Climate news floods Florida

Even though the U.S. Department of Agriculture knows that without studies showing its dangers, climate change is not really happening, news outlets in Florida are banding together to talk about the weather:

Now six Florida news organizations — The Miami Herald, South Florida Sun Sentinel, Tampa Bay Times, Palm Beach Post, Orlando Sentinel, and WLRN — are forming a partnership to cover climate change stories together. They’ll start out by sharing content across their newsrooms, but over time are hoping to collaborate on reporting as well. The partnership may also expand to include universities and nonprofit newsrooms.

“We aim to be the ProPublica of environmental reporting for our state,” Nicholas Moschella, editor of The Palm Beach Post, said in a statement.

Many of the participating news organizations have worked together in some capacity in the past. The Miami Herald and WLRN have had an editorial partnership for 15 years and share newsrooms, for instance, and the Herald, WLRN, Sun Sentinel, and Post are already partners on The Invading Sea, an investigation into sea-level rise. “This is an opportunity to maximize our ability to cover the biggest story of our lives,” said Julie Anderson, executive editor of the Sun Sentinel and Orlando Sentinel, both Tribune papers.

Just for scale, the  U.S. is also surrounded on two sides by water and supposedly split down the middle by… indecision.

The Way We Develop

plosOneSEStories we tell children about a long ago time and place, a verdant, green land with cities and towns that glistened within their limits and only slipped beyond those with the greatest care and caution. Linked by tiny roads and fast rail lines, seen from the air the denser areas were surrounded by neat parcels under cultivation. It all looked so orderly and organized to work properly, if not effectively. Oh, yes, then there was that other meaning of denser:

Giant urban sprawl could pave over thousands of acres of forest and agriculture, connecting Raleigh to Atlanta by 2060, if growth continues at its current pace, according to a newly released research paper from the U.S. Geological Survey.

“We could be looking at a seamless corridor of urban development,” said Adam Terando, a research ecologist with the USGS and an adjunct professor at North Carolina State University who was the study’s lead author.

The development will engulf land from North Carolina to Georgia, and possibly spread to Birmingham, Ala., “if we continue to develop urban areas in the Southeast the way we have for the past 60 years,” he said.

Combining USGS demographic modeling with North Carolina State’s High Performance Computing Services and analyzing the data for six years, Terando and his five co-authors estimated that urbanization in the Southeast will increase by up to 190 percent.

See also, the Myth of Progress for further edification. That orderly view is also available, but you’ll have to make arrangements to take a different route.

Image: The Southeast U.S. region used in this study. (Terando et. al/PLOS One)


I’ve been re-reading an old issue of Harper’s Magazine from 2007 that I came across in the home kids office while looking for something else – love when that happens, though it’s something that is being disappeared by our ability to search the internet and find only what we want (but that’s another issue for another Friday).

Anyway, there’s a fantastic article by Pankaj Mishra in that issue, a review of two books on India and China. A man after my own heart, the article is called It’s a round world after all: India, China, and the global economy and Mishra provides full service by going back to the musings of Henry Luce in Time and Life to show how western commentators, governments, markets and financial sectors (currently, we are ruled in all but name by a mash-up of these last three two) have consistently gotten China and India wrong, with vast and mostly irredeemable consequences for all of us. Unfortunately, this fine piece of history and journalism is behind a paywall and hence, will not be our focus right now, but I encourage you to seek it out if at all possible (come hither, internets!).

What I will share is this review by Mishra of Civilisation: The West and Rest by Niall Ferguson, wherein he essentially uses Ferguson’s book to chart the same map – the folly of our solipsistic worldview regarding Asia, history, basically any other people. After starting off with an analogy using my favorite protag and yours, Nick Carraway, for a side riff on Ferguson’s earlier book, the Pity of War, he gets on to the matter at hand:

This wistful vision of an empire on which the sun need never have set had an immediately obvious defect. It grossly underestimated – in fact, ignored altogether – the growing strength of anti-colonial movements across Asia, which, whatever happened in Europe, would have undermined Britain’s dwindling capacity to manage its vast overseas holdings. At the time, however, The Pity of War seemed boyishly and engagingly revisionist, and it established Ferguson’s reputation: he was opinionated, ‘provocative’ and amusing, all things that seem to be more cherished in Britain’s intellectual culture than in any other.

In retrospect, The Pity of War’s Stoddardesque laments about the needless emasculation of Anglo-Saxon power announced a theme that would become more pronounced as Ferguson, setting aside his expertise in economic history, emerged as an evangelist-cum-historian of empire. He was already arguing in The Cash Nexus, published a few months before the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, that ‘the United States should be devoting a larger percentage of its vast resources to making the world safe for capitalism and democracy’ – if necessary by military force. ‘Let me come clean,’ he wrote in the New York Times Magazine in April 2003, a few weeks after the shock-and-awe campaign began in Iraq, ‘I am a fully paid-up member of the neoimperialist gang.’

Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World (2003), Ferguson’s next book, appeared in America with a more didactic subtitle: ‘The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power’. The word ‘empire’ still caused some unease in the US, whose own national myths originated in an early, short-lived and selective anti-imperialism. An exasperated Ferguson – ‘the United States,’ he claimed, ‘is an empire, in short, that dare not speak its name’ – set out to rescue the word from the discredit into which political correctness had apparently cast it. Britain’s 19th-century empire ‘undeniably pioneered free trade, free capital movements and, with the abolition of slavery, free labour. It invested immense sums in developing a global network of modern communications. It spread and enforced the rule of law over vast areas.’ ‘Without the spread of British rule around the world,’ he went on, in a typical counterfactual manoeuvre, colonised peoples, such as Indians, would not have what are now their most valuable ideas and institutions – parliamentary democracy, individual freedom and the English language.

America should now follow Britain’s example, Ferguson argued, neglecting to ask why it needed to make the modern world if Britain had already done such a great job. He agreed with the neocon Max Boot that the United States should re-create across Asia the ‘enlightened foreign administration once provided by self-confident Englishmen in jodhpurs and pith helmets’. ‘The work needs to begin, and swiftly,’ he wrote, ‘to encourage American students at the country’s leading universities to think more seriously about careers overseas.’

Ferguson’s proposed ‘Anglobalisation’ of the world was little more than an updated version of American ‘modernisation theory’, first proposed as an alternative to Communism during the Cold War, and now married to revolutionary violence of the kind for which Communist regimes had been reviled. It makes for melancholy reading in 2011. But in the first heady year of the global war on terror, easy victories over the ragtag army of the Taliban ignited megalomaniacal fantasies about the ‘Rest’ across a broad ideological spectrum in Anglo-America, from Ann Coulter arguing that ‘we should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity’ to the unctuous ‘Empire-Lite’ of Michael Ignatieff and the ‘liberal imperialism’ peddled by Robert Cooper, one of Blair’s fly-by-night gurus. ‘Islamofascism’ seemed as evil as Nazism, Saddam Hussein was another Hitler, a generation-long battle loomed, and invocations of Winston Churchill – ‘the greatest’, according to Ferguson, ‘of all Anglo-Americans’, his resolute defence of English-speaking peoples commemorated by a bust in the Bush White House – seemed to stiffen spines all across the Eastern Seaboard.

The reception a writer receives in a favourable political context can be the making of him. This applies particularly well to Ferguson, whose books are known less for their original scholarly contribution than for containing some provocative counterfactuals. In Britain, his bluster about the white man’s burden, though largely ignored by academic historians, gained substance from a general rightward shift in political and cultural discourse, which made it imperative for such apostles of public opinion as Andrew Marr to treat Ferguson with reverence. But his apotheosis came in the United States, where – backed by the prestige of Oxbridge and, more important, a successful television series – he became a wise Greek counsellor to many aspiring Romans. He did not have to renounce long-held principles to be elevated to a professorship at Harvard, primetime punditry on CNN and Fox, and high-altitude wonkfests at Davos and Aspen. He quickly and frictionlessly became the most conspicuous refugee from post-imperial Britain to cheerlead Washington’s (and New York’s) consensus.

Measures of Affluence

Is it how fat you are? Or how skinny? An iPhone or Samsung? Clothes, car, house… surely all of these. But like so many things, of course, it depends.

The consumption model flows from conspicuous to discreet, along a kind of progressive continuum, whereby once you achieve a certain stage or level of affluence and find momentary reprieve from keeping up, your benchmark then changes to reflect the new set of priorities of those directly above you. And the fun begins again.

So what if (!) other variables experienced a, um, shift, in their ability to reflect the wealth of their bearer? For example, let’s say that once upon a time only the rich could abandon the bustle of the city and afford lengthy commutes to far flung homes, to live out in the country and venture into town only on occasion. Even if they had to travel in everyday, this too was a sign of how much they could afford to spend on personal transportation. But then the dirty, dangerous city becomes more desirable for some reason, or life in the country less so (bears, Sasquatch) and a switch occurs wherein a long commute is suddenly a symbol of penury, while the short drive or the ability to even occasionally do without a car becomes IT among the fashionable set. Wow. That’s convoluted. You see what we’re up against. But is there another way to have get fancy trains and buses and trams and funiculars?

There’s no way to pull back on burning seas oil drilling without dramatically stepped-up conservation; and there’s no way, in this culture, to make conservation work without making it part and parcel of status and/or something people want. I guess we might at least look at this as something that can happen, however far-fetched it may seem.

