Climate Change Mitigation Is A Win-Win-Win-etc.

Assessments of mitigation strategies in four domains—household energy, transport, food and agriculture, and electricity generation—suggest an important message: that actions to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions often, although not always, entail net benefits for health. In some cases, the potential benefits seem to be substantial. This evidence provides an additional and immediate rationale for reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions beyond that of climate change mitigation alone.

So says a summary of  a new series of reports on climate change mitigation and public health, recently published in the Lancet (full article here).  Yet another example of what’s good for the planet is good for people.  No coincidence, that.

Meanwhile the call to make Seattle a carbon-neutral city by 2030 continues to reverberate. And one of the main conclusions in the Lancet series that’s most relevant to Seattle is this:

In terms of strategic choices, the greatest health gains seem likely to result from changes towards active transport, and from diets that are low in animal source foods, at least for adult populations in high-income countries.

Regarding animal source foods, the persistence of meat-based diets in educated and progressive cities like Seattle is a remarkable example of the power of culture. Most of us know that eating less meat makes both us and the planet healthier, and that meat production is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. Yet relatively few of us take that information seriously enough to make meaningful changes to our lifestyles.

The term “active transport” is code for walking and biking. Copenhagenize has a good post on the transport piece of the Lancet series, writing:

The report suggests that funds be redirected away from roads in order to make walking and cycling “the most direct, convenient and pleasant options for most urban trips”. Pedestrians and cyclists should also benefit from having a “priority” over cars and trucks at intersections.

And also noting the key point that:

Walking and cycling came out on top even when compared to increased use of low-emission vehicles that are widely sold as “green” solutions.

Because our transportation choices are so dependent on land use patterns, change on this front is a task far more challenging than eating less meat. Nevertheless it is a path that we should pursue, because (1) we need to be working on many strategies in parallel if we hope to avoid catastrophic climate change, and (2)  because the potential benefits extend beyond climate change mitigation and health.

We already have a proven model for restructuring our built environment to promote active transport:  transit-oriented communities (TOC). Futurewise, GGLO, and Transportation Choices Coalition recently published a report on TOC in the context of Seattle and Washington State, summarizing that high-performing TOC have the potential to:

  • Promote health by encouraging walking and bicycling, cutting air pollution, and reducing motor vehicle accidents;
  • Lower household expenses for both transportation and housing;
  • Reduce municipal infrastructure costs;
  • Provide a high return on public investment in transit infrastructure;
  • Help meet the growing demand for walkable neighborhoods;
  • Curb land consumption and thereby help conserve working farms and forests, and protect natural ecosystems and water quality; and
  • Cut energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions associated with both transportation and the built environment.

We also know that climate change mitigation has the potential to be an economic win: carbon-free prosperity is possible. And we also know that the cost of doing nothing is likely orders of magnitude higher than the cost of mitigation, and will be disproportionally felt by the poor.

How many vital reasons will we need before we get serious?


[ Confused about what this graph from the Lancet summary report is trying to tell us?  You're not alone---it's a great example of bad visual communication.  My take on it, without bothering to read the details, is that "active transport" and "lower carbon driving" have about the same potential for GHG reductions, but you get more health benefits from active transport.  Not surprising.  But also: the potential benefits from cleaner electricity generation dwarf transport, even in the EU. ]

9 Responses to “Climate Change Mitigation Is A Win-Win-Win-etc.”

  1. Max J

    This is an excellent post, Dan!

    In addition to environmental and health reasons for supporting TOD, I think there are cultural reasons, too. Jane Jacobs talked a lot about how cities are where things get created and a mix of uses is how neighborhoods stay vibrant.

    I think TOD can also be beautiful.

  2. Sivalinga, 20,000 Leagues Beneath Your Contempt

    While you ‘think globally and act locally’, They (serially) ‘think locally and act globally’. My concern is that They may also even be using your good faith efforts in their bad faith meta-efforts.

    Likewise, all your computations tacitly refuse to account for the fact that each computation is being conducted with Their dollars, not ‘ours’ or even ‘yours’, so Their paper will always beat (and beat it mathematically, please note) any new, pet Rock you dream up, no matter how awesomely frugal it is. (Note as well: in a False Dilemma, I can exclude ‘Scissors’ from the ‘Rock and Paper’ skirmish, simply by ‘leaving it out’, and controlling the premises, all in my own self-selected and value-added schema. This is typically how False Dilemmas are used… with systemic malice, exclusionary biases, compartmentalization, and with willful Bad Faith.)

    The post above is all true and real, and scientific, and from all that research, copious Tufte diagrams can indeed be generated… and all of that is neat for people at the level of their back yards, (unless your back yard is in the way of ‘progress’ of some kind), or is mostly cool at the level of: ‘just nearby and adjacent to our backyards’ (our ‘city’) — it just leaves out of its ‘paradigm shift’ what happens when paradigm shifts reveal ‘paradigms’, themselves. But who REALLY has energy or time for that?

