New plan to offer discounted rates on Global Payroll and Global Mobility Services to those front-line organizations in West Africa that are treating those affected by Ebola and working to stem the...
(PRWeb October 21, 2014)
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By now, most people are aware that solar power — particularly distributed solar power, in the form of rooftop panels — poses a threat to power utilities. And utilities are fighting back, attempting to impose additional fees and restrictions on solar customers. These skirmishes generally center on “net metering,” whereby utilities (forced by state legislation) pay customers with solar panels full retail price for the power they produce, which can often cancel out the customer’s bill entirely. That’s lost revenue for the utility.
Net metering, however, is largely a distraction, a squabble over how long utilities can cling to their familiar business model. Larger reforms are inevitable, because the threat to utilities goes far beyond solar panels and demands a response far more substantial than rate-tweaking. Sooner or later, there must be a wholesale rethinking of the utility business model. And if utilities are smart, they’ll do it sooner.
To understand why, let’s have a look at two recent analyses. One examines the short-term issue for utilities, revealing the core problem lurking within. The second pulls the lens back to take in the big picture.
First, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) has a new analysis examining “Financial Impacts of Net-Metered PV on Utilities and Ratepayers.” It’s interesting because it doesn’t take any position on the larger question of how much solar is “really” worth or how utilities ought to compensate it. Instead, it takes net metering for granted and simply examines its financial impact on the shareholders and ratepayers of two prototypical investor-owned utilities. One is a vertically integrated utility (owns power generation and distribution wires) in the Southwest and the other is a “wires only” (no generation) distribution utility in the Northeast.
LBNL analyzed what would happen if solar PV penetration rose to between 2.5 and 10 percent of total retail sales by 2022. For reference, the current national average penetration is 0.2 percent and even the most solar-friendly utilities (outside of Hawaii) have only gotten to about 2 percent. So 10 percent would be a huge deal.
We don’t need to get into the weeds of the LBNL analysis. Let’s just skip to the conclusion. Here’s the key chart, showing what would happen if net-metered solar PV achieved 10 percent penetration by 2022 (ROE is return on equity):LBNL, “Financial Impacts of Net-Metered PV on Utilities and Ratepayers: A Scoping Study of Two Prototypical U.S. Utilities”
In short, solar PV at 10 percent would reduce return on equity and earnings a lot — 40 percent in the case of the wires-only utility — but raise rates only a little. (Why the sharply different impact on the two utilities? Because the wires-only utility only invests in wires and other distribution infrastructure, and those are the kinds of investments that solar PV renders unnecessary.) I don’t know if this is a big enough hit to constitute a “death spiral,” but it certainly isn’t good news for utilities.
I’ve seen a few write-ups of this study — in particular the always excellent Ben Paulos — but none that sufficiently emphasize what I take to be the key lesson here: Solar PV is mostly a threat to utility investors and shareholders, not ratepayers. It is utility profit, not adequate provision of reasonable-cost power, that stands to lose from the rise of PV (and other distributed energy solutions).
Utilities have suggested various remedies to this problem, usually fixed charges that have to be paid by all ratepayers and/or some way of remunerating the utility for reduced demand (which is what “decoupling” does with efficiency). Note, however, that these solutions share something in common: They treat distributed energy as a loss, for which utilities have the right to be compensated.
Why? Because, as I explained last year, a utility “makes money not primarily by selling electricity, but by making investments and receiving returns on them. If it builds more power plants and power lines, it makes more money.” All those investments are made on the basis of demand projections. If demand declines unexpectedly, if distributed energy helps consumers become more independent — generate some of their own electricity, store some of it, manage it more intelligently through sensors and automation — then utilities risk having those investments “stranded,” to the detriment of shareholders.
If you think about the situation a little, you will note that it is insane. Socially and environmentally, we want more distributed, clean power; we want more efficiency and lower demand; we want more grid resilience and intelligence; we want to avoid huge, expensive infrastructure investments if possible. But the way the utility business model is set up, all that stuff slashes utility profits. Our power utilities are structured to oppose our social and environmental goals. That is the real problem at the core of all these discussions. (For much, much more on this, see my series on utilities.)
