Smart Growth: A Good Idea even without Climate Change

worry_about_global_warming

The percentage of Americans who worry about climate change. Graphic credit: Gallup.

by James A. Bacon

To a large degree, the Smart Growth movement in the United States has hitched its wagon to catastrophic human-caused climate change as the primary justification for building walkable, mixed-use, transit-friendly human settlement patterns. Off and on, I have warned that the emphasis on global warming could be a political mistake. If the American people stop fretting about climate change, the No. 1 justification for Smart Growth goes out the window.

Now comes data from Gallup showing (a) that climate change ranks the second lowest (after race relations) among the 15 major issues that Americans the polling company tracks, and (b) the percentage who worry “a great deal” has dropped to the lowest level since 2001, when Gallup began tracking the issue.

Take a look at the Gallup graph above. Climate change is something Americans worry about more when times are good and concerns about jobs and the economy recede to the background. Interest in the issue took a dive after the 2002 and 2007 recessions, as one would expect. But climate change has been fading to the back of the mind in the past two years as well — even as the economy enters its sixth year of slow-but-steady economic growth.

Gallup doesn’t tell us why this change is happening. My guess it has something to do with the fact that 17 years of stable global temperatures don’t square with the more apocalyptic alarms of the environmental movement. The Global Warming crowd assures us that the pause is only temporary and that temperatures will shoot higher any time now. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. I’m not a soothsayer, so I can’t say.

What I can say is that Smart Growth is too important to be held hostage to the fluctuation in global temperatures. Even if the world slipped into another mini-ice age, there still would be very good reasons to support Smart Growth. I urge believers in walkable urbanism to cast their intellectual nets a little wider. One good place to start (aside from Bacon’s Rebellion, of course), is to start checking the Smart Growth for Conservative blog, which aggregates the thinking of contributors from around the country who write from fiscal conservative or free-market perspectives. We’ll be laying out a conservative case, whichever way the wind blows… or the thermometer goes.

19 Responses to Smart Growth: A Good Idea even without Climate Change

  1. I agree with your overall point: the Smart Growth movement shouldn’t be tied the climate change movement.

    But, I would like to point out that the poll is misleading. Americans are very concerned about climate change – they just don’t realize it. The #1 concern is the economy – and yet, if climate change is not dealt with, the potential negative economic consequences may be catastrophic for our economy. The #4 concern (unemployment) is certainly tied to climate change – both in the context of the economy as a whole but also in the context of specific industries impacted by climate change – like the agricultural sector (home to approximately 2.2 million jobs). Sectors that rely on cheap fuel may also be hit hard.

    Hunger is #7, and crime is #8. Climate change may have serious negative consequences for the global food supply, causing food prices to rise – which has been linked to global unrest by some economists.

    Climate change, as a particular, independent concern, may not rank high on Americans’ worry lists. But the possible negative effects of climate change are certainly much, much concerning to Americans – they just don’t think of those negative effects as “climate change.” They worry about “the economy,” etc.

    • you’re 100% correct and the funny thing is – ocean rise – not just in the CBAY but virtually all coastal areas – is said by the “deniers” to be just “seal level rise” and can’t be really attributed to anything even though it has tremendous economic impacts.. and portends ever more massive impacts in the future ..but God Forbid that it be caused by climate change!

  2. As that comment demonstrates, the Smart Growth Movement and the Climate Change Religion have a great deal in common and it’s fine with me if they skip hand in hand toward their shared vision of the apocalypse. Humans have been on the planet for a while now, through more than a few ice ages and some very serious famines and plagues and I have a feeling we can adapt to whatever grim future these whiny intellectuals lie awake fearing….Please. An asteroid is what’s going to do us in!

  3. I agree, Jim. I read a fantastic book on smart growth last year that laid out lots of easy principles for urban design and justified them as it went. It had great illustrations and numbers to back it up. Unfortunately, the entire book was framed in the first chapter with several dozen pages of apocalyptic warnings about global warming that added an air of urgency to the book. I almost wanted to offer the book to some of my fellow conservatives as a way of explaining good urban design principles, but I knew that none of them would get through the first chapter without completely checking out.