Dead Malls

Friday Reading Slideshow. Found by Mrs. Green.

The photo shows a former Pep Boys store in Columbus, Ohio, photographed in August 2009. Ulrich had spent a long day shooting at a mall down the street; it was 3 a.m. when he stopped here. Inside the lobby, he could see a dead bird. He went in for a close-up, not realizing a motion sensor was still active. “I started to step in, and this alarm went screaming,” Ulrich recalls. “It probably went off for half an hour.” This being a ghost store, though, no one came.

Real Estate

This is one of those areas where green is green, green meets green, green begets green… however you want to think about it.

It is turning out that the outlook for investments in smart growth real estate are better than for investments in sprawl(!).

“Next-generation projects will ori ent to infill, urbanizing suburbs, and transit-oriented develop ment. Smaller housing units-close to mass transit, work, and 24-hour amenities-gain favor over large houses on big lots at the suburban edge. People will continue to seek greater convenience and want to reduce energy expenses. Shorter commutes and smaller heating bills make up for higher infill real estate costs.”

In the near term, the report advises investors to “buy or hold multifamily” as “the only place with a hint of hope, because of demographic demand” as a large contingent of echo boomers seek their first homes.  In a section titled “markets to watch,” the report also advises investors to favor convenient urban office (see graph), retail, entertainment and recreation districts where there are mass transit alternatives to driving.  Investors are advised to shy away from, among other things, fringe areas “with long car com mutes or where getting a quart of milk means taking a 15- minute drive.”

The report is Emerging Trends in Real Estate 2010 and its conclusions are pretty obvious. What the report signifies is this outlook working its way into the consciousness of real estate developers and investors. Change the diaper, change the landscape.

Getting Comfortable w/o Parking

If you needed to be shown how completely entangled this parking lot-led development paradigm/morass is, look no further:

Transit-oriented development isn’t stymied by outdated zoning, unwilling developers or a lack of space. It turns out, banks, wedded to old-fashioned lending standards that stress parking, may pose the biggest blockade by denying financing.

The reason: Lenders operate from a tried-and-true principle that maintains more parking means less risk and a higher return on their investment. But ditching cars is the whole point of urban developers looking to create 24-hour live, work and play environments that hug light-rail hubs.

You’ve been in this lending situation, and so have seen these people. They’re not computer algorithms – they’re people. But because bank executives and underwriters, lawyers and loan officers cannot grasp the concept of a walkable mix of residential, retail and office space, they glom onto surface parking as a deal breaker/maker for real estate development.

Granted this was always going to be difficult; when the new “bus technology” began replacing street cars back in the 1920’s, it was always going to be tough to go back. But the twenties will be here again soon, and we’ll be building a future that has a look and feel of the past – except we’ll call it retrofitting communities to build a living environment, or some such. Hopefully the banks will one day again be right next to the YMCA.


Plus… if that weren’t enough, it’s blog action day! They should know that’s everyday around here.

Your Permanent Record

And I’m not talking about News Of the World glued B side up on your turntable. This is more of a …And you’ll know us by the trail of dead kind of thing, only crappier.

Land use. Really good s.f.streetsblog piece on this Transportation Research Board report on Driving and the Built Environment. Among the nuggets:

Finding No. 2 is: “The literature suggests that doubling residential density across a metropolitan area might lower household VMT (Vehicle Miles Traveled) by about 5 to 12 percent, and perhaps by as much as 25 percent, if coupled with higher employment concentrations, significant public transit improvements, mixed uses, and other supportive demand management measures.”

They note that were you to move the residents of Atlanta to an area built like Boston, you’d lower the Atlantans’ VMT per household by perhaps 25 percent.

Better land use results in reductions in energy use and carbon emissions, the authors report, from both direct and indirect causes. (Direct causes would be a reduction in VMT; indirect include things like longer vehicle lifetimes from reduced use and the greater efficiency of smaller or multi-family housing units.)

Not only that, but were you to move the residents of ATL to a Massachusetts-like locale, you’d have one hell of a lot of pissed off, not to mention cold, white people. Which could do wonders to re-invigorate the hypothetical Boston-like area punk scene. But really, these are the kinds of shake-ups that people (researchers) can actually quantify with models that make sense of the implications of changing things like where we build the new houses, in-fill vs exurbia, that will create the density that will in turn make mass transit a more realistic necessity – rather than the mere wish for better transportation options. There’s also the side benefit of helping us decouple the concepts of person liberty and freedom that have become so defined by isolation, three-car garages and the God-given right to front and back patches of personal lawn of minimum dimensions.

&%$#!… that’s not at all where I was going with this. Oh well.