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Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Archive for March 24th, 2008

Market failures

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I am going to conflate two stories about energy use to show illustrate why governments need to intervene when the market does not produce reasonable results.

Recent research findings show that we have underestimated the damage that soot causes. We know where soot comes from. And as carbon based life forms we should have recognised a lot earlier that black carbon is not good for us. Much of the Guardian’s article is about global warming – indeed it appears in the sections headed “environment, climate change”. But this is the paragraph that got me

Around 400,000 people are estimated to die each year due to inhaling soot particles, particularly because of indoor cooking on wood and dung stoves in developing countries. These deaths are mainly among women and children.

Isn’t that in and of itself enough reason for action? Do we really need to spend any more time and effort on untangling the impact of aerosols on the climate – which we already know is taking us to hell in a handbasket? Isn’t saving the lives of women and children a priority anymore? In Britain we stopped sending little boys up chimneys to clean out the soot many, many years ago. And certainly long before the link between soot and cancer was established.

And then there is this piece in the Sun’s business section

Traditional business practices by financiers, engineers, architects and even landlords are greatly at odds with global efforts to conserve energy and cut greenhouse gas emissions, says a new report from the International Energy Agency.

Though quite how the sub got from that to the headline “Developers need incentives for energy efficient buildings, report says” beats me. It had not occurred to me that developers were short of money or that they needed even bigger profits, just to save their customer’s money – let alone help humanity survive a little longer.

It was always hard for me to sit and listen to the truckers tell how they could not afford to look after their trucks properly, let alone fit emissions control equipment, when there was a clear link between truck traffic on Knight Street, particulates in the air that declined as distance from the centre line of Knight Street increased and some childhood diseases that are strongly correlated to particle inhalation – and with good reasons to establish causation. But the truckers were more worried about competitiveness.

The value system of the market place is amoral. Externalities are borne by the weakest members of society, who are least able to afford mitigation or treatment. We all lose when the environment suffers – it’s the tragedy of the commons. Yet what gets tax payers’ money is the bailout of Bear Stearns. Healthcare must not be provided by the state for children – that’s denounced as socialism. But shareholders in failed capitalist enterprises must be rescued. We cannot put up buildings that cut energy use unless we are given even more money – because no-one cares enough about the size of the gas bill when they buy a house or an office. It is not worth trying to save 400,000 lives every year – but we might do it incidentally if we can be persuaded that is it cheaper than cutting our own profligate energy use.

Can you believe this stuff?

Written by Stephen Rees

March 24, 2008 at 10:06 am

Approach to social woes a moral failure by all three main B.C. parties

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Miro Certenig, Vancouver Sun

The truth is, there’s been something cruel and Dickensian about how this city’s homelessness crisis has been handled. Correction, make that colossally mishandled.

You can’t really put the blame on any one politician, either, though the political activists always try. Just about everyone’s culpable in varying degrees since we’ve put up with this public policy failure for years.

More reaction to that study I reported on at the weekend. And I do not know that everyone is culpable: there are quite a few who have opposed the combination of policies that emptied the mental hospitals but failed to provide care in the community, who thought that government support for social housing was essential, and who have argued that dumping all our social problems in one area was misguided at best and downright selfish as well.

No one politician maybe but certainly one political trend in recent years for the whole spectrum to move to the right. So that words like “socialist” here or “liberal” south of the border have become labels to shun. Yes, the Soviet Union failed. No socialism didn’t. Because the system they had in the USSR was only called “socialist”. And we should not be fearful of ideas. We need to be critical, and objective, and we also need politicians who do not shift their ground just to capture a bigger share of the vote. Or who have absolutely no discernible principles at all other than to hold on to power for as long as possible and use it to enrich themselves and their friends.

“Liberal” here of course can mean anything you want it to. But if you can stand it there is a another shorter news item on Rich Coleman’s entirely predictable response. “Liberal” in his case simply means “callous”.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 24, 2008 at 8:54 am

Posted in politics