  4. there’s a difference between weather and climate:

    http://www1.ncdc.noaa.gov/pub/data/cmb/images/indicators/contiguous-us-temp.gif

    you’ll see on this chart – ups and downs over time – that’s weather.

    but the trend over 100 years is – climate.

    when this chart is shown the skeptics say that the data is bogus and has been done wrong incompetently or done wrong on purpose – AND that the fact that there is consensus worldwide – proves there is a conspiracy!

    on the Smart Growth – if that’s not govt social engineering, I don’t know what is.. when we say there is a “Conservative” approach to Smart Growth – my question is – does it involve government or it a totally free market endeavor? are there examples in the world beyond 3rd world cities?

  5. Larry, how was the long-term mean temperature calculated?

    • the way that climate scientists have agreed is a legitimate way to do it.

      would you ask scientists that predict the paths of hurricanes how they do it – and expect to be able to determine if they did it “right” or not?

      why would you be able to look at what any scientist did for the measurement of anything and with your non-scientific background be able to render a view as to the legitimacy of what they did?

      If 9 out of 10 doctors told you that they had used scientific means to determine that you had a particular kind of cancer and 1 doctor disagreed.. who would you believe?

      would you go on the internet to figure out in a few minutes of reading a website or two – that the 9 doctors were wrong?

      when 9 out of 10 scientists around the world believe that temperature measurements are valid and legitimate – how would you explain how 90% of scientists who graduated from dozens of different schools with Masters and PHDs.. and have worked in those fields for decades … are colluding together to agree on something that is wrong?

      I do not believe every scientist .. there have been some spectacular failures of individual scientists as well as corrupt ones.

      but when 9 out of 10 – around the planet agree – I do not believe it’s a conspiracy nor that they are all wrong and the 1 out 10 is right.

      Have a majority of scientists every agreed and turned out to be wrong?

      yes.

      here’s the question. Are you willing to gamble that they are wrong?

      what if we took that approach with the Ozone Holes a few years back.

      why did we believe them and act on the ozone holes but not with global warming?

      • Larry, I asked a simple question and you didn’t answer it. How did they calculate the long-term mean temperature? It’s not much different than the question I asked the Fairfax County storm water engineer: How does the government calculate benefits to the Chesapeake Bay alleged to result from storm water projects?

        If the U.S. eliminated most carbon emissions, the developing world’s increased emissions would simply replace and exceed them.

        • actually I DID answer it. I said – the same way they measured the Ozone Holes.

          I don’t know exactly how .. there are different ways to measure but I have no reason to doubt them seeing how I do not have any more knowledge and experience on that issue than I do ozone holes or hurricane modelling or cancer or most scientific endeavors.

          Even if I KNEW precisely HOW they measure, with my lack of background in science – how would I be one to judge? We have people who do not have even a degree in Science who are claiming hey understand it better than PHDs working in the field for decades – around the planet – 98% of them.

          but why would I select out one particular science to become an armchair scientists on in the first place if I have no credentials in the field to begin with?

          why would I think the climate scientists are any more or less “liars” that those who worked on the Ozone holes or Hurricanes?

          and you’re actually wrong when you compare HOW the Fairfax engineers MEASURE “benefits” vs how scientists measure earth data.

          why would you believe Fairfax Engineers and not Climate Scientists?

          do you know how “engineers” .. MEASURE phosphorous or nitrogen in the rivers?

          would you think you’d know if you read about it from someone who is not an engineer or scientist who believes they are doing it wrong?

          by the way- I’m a critic of the Bay program not because I trust or mistrust scientists or engineers but because I think they DON’T measure at specific sites where there might be effluent from cities or pastures.. etc…

          even then I would not know what metric out of dozens available they might choose to measure with..

          when you look at a NOAA chart and you’re asking me if I know HOW they measure.. what does that mean? do you know how Fairfax engineers MEASURE? I doubt it..

