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.