, almost every country, including the U.S., was going to get serious about tackling the climate crisis. There was some kicking of the can down the road, especially on issues of accountability and reimbursement from the major polluters to those countries suffering the effects of that pollution.
That was four years ago. Since then, rather than going forward, most countries, most notably the U.S., have been backsliding. Maybe “backsliding” is too mild a term. The Trump administration announced its intention to withdraw from the agreement in total, and has been actively searching for every conceivable way to overturn any and all Obama era policies and regulations that would limit or reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But it’s not just us.
The Paris Agreement set a goal of limiting global temperature increase to not more than 2 degrees Celsius, but also indicated a commitment to doing better than that — 1.5 degrees Celsius. Despite the massive accumulation of science that storms, fires, droughts, sea level rise, etc. are increasing, and the world is dangerously close to “tipping points,” not only could they, led by he US, China, India and other large emitters, not agree on efforts to meet the 1.5-degree goal, they apparently couldn’t even agree on measures required to meet the 2-degree goal.
In summary, quoting the lead paragraph in the New York Times article, “In what was widely denounced as one of the worst outcomes in a quarter century of climate negotiations, United Nations talks ended on Sunday with the United States and other big polluters blocking even a nonbinding measure that would have encouraged countries to adopt more ambitious targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions next year.”
Further, “The outcome was also notable in that it followed a surge in street demonstrations this year often led by young people, highlighting the deep fissures between the demands of thousands of citizens and their governments.”
Scientists and others have been arguing for decades that the longer the world waits to address the problem the more drastic, urgent, severe and expensive any solutions will have to be.
What’s driving many of the street demonstrations, as well as other manifestations of the level of concern growing among young people, revolves around one word in that last sentence: urgency. It’s not that they think nothing is being done. Rather, what is being done is not enough to allay their fears about the nature of the world they will be inheriting.
The title of this column has for over a decade, been “Per Capita Davis,” intending to indicate that what we can do as individuals can aggregate into broad-based change. With the apparent failure, for whatever reasons, of national governments to take meaningful action, we have seen significant commitments from people, corporations, and subnational governments. But the question is always still the same: are the actions sufficient to satisfy the urgency of the problem? And, as a corollary, proposed actions often are disruptive to current economic interest or the status quo and described and opposed as too severe.
This tension between urgency and disruptiveness is now everywhere, including in policies and actions right here in Davis. Examples include a requirement to switch from gas to electrical appliances, to encourage bike travel that might impinge on car transit or parking, and infill development. Infill development, containing sprawl, is one of the lynch pins of sustainable development.
A friend, in a conversation with me about potential increased traffic around Fifth Street and Pole line Road as a consequence of multi-family construction ion that area, nailed the issue: “The curse of infill development is increased congestion.” Even with provision of services like a grocery store, cafe, daycare center and schools within a walkable distance of increased density, whether near Fifth and Pole Line, at University Mall, or anywhere in town, infill is a big part of our sustainable future and will require us to think differently about what is “normal” and to make changes in how we go about our lives.
The great thing is, increased density, properly planned, can materially increase quality of life. My resolution for 2020? Support and enjoy well-planned increased density and infill development.
— John Mott-Smith is a resident of Davis. This column appears in the print version of the Enterprise the first and third Wednesday of each month. Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Crossposted from the Davis Enterprise
Published online on November 20, 2019 | Printed in the November 20, 2019 edition on page A8
Cool Davis is a coalition of citizens, the City of Davis, and community organizations working to empower our community to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
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“I’m optimistic about 2021. My hope lies in the millions of young people who are speaking up and demanding action. Let’s continue doing that, because I know we will win.”