          I try to be consistent.. and try to admit that I’m ignorant on a wide variety of issues.. (as we all are)…. but I try not to use a double-standard with scientists where I believe some of them and disbelieve others.. with no real differential as to why.

          Did you trust the scientists that warned we needed to stop using CFCs?

          did you doubt the trend data they presented to show the growing problem and threat that we needed to deal with or risk catastrophe?

          what has changed in our politics between the Ozone Hole and Global warming in terms of our trust of the scientists warning us?

          why are climate scientists liars but ozone scientists truth-tellers?

          • I’m no statistics major, but you need a starting and stopping place to calculate an average. For baseball, it’s the first game of the regular season. What is it for temperature.

            I don’t think scientists necessarily lie, nor do I think they naturally tell the truth. I’ve known stock brokers I’ve thought were truthful and others I didn’t believe. Why do you believe people who are looking for more funding couldn’t tweak the results of research to get more money?

          • re: ” I’m no statistics major, but you need a starting and stopping place to calculate an average. For baseball, it’s the first game of the regular season. What is it for temperature.”

            I truly do not know but do I trust people who have the education credentials and lifelong careers in the field to know more than I – yes.

            “I don’t think scientists necessarily lie, nor do I think they naturally tell the truth. I’ve known stock brokers I’ve thought were truthful and others I didn’t believe. Why do you believe people who are looking for more funding couldn’t tweak the results of research to get more money?”

            we’re not talking about one or two scientists – we’re talking about the vast majority in the field.

            re: the funding? why do you think ONLY climate scientists would do this – and do it on a worldwide basis – and no other fields of science would do it – ?

            do you think the scientists who worked on the Ozone Hole – on a worldwide basis – were seeking “funding”?

            how about other fields of science – like Cancer research or hurricane modelling?

            do you think those scientists are also guilty of the same supposed behavior.

            why do you think that of all the science in the world, on the earth, that somehow the climate scientists are – as a group – around the world – the most corrupt and lying SOBs?

            why do you judge them differently than other scientists?

            again – there are bad scientists – who do bad science or corrupt science but how do you allocate this on a such a widespread basis to one field of science?

          • Larry, I think we need to test what all scientists say – not just climate scientists. But I am especially skeptical of the latter for a number of reasons.

            The “profession” was predicting a new ice age in the 1970s. Now we hear just the opposite. That’s a big contradiction. Why the 180? If your profession was wrong before, why should we believe it now?

            I also would like to know more about how they calculate average temperatures. When do they start? Where do they measure? If you measure one of my brother’s grades from elementary school through college, you get one picture – not so hot. But if you start when he went back to grad school for an MAT years later, you’d think he was a scholar. The FTC is always probing the validity of marketing claims.

            I’d like to know more about what they believe to be the norm. And what about the warm periods in the Middle Ages and the Little Ice Age that followed. How did these changes occur sans carbon emissions. What is the impact of solar changes?

            When I was growing up, there didn’t seem to be many climate scientists. Is there any correlation between the growth in the number of climate scientists and the additional funding for global warming?

            Why don’t American climate scientists address 3rd World carbon emissions? Why don’t they talk about what we get for controlling carbon emissions? What tangible benefit is there to someone living in Grand Island, Nebraska?

            I am skeptical of anyone who is looking for political power and public money. I’m digging no deeper here than I did on Dulles Rail, the revision of the Tysons Comp Plan or the Fairfax County Public Schools’ budget request.

            When I came to Washington almost 30 years ago, I was told the best way to be successful was to have an answer for your opponent’s questions. Climate change is religion and does not tolerate even civil debate.

          • ” Larry, I think we need to test what all scientists say – not just climate scientists.”

            I totally agree.

