Sprawling toward Gomorrah

Most of the American West was built after the advent of the automobile. And most of the building was unplanned. Aided and abetted by the nexus of real estate, oil, and vehicle interests, sprawl ensued, becoming the norm that blights vast stretches of once-rural landscapes.

Let’s say you’re concerned about climate change. You know that to limit its effects, carbon emissions must be contained. Ah, but what about all those vehicles now made necessary to transport people and goods between and among low-density cities and towns? Now there’s a challenge.

If legislatures make gasoline more expensive, already strapped households will be further burdened in pursuing ordinary lives. There will be political pushback from both citizens and the aforementioned nexus.

That is what happened in California, as the state’s Assembly balked at imposing more taxes on gasoline and diesel, even after the governor and the Senate had endorsed such measures.

California came close to passing really ambitious climate change legislation last week, only to step back at the last minute. The original version of the Clean Energy and Pollution Reduction Act, passed by the state Senate and backed by Gov. Jerry Brown (D), set three goals to be achieved by the year 2030: cut the state’s gasoline consumption by 50 percent, require electric utilities to generate 50 percent of their power from renewables, and make buildings 50 percent more energy efficient. Unfortunately, lawmakers had to drop the gasoline provision, the most aggressive of the trio, to get the bill through the state Assembly, even though the Assembly is heavily controlled by Democrats.

Once built, sprawl may very well be forever. Meanwhile, carbon emissions continue to increase, assuring a rise in global temperatures, perhaps to levels that destroy habitats for most species, including our own.


UPDATE Sept. 19, 2015:

Okay, there is a potential solution to the transportation-based emissions problem. Since sprawl cannot be undone, at least in the next few decades, and, therefore, we will continue to rely on the automobile to get us from one place to another, the obvious remedy is electric vehicles, a proven technology. Of course, there is still the problem of Big Oil, which has demonstrated time and again its ability to affect political outcomes. Here’s another excerpt from the linked Grist article:

A 2014 report by the ACCE Institute and Common Cause, entitled “Big Oil Floods the Capitol: How California’s Oil Companies Funnel Funds into the Legislature,” spelled out just how much:

Key members of Big Oil are some of the largest corporations in all of California, including Chevron, Exxon, Aera Energy and Occidental Petroleum. And these big corporations spend big time. Over the past 15 years, Big Oil spent a whopping $143.3 million on political candidates and campaigns. That’s nearly $10 million per year. …

Big Oil employs high profile, high powered lobbyists to ensure their interests are represented. In the past 15 years, the price tag for these lobbyists has totaled $123.6 million. In 2013-2014 alone, the top lobbyist employer, Western States Petroleum Association, spent $4.7 million.