On Global Warming

Apropos of President Bush’s speech on global warming, King County Exec Ron Sims has an op-ed in yesterday’s Seattle Times urging a “no” vote on our local Prop. 1, the joint “Roads and Transit” measure.

I already blogged a bit on the piece itself over at Orphan Road, but I want to take a step back and talk about something that has peeved me vis-a-vis transit and global warming. The thrust of Sims argument is that the plan is really expensive and commits us to building a lot of new highways that will ultimately add to global warming.

This is obviously a pretty progressive stance to take: new highways are being built all over the country and the world right now, and it’s unclear that any one of these projects has been stopped or even reconsidered because of global warming. So we’re already pretty far out on the cutting edge of climate change thinking just by suggesting this link.

(Of course, Prop 1. doesn’t build many new highways — it mostly expands the current ones, but that’s still “new highway miles”).

On top of this, you’ve got places like the “National Center for Policy Analysis” (a fake name for a think tank if there ever was one) suggesting that our next light rail project will do little to combat global warming.

All of this seems pretty narrow-minded to me. Not all highway lanes, and not all light rail projects, are created equal. Excepting the controversial Cross Base Highway, most of the roads expension we’re talking about here is “infill,” in that it’s within the boundaries of the State’s Growth Management Act. In other words, we’re talking about sprawl, but it’s “smart sprawl.”

Let me put it another way: population growth in Seattle is fundamentally better for the environment than growth anywhere else in America, for a variety of reasons. If you took a million residents of, say, Las Vegas, and moved them to the Seattle suburbs, you’d make a big, immediate dent in climate change. Why?

  • They’s be within the boundaries of a growth management district
  • more moderate climate means less need for air conditioning
  • more of their electricity would be supplied by renewables like hydro power (the Hoover Dam is only a small % of Vegas’ electricity)
  • more pervasive use of recycling
  • etc…

In other words, all else being equal, our sprawl is still better than their sprawl. So, again to quote the President, I say, bring ’em on! Should we be thinking about the carbon impacts of new highways? Absolutely. But we should also realize that global warming is a global problem, and the solutions needed at the local level are sometimes different from what we need to do nationally.