    The real question not only goes unanswered, it goes on unaskable, pre-emptively ‘mitigated’: what if the sustainability concept is a file folder inside of a larger file folder which is designed — designed! — as ‘unsustainable’?

    This I think is the crux of my quip, ‘Gored on our own petard’.

    Thus any talking points about ‘dustbins of history’ dangerously liberate the deeper question, ‘where do the dustbins of history go, if they are part of what we still need to also throw out’?

    This is not empty rhetoric. These difficult questions are at the very center of any desire to move, either forward or backward.

  3. Joshua Daniel Franklin

    Sivalinga, if I read your comment correctly it can be summarized as “what if the sustainability concept is … ‘unsustainable’?” Well, I have no doubt that we are missing some fatal flaw in even the best plans. For example, it would be easy to mindlessly switch from an industrial meat-based diet to one reliant on industrial Monsanto-patented soybean agriculture: a massive reduction in polluting waste vs feedlots, but sustainable?

    But so what? Deconstructing our paradigms is all well and good, but I’d rather concentrate on what good actions we can take and advocate personally, such as walking or biking or asking for and choosing meatless (uh… and maybe soyless and cornless) menu options when socializing at non-Tilth restaurants.

  4. JoshMahar

    Greenhouse gas issues aside, I think that encouraging “active transport”, and subsequently reducing the use of cars, has some major benefits for urban areas that most people really don’t consider because they, and their parents, and possibly even their grandparents, have only ever known a world where automobiles have utterly dominated the urban environment.

    We can talk about all of the great things like healthier citizens, cleaner air, safer streets, more interaction with neighborhoods, etc. but I think what it boils down to is simply the complete transformation (or perhaps restoration) of a city built for actual people. Right now we build our cities for cars and our buildings for people. Thus, the external space becomes an inhospitable place designed simply for efficiently moving between destinations. Transitioning between these destinations, which are entirely introverted and disconnected from the greater whole, becomes wasted or dead time with little meaning. But if we can restore our cities to actual human environments then all space becomes more sacred, or at least more important. It means that going out for dinner does not just mean the meal at the restaurant, but the entire experience of moving through the city from one area to another, enjoying not just the sensations of the food, but the sites, sounds, and smells throughout. It is no coincidences that as Copenhagen has restored many of its public squares to people places instead of cars places, outdoor cafes and seating has multiplied exponentially. When cities are made for people it is impossible to separate the restaurant from its building, its street, and its neighborhood, they are intricately tied to each other and seamlessly flow together.

    Anyway, enough of my ramblings. All of you should take Dan’s constant advice and read more Lewis Mumford, he can spew venom at automobile culture more articulately than me.

  5. Sivalinga

    Joshua@3: Thanks for at least talking to me in here.

    My question is not simply ‘what if sustainability doesn’t eventually work?’… I am all for heroic efforts to do the hard things that are the right things. I want of course to not only ’sustain’ but to ‘improve and nurture’ a prevailing world or country or state or city or any other domain, ingressing from there.

    My questions hinge on the deeper question of: since we are engaged in rapid changes being made to ‘how we do things’, how can we elevate our own new ‘ideas’ to a level of rigor above that of ‘because it’s my (or ‘our’) lifestyle choice’, and it is ‘my effort to thus live my faith’?

    We seem to dislike ‘faith based initiatives’; shouldn’t we want to be post-Enlightenment people who are implementing new science and data, rather than new cults of ‘What We All Know-ism’?

    My appeal is to the question: how do we argue as ‘people who are concerned about everyone’ if in parallel we are still in a minority, attempting to persuade (or force)… or: how can we expect reception and changes, if we refuse to disclose our methodology or our own biases and uncertainties? It isn’t paradigms being deconstructed that I fear… it’s other people (especially ‘us’) misusing false paradigmatic ‘responses’ that they (we) manage to turn into ‘the way it is, now’. We see this (or I hope we do) as disastrously ham-fisted and possibly bogus in changes made to ‘The Security State’, here in ‘The Homeland’ (note how I bristle with tetchiness at the top-down way the discourse is already controlled by these terminologies and deliberately minted names… we can’t afford to think such concerns are just paranoia. Naomi Wolf is hardly ‘a conspiracy theorist’, I would hope, in anyone’s estimation…)