            ” But I am especially skeptical of the latter for a number of reasons.
            The “profession” was predicting a new ice age in the 1970s. Now we hear just the opposite. That’s a big contradiction. Why the 180? If your profession was wrong before, why should we believe it now?”

            we had similar issues with other science including the Ozone holes. Science moves by peer reviews and consensus – and it can swing back and forth as it is calibrating … but once a strong consensus is reached – say with regard to Ozone Holes and 98% of them are saying in their collective view – we need to stop using CFCs – do you as a person without scientific credentials presume to read a few articles and challenge them?

            why would you do it – with some science and not other?

            “I also would like to know more about how they calculate average temperatures. When do they start? Where do they measure? If you measure one of my brother’s grades from elementary school through college, you get one picture – not so hot. But if you start when he went back to grad school for an MAT years later, you’d think he was a scholar. The FTC is always probing the validity of marketing claims.”

            there are different ways – with different methods.. and as a non-scientist I could not begin to explain the advantages or disadvantages of a given way verses another way.

            but if 9 out of 10 doctors tell you that by using a variety of imaging and other techniques – that you are sick – on what basis are you qualified to question any of their methods?

            would you similarly challenge scientists that use 40+ different models to predict Hurricane paths – NONE of which exactly and precisely predicted the actual path but all of them pointed correctly in general with various error margins?

            do you understand Science?

            “I’d like to know more about what they believe to be the norm. And what about the warm periods in the Middle Ages and the Little Ice Age that followed. How did these changes occur sans carbon emissions. What is the impact of solar changes?”

            I think your questions are legitimate. Are you qualified to answer them? Are others who are not scientists either – qualified to answer?

            “When I was growing up, there didn’t seem to be many climate scientists. Is there any correlation between the growth in the number of climate scientists and the additional funding for global warming?”

            when you were growing up – how many scientists were doing hurricane models or Ozone hole models? Why do ask questions like this – that seem to seek to undermine the science by discrediting it?

            “Why don’t American climate scientists address 3rd World carbon emissions? Why don’t they talk about what we get for controlling carbon emissions? What tangible benefit is there to someone living in Grand Island, Nebraska?”

            They do.. … they’re indicating where all of them are coming from … If weather changes so that there are 3 times as many serious weather events – from drought to tornadoes… Grand Island is not isolated …

            “I am skeptical of anyone who is looking for political power and public money. I’m digging no deeper here than I did on Dulles Rail, the revision of the Tysons Comp Plan or the Fairfax County Public Schools’ budget request.”

            well I am too.. but why would you claim that some science is doing that and not all science? do you think that scientists that study kidney cancer or looking for money and power?

            how about scientists that predict hurricanes or tornadoes? do you think they are also corrupt?

            “When I came to Washington almost 30 years ago, I was told the best way to be successful was to have an answer for your opponent’s questions. Climate change is religion and does not tolerate even civil debate.”

            the people who believed scientists for Ozone Holes and then believe Climate Scientists later on – did not make this a religion. They were relying on scientific opinion the same way in both cases.

            It was and is the opponents who have made this about religion – for one kind of science.. If these same people were doing the same thing they are doing now
            for Ozone Holes – we would not have banned CFCs… and it too would have degenerated into “skeptics” who opposed the cost of banning CFCs and impugned scientists…etc.

            Who questioned the Ozone Hole Scientists methods of “measuring” ?

            Do you think now – that the Ozone Scientists stampeded us into doing something we did not have to do?

            TMT – you have to acknowledge that things have changed on these issues.

            and that the opponents are very selective about what science they are attacking.

            I’ve not heard a single one of the skeptics point to the fact that more than 40 hurricane models exist and not one of them is 100% accurate .. every one has errors and measurement issues yet where are the Hurricane Model “skeptics” and where are the claims that Hurricane Scientists are seeking money to study hurricanes and power to influence policy?

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  7. Larry, would you agree the amount of money and political power sought by climate scientists outweighs any sought by other scientists? Many climate scientists and their followers want to reorder the American economy and society. I’ve never heard most other scientists, including those who did research on smoking, try to reach so far. Some climate scientists want to ban automobiles and impose a carbon tax. Some go so far as to say Americans must give up meat for sake of carbon emissions. When someone wants to reorder society to their benefit, someone needs a helluva lot more scrutiny than someone who wants to change propellants in spray cans.