For better or worse, this isn’t just a problem for climate hawks. Now that solar PV and other distributed energy solutions are growing, it’s a problem for utilities too. Standing still is not an option. They either adapt or face the much-discussed “death spiral.”
That’s what the second analysis is about: “Does Disruptive Competition Mean a Death Spiral for Electric Utilities?” It’s in Energy Law Journal, by Elisabeth Graffy and Steven Kihm.
It begins with a simple premise: The growth of distributed solar PV is not an isolated or one-off phenomenon, but the leading edge of “a synergistic wave of innovations occurring in several sectors at once—technology research and development, policy development, social and cultural preferences, scientific investigation, and business.” After nearly a century spent in a zone of limited-to-no competition, utilities are entering a zone of disruptive competition, in which customers can reduce or even eliminate their dependence on utility power and grid services.
Graffy and Kihm describe two broad strategies utilities might choose to cope with this wave: value creation and cost recovery. The former is more promising, but requires more substantial adaptation of institutional practices. The latter might stave off changes for a little while, but by doing so it makes utilities more vulnerable when changes become too substantial to resist.
Needless to say, utilities are not prepared for this sh*t. At all. After a century of enjoying regulated-monopoly status, with returns guaranteed by law and expansion as far as the eye could see, utilities have virtually none of the organizational foresight and habits needed to respond proactively to disruptive threats. So at least at the beginning, they’re going for cost recovery.
That’s what the fight over net metering is all about. When customers shift to distributed solar, they pay the utility less than the utility had forecast; that means the utility has made investments in infrastructure that now risk being stranded. So they want to impose new fees to recover those costs.
It is the standard utility play and one they’re quite accustomed to. They’ve been protected from competition by regulators for decades. But in present circumstances, the strategy poses three dangers:
First, it requires successive upward recalibration of customer rates as system costs remain largely fixed while electricity use shifts from the grid to distributed systems. Second, it encourages utilities to defer corporate adaptation unless a deep crisis forces the issue. Third, it encourages them to take actions that slow innovation either by competitors or in the policy domain. Customer backlash, loss of regulatory support, high opportunity costs, and institutional brittleness to external shocks are all foreseeable byproducts that put utilities at greater risk.
“Customer backlash” is a key piece here. If utilities penalize those attempting to increase their own energy independence through “behind the meter” power generation, storage, and management, the result will be angry customers. (It even pisses Tea Partiers off, thus the Green Tea Coalition.) When you’ve got a bunch of dissatisfied customers seeking non-grid alternatives, you’ve got a growing market that will attract more and more entrepreneurial attention, thus accelerating customer defections.
The longer utilities try to hold back the wave with legal or regulatory roadblocks, the harder it will hit them when it finally comes. Recent history provides an analogue:
[T]he music industry viewed the peer-to-peer song-sharing software, Napster, as a conventional threat rather than as the leading edge of a wave of disruptive competition that challenged the fundamental business model for distributing music. By doing so, the industry became more vulnerable to the market transformation subsequently generated by iTunes.
As accustomed as they are to turning to regulators for help, utilities might soon run out of luck. It is their social mission that justified their business model; if the social mission is no longer being served, well:
Herein lies the vulnerability of regulated utilities. The model is designed to maintain institutional stability in order to uphold social welfare objectives (in the historical case of energy, for example, to ensure low cost, reliable service), not to uphold the welfare of utilities themselves. Historical precedent clearly shows that when emerging conditions create a critical tension between upholding social welfare objectives and upholding continuity of a utility for its own sake, courts will decisively favor social welfare objectives and markets play no favorites. Indeed, neither regulators nor courts can ultimately protect regulated utilities from all competition, even when—perhaps especially when—the character of that competition challenges the viability of their fundamental business model. [my emphasis]
Graffy and Kihm cite two contrasting historical examples to help make this point.
