At least that’s the attitude some European cities are beginning to take, according to this report from the NYT. In order to create more environmentally friendly, less congested, and more livable cities, Europeans are “creating environments openly hostile to cars.”
Cities including Vienna to Munich and Copenhagen have closed vast swaths of streets to car traffic. Barcelona and Paris have had car lanes eroded by popular bike-sharing programs. Drivers in London and Stockholm pay hefty congestion charges just for entering the heart of the city. And over the past two years, dozens of German cities have joined a national network of “environmental zones” where only cars with low carbon dioxide emissions may enter.
The article notes the contrast with the U.S.:
“In the United States, there has been much more of a tendency to adapt cities to accommodate driving,” said Peder Jensen, head of the Energy and Transport Group at the European Environment Agency. “Here there has been more movement to make cities more livable for people, to get cities relatively free of cars.”
U.S. cities are under less pressure to make cities car-free, partly because we haven’t signed the Kyoto Protocol, which was aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and we’re apparently not interested in meeting Clean Air Act requirements. In other words, the U.S. urban model is much less concerned with environmental and human health.
Usually this is explained as a simple difference of cultures, where freedom-loving Americans cling to their cars while those pantywaist socialist Europeans try to force everyone onto mass transit (or, God forbid, bicycles!). However, as the article notes, Europeans were on trajectory toward a more American-style model of car ownership and use, but this has been pretty successfully reversed by determined public policy.
It’s also worth pointing out that American “car culture” is not a simple result of individualism or the benevolent workings of the free market. The balance of forms of transportation has been tilted in favor of the auto by specific public policy choices like road construction, land use regulations, and building codes. These choices (not to mention our direct and indirect subsidization of the fossil fuel industry) all make it easier for Americans to choose driving. The European experiment shows that different choices can lead to a different quality of life in cities.
–Ta-Nehisi Coates on Moby-Dick.
–Amy-Jill Levine: “A Critique of Recent Christian Statements on Israel“
–From Jeremy at Don’t Be Hasty: Why the church can’t take the place of the welfare state.
–A review of Keith Ward’s recent book More than Matter?
–Lady Gaga: “Iron Maiden changed my life.”
–Grist’s David Roberts has been writing a series on “great places” as a reorienting focus for progressive politics: see the first installments here, here, and here. Also see this reflection from Ned Resnikoff.
–Four different demo versions of Metallica’s early tune “Hit the Lights” (with some, ahem, interesting vocal experimentation by a young James Hetfield).
Here’s an interesting post from Mark Vernon, an English journalist and author (and former priest in the Church of England), reporting on a recent conference at Oxford University on the engagement of Christian ethics with the thought of Peter Singer. According to Vernon, Singer discussed problems that his brand of utilitarianism (“preference utilitarianism”–the view that the right action is the one which satisfies the most preferences) has in coming to grips with the problem of climate change.
Climate change is a challenge to utilitarianism on at least two accounts. First, the problem of reducing the carbon output of humanity is tied to the problem of rising human populations. The more people there are, the greater becomes the difficulty of tackling climate change. This fact sits uneasily for a preference utilitarian, who would be inclined to argue that the existence of more and more sentient beings enjoying their lives – realising their preferences – is a good thing. As Singer puts it in the new edition of his book, Practical Ethics: “I have found myself unable to maintain with any confidence that the position I took in the previous edition – based solely on preference utilitarianism – offers a satisfactory answer to these quandaries.”
Second, preference utilitarianism also runs into problems because climate change requires that we consider the preferences not only of existing human beings, but of those yet to come. And we can have no confidence about that, when it comes to generations far into the future. Perhaps they won’t much care about Earth because the consumptive delights of life on other planets will be even greater. Perhaps they won’t much care because a virtual life, with its brilliant fantasies, will seem far more preferable than a real one. What this adds up to is that preference utilitarianism can provide good arguments not to worry about climate change, as well as arguments to do so.
Christian ethics, Vernon suggest, may be more of a help here because, at least in most forms, it believes that the right and the good go beyond the satisfaction of preferences. For a Christian, the protection of creation can be seen as good in itself, without trying to calculate the balance of preference-satisfaction that would be involved. Or, to borrow the terminology of Andrew Linzey, we might say that God has rights in God’s creation–rights to the respectful treatment of that creation. Christian ethics generally doesn’t take preferences or desires that we happen to have as necessarily deserving fulfillment–those desires are all-too-often warped by self-seeking and self-preoccupation. The Christian moral life is as much about reshaping our desires as satisfying them.
–Johann Hari makes the case against the British monarchy.
–How progressive are taxes in the U.S.?
–Ten teachings on Judaism and the environment.
–Marilyn of Left At the Altar reviews Laura Hobgood-Oster’s The Friends We Keep: Unleashing Christianity’s Compassion for Animals.
–A very interesting New Yorker article on the love-hate relationship between fantasy author George R.R. Martin and some of his fans.
–The fantasy of survivalism.
–Intellectual disability and theological anthropology.
–Do we need “Passion/Palm Sunday?” Seems like this comes up every year, and I’m not sure there’s a good solution.
–Mark Bittman on the cost of “lifestyle” diseases.
ADDED LATER: On Dutch efforts to ban traditional Jewish and Islamic practices of animal slaughter.
ONE MORE: It sounds like the movie version of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged is every bit as bad as you’d expect.