Saturday, May 29, 2010

Step, Baby, Step

In thinking about sustainability and urban design, I'm not sure how change on a massive scale comes about. Catastrophe is certainly an attention-getter, but with the outcomes being pretty unpredictable it's not really the policy tactic of choice.

The oil spill in the Gulf is in that category, but with the "Drill, Baby, Drill" crowd somehow using that disaster to further their agenda we are clearly in up-is-down world.  I hear them bleating, "We should drill everywhere so we can be independent of foreign oil but oil is an international commodity and the oil companies are driven by profit not national allegiance so another 2% in the international market doesn't make any difference at all but it's a cudgel to beat Obama with which is a feature not a bug and now that crude is loose in the Louisiana wetlands we can blame him since our followers have no intellectual honesty or memory or honor and it makes us look populist and even though the obvious conclusion of our hysteria about Obama not plugging that hole is regulation of the industry we'll fight that tooth and nail and ask rhetorically why Obama hates America and as soon as the oil-soaked birds are off the front pages we'll be yelling Drill, Baby, Drill again." At least that's the way it sounds to me. Spill, Rinse, Repeat.

So in the face of our society's logic on this front it's hard to see how small, local, good ideas can ever get a foothold and evolve and grow into any real change. Change that is literally essential to our success as a species, a success that is hardly assured.  And Bob Herbert accurately points out that even Obama has some kind of corporate-funded, campaign-financed amnesia about the oil companies historical tendency to be shocked, shocked that something could go horribly wrong.  As John Cole of Balloon Juice often says, "Hoocoodanode". (That Balloon Juice lexicon is some fine reading, "political humor" category.)

Who knows what this latest spill-catastrophe's effects are going to be?  No one, that's who.  As chemical dispersants are ladled generously over the muck an infinite number of toxic bits will find their way into the local environment - and by "local environment" I mean "the ocean and everything it touches".  Eating high on the food-chain seems ill-advised these days - as those carcinogens begin working their way north who knows what fun they are going to have.

But I do see small changes out there, green shoots through the concrete, and they do give me hope. I saw this piece the other day that here in beautiful downtown Santa Monica they are instituting a "Bike@Work" program, that The Argonaut describes thusly:

"Bike@Work, provides city staff access to a fleet of branded city bicycles to ride to local meetings and between city facilities. Eight new and five retrofitted bicycles are available for employees to check out during the day for commutes between city facilities from the Santa Monica Airport to the Santa Monica Pier and other offices around town.

The collaborative effort of the Planning and Community Development Department and the Office of Sustainability and the Environment is intended to help fellow employees bicycle more and drive less, city officials note.

Having more staff ride locally supports the Land Use and Circulation Element’s transportation demand management goals, bicycle awareness and environmental stewardship as well as healthy habits among staff..."

That sounds great to me.  The little acorn that becomes the oak.  You know, baby steps.  

Step, Baby, Step.

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