The first is Market Street Railway, a streetcar utility in San Francisco. From the 1900s through the 1920s, it was an expanding, innovating enterprise. But streetcar ridership peaked in 1920, as riders began defecting to alternatives (buses and cars). By the 1930s and ’40s, the utility had entered a period of disruptive competition. It tried to defend itself through cost recovery, asking the Railroad Commission of California to raise its fares from five cents to seven cents. As you can probably guess, the higher fares did not increase utility revenues or profits. It just drove more people to alternatives. Seeing that, the Commission bumped it back down to six cents. The utility sued and the case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled decisively that even regulated monopolies have no constitutional right to protection from competitors. Meanwhile, Market Street Railway went bankrupt and all those streetcars became “stranded assets.” This is the “death spiral” utilities fear.
In contrast, consider the cable TV monopolies of yore. Their crap service drove customer demand for alternatives, and lo, DirecTV rose to answer the call; now the internet is driving even more competition. Cable companies suffered; some, like Charter, declared bankruptcy. But Comcast, rather than trying to recover costs by raising rates, focused on value creation, bundling services like cable, phone, and internet together in new ways to meet customers’ evolving demands. It innovated in advance of disruption. Now internet service is its most valuable product and it basically rules the world, despite, if we’re honest, still offering crap service.
Which way will electric utilities go? They can look to regulators to impose new fees, to help them recover costs, but that will just drive more research and innovation into alternatives, pushing more consumers away from the grid. That way lies the death spiral. If reliable, reasonable-cost power can be provisioned without profitable utilities, well then, so much the worse for utilities. Graffy and Kihm discuss a series of recent legal and regulatory decisions — in Iowa, Wisconsin, Arizona, and elsewhere — indicating that regulators and courts are not particularly inclined to defend utilities from clean energy.
So what should utilities do? Graffy and Kihm suggest a pivot to value creation. Instead of viewing ratepayers as passive sources of cost recovery, utilities ought to view them as, y’know, customers. Offer them products and services that satisfy their evolving preferences. That might mean following Comcast’s lead and offering unique bundles like solar panels with energy storage and management.
Traditional utility service prices electrons as commodities, and commodity markets compete on a lowest cost basis. Energy-related bundles are not commodities but rather value-added products and services, and the acceptable cost bases to customers may be very different. They are not, after all, only buying electrons. They are buying convenience, security, peace of mind, and the ability to engage in energy arrangements that fit their values of sustainability or energy independence but which they cannot do alone.
… The bundled product-service package is likely to meet a broader and somewhat different set of customer needs than legacy electron provision.
As they note (in rather too cursory a way, in my opinion), allowing utilities to play in these kinds of markets would also require imagination and flexibility from public utility commissions, which, like utilities themselves, are not exactly hotbeds of forward-thinking next-gen synergistic entrepreneurialism.
The utility sector is still an old boy’s network, especially in some parts of the country, so one rather despairs in turning to utilities for innovation. But nothing focuses the mind like the threat of bankruptcy.
Graffy and Kihm conclude:
Protecting the utilities from the effects of competition is not the public policy goal behind regulation. Legal precedent affirms that while protecting utilities in the interest of reliable and consistent service can be robust, it can only go so far. The prospect of a semi-regulated, differently regulated, or even unregulated electric provision sector is not outside the realm of possibility as current trends continue. How utilities are ultimately repositioned depends, to some degree, on their capacity to demonstrate leadership that aligns with redefined needs, preferences, and constraints facing all electricity providers and users. … [G]ambling on maintenance of the status quo seems like a losing hand.
Utilities getting into selling energy products and services is a good idea, as far as it goes. But utilities can think much bigger than that. Last year I wrote a long post about what utilities for the 21st century might look like. Once your eyeballs have stopped bleeding from reading this post, check that one out.
The Rocky Mountain Institute’s eLab has a blog post called “Why the Net Energy Metering Debate Misses the Point,” which stresses the importance of rate design and links to its longer report, “Rate Design for the Distribution Edge.” They’re worth reading as a kind of intermediate solution between the blue-sky dreaming I do in the post mentioned above and the small-beans rate-tweaking utilities are talking about today.
My colleague Brentin Mock has been writing about the scummy campaign by dirty energy to convince minority lawmakers that net metering is a threat. It’s a crucial issue — follow him.
Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Climate & Energy
If you could speed-watch the past 15 years in Texas — set your thumb on the edge of a flipbook and let ‘er rip — you’d see astonishing growth. Buildings going up, fields paved over for parking lots, new subdivisions, new schools, new malls: The state’s population grew by 36 percent between 1997 and 2012. Watch the red lines that chart the state’s economy go up, up, up. Last year, Texas’ gross domestic product grew by 3.7 percent, nearly double the national rate.Texas A&M Institute of Renewable Natural Resources
But at what cost? A new report from Texas A&M’s Institute of Renewable Natural Resources indicates that Texas is losing its open spaces faster than any other state in the union: About 1.1 million acres between 1997 and 2012. And while the loss of “working lands” — privately owned farms, ranches, or forests — is a song to developers’ ears, researchers say those lands are vital to the states’ water supply. In a Republic that’s grappling with a historic drought, thirsty Texans should be paying attention.
Some quick ecology: When it rains on open fields, soil acts like a sponge, allowing drops to slowly trickle into the water supply. In this way, working lands replenish aquifers, help reduce the incidence of floods, and maintain natural rivers and streams.Texas A&M Institute of Renewable Natural Resources
But when you lose working lands by developing them, you move to “basically an impermeable surface like a subdivision, a downtown city center, parking lots — a lot of concrete,” says Roel Lopez, the director of the A&M institute and a coauthor of the report. “When it rains, that water runs down drains and river channels, and you don’t have the ability to capture and store [it].”
That water loss is difficult to quantify. Lopez says his institute is still trying to figure out how much working land have been converted to impermeable, concrete-dominated development, rather than some other kind. Additionally, some of these lands are no longer being watered intensively for agriculture, so it’s possible that net water loss isn’t as bad as the report would seem to indicate. (Lopez says his institute will attempt to clear up both those questions in future reports).
Still, federal, state, and local governments have long recognized the ecological significance of open lands. Voluntary conservation programs (like USDA’s ACEP) give landowners financial assistance and tax breaks for taking steps to preserve their wetlands and water resources. But those programs aren’t as popular in Texas, Lopez says.
“There needs to be a great evaluation of emphasis, of [policymakers] seeing the link between water, water availability, water quality, and working lands,” Lopez says. And in the long run, conserving working lands and water now might save Texans money by obviating the need for drastic anti-drought spending. “Conservation might be a viable, cost-effective strategy,” he says.
Filed under: Climate & Energy
There’s a new divestment movement in town. It has not set its sights on universities or pension funds or foundations or churches or Rockefellers. These are the usual targets for divestment campaigns because they (a) have a lot of money and (b) like to think of themselves as doing good in this world.
Instead, the new divestment movement is aiming at a group of institutions that (a) have a lot of money and (b) don’t have much of a moral imperative at all — especially not if it might possibly get in the way of (a). That group would be “banks.”
So it stands to reason that the Move Your Money campaign, which started this week in the United Kingdom, asks people to add some financial threat to their moral argument. The campaign’s form letter reads:
As a citizen concerned about our global capacity to meet targets and reduce the effects of climate change, I cannot give my financial support to an institution that bankrolls climate change. Therefore, as a customer of your bank, I hereby make the following demands:
- Within the next three months, disclose all your investments in the fossil fuel industry.
– Within the next three months, commit to a 5-10-year plan to completely divest from fossil fuels.
If you do not meet these requests, I will be left with no choice but to move my money to a financial institution that takes its social, ethical and environmental responsibilities seriously. I will do this in February 2015 unless you show a solid, lasting and credible commitment to fossil fuel divestment, as outlined above.
If the banks don’t oblige, the alternative that the campaign offers is a (very short) list of “ethical banks.” In the U.S., where ethical banks are in even shorter supply, a divestment move like this would probably involve switching your account to a credit union, which might not be a specifically ethical institution but is likely to be too small to be in a position to lend to an oil company.
The whole campaign is very reminiscent of (and has exactly the same name as) a campaign in America several years ago to get people to pull their money from the banks that had issued dubious loans and inflated the housing bubble. The campaign, and others like it, created a frenzy of new bank accounts at credit unions. During that period, the tiny local credit union I belong to began to look like a mosh pit with all the new people arriving to sign up — its membership rolls increased about 25 percent between 2010 and 2011. This was true for credit unions across the country: Zan McElway of the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) reports that its members gained over a million customers each year following 2010 — it just passed the 100 million member mark.
