Sunday, October 14, 2007

Mind-numbingly stupid, Washington Post Op-Ed - but I'm being redundant

Future Op-Ed writers might hope for greater credibility by submitting pieces to the Washington Times instead. Sunday's blather from the Post has the title, "Hot World? Blame Cities." The authors have the following as their main argument:

1. Cities have stronger urban heat island (UHI) effects than suburbs. UHI is bad.

2. All other things being equal, adding more people to a city will increase its UHI.

3. Therefore, expanding suburbs out into farmlands and forests is better from the UHI-perspective than increasing urban density.

That's it. They never deal with the issue of whether the incremental effect, say of expanding suburbs into farmlands and forests to accommodate 50,000 people causes more UHI than adding 50,000 people to an existing urban area.

UHI happens when trees and vegetation are replaced by buildings and pavement. I can pretty much guarantee that spreading suburbs outwards will take out more vegetation than increasing city densities will. That's true if you just look at living areas, but if you also add the fact that people have to drive more and farther in suburbs, you get additional pavement, and probably more sprawling work and shopping places for those people who don't commute to the urban areas.

The Op-Ed deteriorates onward with the statement "Earth-to-greens message: Instead of demonizing the suburbs, why not build better, greener ones and green the ones we already have?" The green-the-ones-we-already-have message falls into the no-freaking-kidding category, and the authors might want to familiarize themselves with actual environmental organizations on Planet Earth before suggesting this is a new idea.

As far as building better ones, it's clear that development is far better environmentally in the cities. To the extent we can't stop sprawl though, we're back in the no-freaking-kidding category of enviros trying to minimize the damage from sprawl developers, who (mostly) are looking for a fast buck. The sprawlers will be certain to use nonsense like this Op-Ed, though, to try to support their case that they're doing the right thing.

Last note - the authors say suburbs could be made to function better. So can cities - there's a lot that can be done to fight UHI effects. Their rhetorical trick is to hold cities to the "all things being equal" analysis, and then assume changes are possible only for how suburbs operate.

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