    It would be one thing for you and your enclaves to willfully choose an austerity or a self restraint. That’s awesome. I would support your freedoms to do so. Wendell Berry, Lewis Mumford, all very good. It is another thing to pass new laws into law, based on a plunge toward simply doing so, under cover of ‘because we all know it’s right, even if we are few and the mass is many’. This is happening, and a pendulum swinging in a reverse direction is no protection, if ‘pendulum swinging itself’ costs us all safety and personal freedoms. Let alone if a swingback is still (underneath the promotion campaigns and Hollywood artificing) synonymous with ’small groups or despots, using the same masses, improperly, toward the same catastrophes, all man made’. Again, compare what is being touted for ’security and world peace’ with its by products and Orwellian outcomes, its ‘changes’ and escalations, to what will soon be done (by the same force arms) in the name of ‘greening’. This cannot escape our scrutiny, just because ‘we want to hope in our lifetimes that we are right’… or because we want to pretend that stuff is ‘down the hall and to the left’, and not ‘what we are doing in here’. Serial unilateral material ponzi schemes should not be hierarchically arranged as ‘yeah but this one may be less awful than that other one’. Unless we admit boldly that is what we are doing. I can’t square any ponzi scheme to ’sustainability and ecology’, but this is because I take somewhat seriously the concepts of sustainability and ecology in a first place.

    How do you propose we eventually enact decisions and actions upon a majority, based on our idea that ‘it’s scientifically so that these reductions will be the right thing’, in absence of allowing the other people (‘decided for’; acted upon) some actual proof of this? This extends to nearly any new imposition of ‘thrift’. If you try to mix it (new Austerity; Green Values) all in with aesthetics, as in ‘this building is ugly, while that one is cool’… you end up in a deeper morass of serial circularity. But, it is a real and inevitable morass…

    What is our bottom line? Beyond our (possibly compromised) ‘belief that it is as we think, and that we are thus doing enough, as we see fit, while we modulate others’? Beyond our ‘value added data’ we cherry pick in our enclaves, throwing out any other data we decide is not supportive of our faith in ‘the new paradigm’?

    This has been my question all along. It appears as if I am ‘against’ something that may be dear to many in here. This is not so. My thesis is that ‘reducing and recycling’ (as if it is a merely our unilateral lifestyle choice to — or worse, as if it is some mandateable necessity that ’saves the planet’, especially if it can’t) — may disempower and ‘use up’ some reserves of our own energies, right now, needed to address more pressing issues.

    My appeal is still phenomenological, not ‘theoretical’. My urgency is right now, not ‘by maybe 2050, if…’

    There may be more pressing issues, should we choose to look up from the ones we ‘want to look at’, (and austerity feels good, when you are choosing to be austere…) and ‘at others that that we need to, at least at the same time’. This is why I invoke the somewhat cheap but understandably familiar image of ‘a file folder inside a file folder’… (doing so on here presupposes that anyone potentially reading these torrents of prose has a computer, etc)

    I would appeal to all scientific people to again look long and hard at the fact we are never talking about ‘calories’ or ‘BTUs’, even when we are… because these are all keyed to arbitrary (and possibly predatory) dollars, and yet this mechanism is or should be visible and disclosable, and referencable and knowable to some sort of degree, when we see abundantly that it is not.

    (Those who would roll their eyes above at my remarks and say ‘look, this kooky cat is referencing a “Them”!’, as if an indicator of my imbalance or marginality, would do well simply to call up the CNN clip of Bernanke refusing to explain to Congress — Congress! — where the ’stimulus’ money went, or who or what it actually thus ’stimulates’, or even HOW. Trillions, kids! This is like if you got called to task by your boss to explain a budget usage or business expense you made to that boss, and yet you had some ability to refuse to even answer… it would surely indicate you had some prior relationship or authority with HIS or HER boss, above them, or something similar… rather chilling, if you take time to really observe it and pursue it… and you may want to, since it’s the citizenry’s money they jacked and leached off, from under our descendant’s unborn feet… Biggest Heist Evar)

    In all operations, we seem to me to be living in a time where no elbow room for idiosyncratic ‘lifestyle politics’ is tenable… it is ‘The Oughts’… and to cling to splitting older hairs certainly cannot prove useful in a discussion invoking the talismans of ‘ecology’ or even ‘global ecological security’ as badges of distinction.

    Is it ‘ecology’ or ‘egology’? If it is the former, it should all ‘make sense’.

    I welcome any other conversation about this intractable problem posed by reality and phenomenologically observable trends in the situation. All of that investigation, as far as I can tell, would be absolutely still on topic and relevant to any discussion of: ‘fixing, or helping, or helping properly grow, and helping improve’ our cities and world.


  6. Joshua Daniel Franklin

    Sivalinga, you’re reminding me of my undergrad philosophy reading. I mean that in the best (and worst) way! I’d love to have the omniscient view of things, let me know if you make any progress on the intractable problem.

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  8. dan bertolet

    Well Sivalinga, we’ve had bits of this conversation before, and my take on it is that the planet is the top level folder. If the climate goes off the deep end, all of humanity goes down with it. “They” will find it much easier to institute totalitarian control when societies fall into chaos because the climate has changed so much that we can’t produce enough food to eat.

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