Monday, June 04, 2007

Why Regular Americans Hate Tree-Huggers

Thanks to the Palo Alto Daily News for publishing this article! It can be viewed on their online edition at this url:

Or right here on 295bus!

A few months ago, I dropped by a meeting of Redwood City Cool Families (see article here), a local group citizens with concerns that seemed to mirror my own.

This is the kind social get-together where the issues of the day are discussed, in an informal manner, over wine and fancy cheese. Discussion topics for the evening included:

  • Apologies for driving to the meeting
  • Printing a T-shirt, and finding a printer willing to use environmentally-friendly ink to do it
  • Recycling
  • The fate of the Redwood City Industrial Saltworks

The last topic was naturally the one that most piqued my interest, and discussion that evening seemed to be fairly balanced, between the pros and cons of reusing this bayland area as housing (in an area where it's very needed, and could potentially cut down on much car use by allowing a few thousand people to live closer to their work) vs wetlands restoration.

Lately Cool Families has started staking out a position on this issue, and it's one with decidedly less balance--they advocate complete restoration of the Saltworks to wetlands, on the grounds that developing it will:

  • Fill in more of the Bay
  • Destroy opportunities for habitat, open space and recreation
  • Snarl traffic on Hwy 101 and Woodside Road
  • Prevent completion of the S.F. Bay National Wildlife Refuge
  • Place housing on low ground at risk from sea level rise

Now all of this is true (though it overlooks the small detail of the Saltworks being private property, meaning that turning it into a public space means buying it from the current owners, probably to the tune of a few hundred million dollars). But pointing these facts out, and utterly ignoring the good that could come, goes a long way to reinforce the general public's perception that environmentalists care more about wildlife than people. Very few people can afford an $800,000 house in Redwood City, and an awful lot of people are enduring pretty grueling commutes to get there (40,000 people commute into the city daily).

It also reinforces the slightly more nuanced view that people who call themselves environmentalists are often way more concerned with their personal, local, environment than the health of the Earth as a whole--the people who work in Redwood City are going to live somewhere, and if they're not stealing habitat from ducks by the Bay, they're probably going to end up stealing it from kit foxes and other grasslands critters somewhere out around Stockton, and putting a heck of a lot of CO2 into the air getting back and forth.

Here's a good rule of thumb: in a world of problems, if you hear about a proposal that does some good, and you have some objection--you don't just get to say "no", you have to come up with a better idea. Our local Bay Area version will be: if you don't want housing to be built in one place, you have to say where to build it instead. So, for example, if you want the Redwood City Saltworks to be restored as wetlands, you could propose densifying the City's core as an alternative--for example, building a few thousand apartments and condos near Sequoia Station.

Or, if you don't care about other people's problems, at least be honest about being a jerk, and tell them to move to Manteca.

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