    You are still dodging my questions about earlier changes in climate and also the predicted new ice age.

    • ” Larry, would you agree the amount of money and political power sought by climate scientists outweighs any sought by other scientists?”

      no. do you have definitive data to show that?

      ” Many climate scientists and their followers want to reorder the American economy and society.”

      you’re choosing to IMPUGN only one kind of scientist – why?

      ” I’ve never heard most other scientists, including those who did research on smoking, try to reach so far.”

      you’re confusing scientists who do research with people who use the work product of those scientists to advocate for something.

      ” Some climate scientists want to ban automobiles and impose a carbon tax. ”

      how do you know this? Can you show me a real Climate Scientists who does this kind of advocacy?

      why do you believe such patently false crap that is promoted by non-scientist skeptics?

      If you want to say these things – then provide some evidence beyond what the right wing idiots are blathering..

      “Some go so far as to say Americans must give up meat for sake of carbon emissions. When someone wants to reorder society to their benefit, someone needs a helluva lot more scrutiny than someone who wants to change propellants in spray cans.”

      do you not think there was huge costs to banning CFCs? why do you not accuse the Ozone Hole scientists of advocating that people give up meat and cars?

      why do you choose to believe this ONLY for one KIND of scientist?

      “You are still dodging my questions about earlier changes in climate and also the predicted new ice age.”

      No I’m not. I’m telling you that I’m not a scientist and neither are you – and that neither of us can become scientists by reading a few internet web sites put out by folks who are not scientists … and who also selectively attack certain kinds of science but not others – depending on what science they don’t like not.

      either develop a consistent view of science or admit that you’re selectively biased according to your own opinions of what you want to believe or not.

      we at the stage where the skeptics are saying that virtually all climate scientists are engaged in a global conspiracy to lie to everyone on earth.

      but they won’t say that about science in general.. science about ozone holes, or cancer, or tsunamis or hurricanes or tornado… why the different standards for “skepticism”?

    • TMT – I can go along with some of your thinking if you spoke of specific scientists who you identified as wrong doers… there have been in the past and now in the present and undoubtedly into the future – sorry examples of “scientists” – maybe starting with Edison electrocuting elephants to prove
      that AC electricity was “dangerous” compared to his DC invention.

      but when you attempt to tie one or two bad apples to the entire field of climate science – to include all such scientists in NOAA and NASA and around the world – because they all achieve consensus on global warming … it going too far.

      Every field of science has charlatans but that does not mean the field itself is all charlatans… how in the world do you reach that point in your reasoning?

      this reminds me of the time when the cigarette industry was going after any/all scientists who said cigarettes were linked to cancer and heart disease.

      the entire field of science was under attack for – essentially agreeing that cigarettes were deadly…

      that’s what is going on right now except with climate science.

      when you impugn almost everyone that is involved – with bad motives and corrupt behaviors.. – in the US and around the world – it’s just bizarre.

  8. I agree it could be a mistake to justify energy efficiency investments based solely on climate change. I don’t have all the answers, but my guess is we will enter a cyclical period of less public concern about climate change. There are plenty of other good reasons to improve energy efficiency/supply diversity.

    Back in the early 1990′s when New Jersey was attempting to promote the construction of coal fired power plants, global warming had fallen off the public radar screen and thus was not an effective argument against NJ’s pro-coal policy. I foresee the cycle probably repeating.

    • agree but in today’s political environment – even efforts towards energy efficiency is attacked – ergo the right-wing kerfuffle over “Obama” taking away people’s (incandescent) light bulbs and “job killing” regulations on coal plants… even complaints about auto fuel efficiency standards and appliance efficiency standards.. water-saving plumbing fixtures, etc…

      I’m not making this up… just google some of those key words and you’ll get an avalanche of right-wing/Agenda 21 websites going bat-crap crazy over “conspiracies” to “force” people to conserve…

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