That said, the only change of bank practices that is consistently cited as a consequence of all this bank switchery was the decision by Bank of America (and several other banks) to discontinue a $5-a-month fee that they had hoped to charge debit card users. The American Move Your Money campaign, which leaned heavily on the film It’s a Wonderful Life for its vision of what a bank should be, seems to have turned off the lights and called it a day late last year, in the sense that none of its websites exist anymore.
Will this new, climate-change-inflected version of the bank campaign work? It does allow anyone with a bank account to participate in climate change divestment, instead of having to look around for a church or pension fund or a fabulously wealthy person to influence. This has not been a feature of divestment movements up until now, and it’s one to watch.
Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Climate & Energy, Politics
Pamela Fleming, Executive Vice President, The Institute for Basic Research, Florida, announces that "The recently observed 'Red Moon' establishes the lack of expansion of the universe...
(PRWeb October 21, 2014)
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Hazardous materials responders are training for real life scenarios at the new Environment Health and Safety Training Center. Employees and clients receive training to better prepare them for any...
(PRWeb October 21, 2014)
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October’s Deck Expo in Baltimore, Maryland will feature the debut of Fiberon’s affordable and versatile Good Life Railing, alongside gift drawings that happen every 15 minutes from the hours of 3:00...
(PRWeb October 21, 2014)
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CNG Source, a leading provider of compressed natural gas solutions for CNG stations builders and commercial fleets, will open its first branded CNG station in Indianapolis on November 20, 2014
(PRWeb October 21, 2014)
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The SAE Foundation announced today that it will honor Sergio Marchionne with its Industry Leadership Award at a celebration event on May 19, 2015, at the Masonic Temple in Detroit, Michigan.
(PRWeb October 21, 2014)
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Agency Revitalizing Land Conservation Organization's Brand
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Turner’s sixth Green Market Barometer reveals occupant wellbeing and water efficiency are rising in importance and energy efficiency remains the highest ranked benefit of green buildings
(PRWeb October 21, 2014)
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Fall is the perfect time to get outdoors, and Trail & Ski has all the necessary outdoor gear.
(PRWeb October 21, 2014)
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vcfo is pleased to announce that Consulting CFO Betsy Farmer has joined the firm in Austin.
(PRWeb October 21, 2014)
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Leading provider of refurbished IT hardware makes its debut at the IT Roadmap Conference and Expo.
(PRWeb October 21, 2014)
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At first glance, smart growth and New Urbanism would seem like issues that break down along typical partisan and ideological divides. Democrats, like President Obama with his Partnership for Sustainable Communities, support transit-oriented development and streets that accommodate bikers and walkers as well as cars. Republicans, like former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, inveigh against urban “elites” who take mass transit and don’t appreciate the normal American Dream of a house with a lawn and garage.
And if you listen only to the most demagogic right-wing commentators, this is all you would hear. Conservative think-tank fellows such as Wendell Cox of the Heritage Foundation and the Heartland Institute issue full-throated defenses of cars and sprawl. Pundits like National Review’s Stanley Kurtz, pen unhinged manifestos declaring Obama a secret enemy of suburbs purporting to reveal his fiendish plans to force everyone into high-rise apartment buildings.
But urbanism is actually growing in popularity among a small cadre of conservative intellectuals. They understand that the traditional town design favored by urbanists — houses that face the street, with porches and stoops, sidewalks, public parks, and shared mass transit — fosters strong communities. As Matt Lewis, a conservative blogger for the Daily Caller wrote in a July column for The Week: “It’s … hard to quantify the spiritual and psychic cost associated with endlessly frustrating commutes, disconnection from a community, and ugly buildings.”
They also recognize is that anti-density zoning restrictions, parking requirements, and segregation of building uses that keep suburbia sprawling are inefficient market distortions. Some are also concerned by the massive spending involved in subsidizing sprawl through the mortgage interest tax deduction and highway construction.
Just don’t expect their ideas to catch on in conservative America.
The conservative embrace of urbanist principles isn’t brand new. A few social conservatives, such as the late activist Paul Weyrich, have recognized the value of traditional town design, and a few fiscally conservative policy intellectuals, like Harvard economist Edward Glaeser, have argued for dense development. No less a defender of traditional American culture than the Disney Corporation understands that walkable urbanism is more aesthetically appealing, community-oriented, and emblematic of our cultural heritage — which is why Disneyland’s Main Street USA and Disney’s town of Celebration, Fla., simulate New Urbanist design.
What’s new is that an intra-right spat has developed.
Until very recently, pro-sprawl conservatives focused their ire on full-time urbanists like James Howard Kunstler and Richard Florida. They didn’t bother to argue with the handful conservatives who favored smart growth. But those pro-smart-growth views have become more widespread on the right. Both the economic and social conservative arguments against sprawl have been recently voiced in the The American Conservative magazine, a small bastion of paleo-conservatism founded by Pat Buchanan, that has launched an urbanism blog.
Finally, last month, Joel Kotkin, suburbia’s biggest fan, wrote a takedown of conservative urbanism in the Orange County Register. “The abandonment of the suburban ideal represents a lethal affront to the interests and preferences of the majority, as well as their basic aspirations,” Kotkin wrote.
That drew rebukes from conservative planner Charles Marohn in The American Conservative and Reihan Salam in National Review. Lewis and Marohn both note that sprawl requires investments in public infrastructure like roads and sewers that cannot be economically supported by low-density, housing only areas. An efficient, lean government is actually most easily achieved in a dense area, where the same stretch of road serves far more people, firefighters and cops have much shorter distances to travel, and offices, shops, and homes are all in the same jurisdiction.
Some of the conservative arguments for embracing urbanism make much less sense. Glaeser and Marohn have argued that cities are natural constituencies for conservatives, filled as they are with upwardly mobile entrepreneurs. Many conservative urbanists also make vague noises about how cities are rife with mismanagement and would benefit from hardheaded conservative governance. They tend not to furnish specific solutions, though, and the few they do come up with — hiring more cops, giving housing vouchers to the poor — are actually embraced by Democrats and opposed by cheapskate Republicans.
The main problem for conservative urbanists isn’t the quality of their arguments, but rather that they fall on deaf ears within their own movement. Most Republicans live in low-density rural or suburban areas. And that isn’t some mere accident. According to a recent Pew poll, 75 percent of self-identified conservatives prefer to live farther from services, with greater auto dependence, in exchange for more private space. Seventy-seven percent of liberals, versus only 22 percent of conservatives, said they would prefer a smaller home in a walkable environment.
For conservatives to embrace urbanism politically would require them to believe so fervently in their ideological principles that they would oppose policies that subsidize their lifestyle. That’s not how conservatives approach politics.
For most conservatives, politics is about tribalism. Republicans and conservatives are the political tribal identities of older, white, Christian, suburban and rural nationalists. Their favored politicians’ rhetoric of free markets, small government, or traditional values isn’t really about any of those things. It’s about using the mythology of “welfare queens” to bash inner-city African-Americans, Latinos, and single mothers, and expressing contempt for immigrants, gays, Muslims, atheists, and any sign that American society may change as it incorporates them.
Anyone who thought Republicans actually cared about small government should have wised up when a Republican Congress passed, and George W. Bush signed, the massively expensive, unfunded Medicare prescription drug benefit. Unfunded entitlement programs are OK, you see, when the beneficiaries are old white Republicans. It isn’t welfare if they are the ones getting the checks. As political scientists have found, the American people are rhetorically conservative but operationally liberal. They reconcile that dissonance by simply declaring their own welfare to be something they’ve earned. Hence, the infamous cries of “Keep your government hands off my Medicare.”
So conservatives won’t easily give up their subsidies for sprawl. Now how about their hatred of urban density?
Michael Hendrix of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, nicely summarized the conservative view of cities in The American Conservative: “Many still see cities in the light of Gotham and Gomorrah celebrating what they are and opposing what the others are.” In other words, cities are full of people who do not live conservative lifestyles, and that’s gross. Hendrix argues that conservatives should get over it and embrace cities because that’s where the money is being made and the future political majority is living.
His colleagues at the Chamber might find this convincing, but try making that argument to a local Tea Party meeting, where they think smart growth is a sinister environmental ploy by the U.N. to seize control of their government. Conservative pro-urbanism intellectuals seem unaware that these are the people they actually draw their votes from.
Among these Republican voters and grassroots activists, many benefits of urbanism would be seen as drawbacks. Saying that suburban lawns waste water or that sprawl consumes more fossil fuels and cuts down more trees might backfire, because conservatives think wasting natural resources is an affirmation of their gluttonous identity. This is the movement, after all, that invented coal-rolling.
Even exercise — that seemingly innocuous, healthy virtue of walkable, bikeable urbanism — is a turnoff to right wingers. Consider how they attack Michelle Obama’s encouragement of exercise among schoolchildren, or Sarah Palin’s celebration of drinking enormous sodas at the Conservative Political Action Conference. Let’s all get Type 2 diabetes! That’ll show those know-it-all liberal New Yorkers!
And so, when Lewis points out that walkability has a “side benefit” of exercise, he is unlikely to persuade many fellow conservatives of the value of walkable communities, because they think designing towns to facilitate exercise is nothing but a Bolshevik infringement on their right to drive everywhere and park easily. And the fact that parking minimums are a market-distorting government mandate? That’s OK, because they want a parking space.
Urbanism can be construed as consistent with liberalism or conservatism, since no ideology in the abstract values waste or inefficiency. But most major urbanists come to their insights through other liberal attitudes. Richard Florida, for example, supports gay rights and has found that socially tolerant cities attract the creative professionals who spur growth and vitality. James Howard Kunstler is a former energy reporter, and the devastating effect of the oil price shocks of the 1970s on the U.S. economy caused him to examine the roots of our dependence on oil. Kunstler accepts the science of climate change and believes that our incessant military involvement in the Middle East is caused in part by our hunger for their oil supplies.
But to care about oil dependence, you have to accept the science of what happens when we burn oil, and you can’t be on the oil companies’ payroll. And that demonstrates the difficulty conservative urbanists face. Real-world American political movements and parties aren’t a composite of ideas; they are composites of interest groups. Rank and file conservatives have adopted pro-market, small-government values as a loftier framework for their politics of resentment. Their populist anger has been fused to the money, and the money-driven agenda, of corporations and their wealthy overlords.
Should the free market-loving Koch brothers oppose zoning that mandates (and government subsidies that facilitate) sprawl? In principle, yes, but they make their money in fossil fuels. The GOP’s financial backers aren’t against big government if the policy in question keeps people in their cars, forking over their money to the Kochs at the gas pump.
Similarly, Salam recently pointed out in Slate that suburbs have very little housing to accommodate anyone who isn’t part of a two-parent household. Like a liberal would, Salam sees this as a defect of suburbia. But if you disdain non-traditional families and you think society should advantage those who adhere to your preferred (and outdated) social norms, this would be a feature, not a bug.
So here’s my suggestion to conservative urbanists: switch sides! Recognize that liberals support urbanism because we actually do oppose inefficient regulations. Understand that liberals, too, care about strong communities, and we balance that with individual freedom by supporting gay marriage but encouraging people to come face to face with their neighbors, on the sidewalk, in the park, or on the subway.
Maybe what we’ve discovered isn’t that conservatives can fall in love with urbanism, but that that the ones who do belong to the political movement that cares about the common good.
Filed under: Cities, Politics
Thomas Anthony Guerriero wins gold at the 2014 International Business Awards held in Paris, France.
(PRWeb October 21, 2014)
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Australian researchers say some tiny tumors that arise along the path of a pleural catheter in mesothelioma patients may be benign.
(PRWeb October 21, 2014)
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Inmar supply chain expert to facilitates data insight session for industry group’s effort to identify collaborative ways to improve warranty strategies
(PRWeb October 21, 2014)
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Extensive calculations based on NEC Guidelines deliver backfeed power production boosts of a minimum 600% per installation, affording installers a competitive edge that saves thousands in soft and...
(PRWeb October 21, 2014)
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Bio Logic Aqua Research founder Shaaron Kleyne says water companies can upgrade facilities and still keep water affordable during global fresh water crisis.
(PRWeb October 21, 2014)
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