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For Reflection: "Transgenerational Genocide"

A popular aphorism attributed to various Native American cultures states that we do not inherit the world from our ancestors, rather we borrow it from our descendants. What sort of stewardship are we demonstrating as a society if our only aim is to use up as much of the planet's resources as we can figure out how to, before giving way to the next generation? This is rather like squandering a trust fund set up to secure our family's continued security, purely for the sake of immediate gratification, and then having the unmitigated gall to tell our grandkids we did it for their 'benefit'!

One term used to describe this morally repugnant and incredibly bankrupt 'program' is "Transgenerational Genocide": the waging of a perhaps unwitting but nevertheless merciless war of annihilation against an utterly defenseless population--our own as yet unborn inheritors. The question we all have to face, whether we want to or not, is what sort of world we wish for them to inherit, and then try to conform our lifestyles accordingly.

Protecting the environment in it broadest and narrowest dimensions is preserving creation.  Conversely, any action or inaction, which damages the environment, is destroying creation.  Regardless of our spiritual traditions, Mankind must develop a moral priority to steward creation, or it will be destroyed

Turning Asphalt Into Biomass

The capital costs of a parking space range from $2000 to $5000 for a surface lot, and on up to $10,000 to $12,000 a space in a two- or three-story structure. (Debt interest can add an additional 7 to 10 percent.) Operations and maintenance, including sweeping, painting and resurfacing, is generally figured at 1.5 percent on the initial construction cost annually. Land costs vary widely by location, but can be calculated from the local cost for an acre of land: A parking space takes up 340 square feet for both the space and the aisle. There are about 128 spaces per acre. Other costs include utilities, security, insurance, parking enforcement and administration.

If you divert five parking spaces from a project (freeing $10,000 to $25,000 of capital) and use two spaces to build a 680 square foot shower/changing room, and one space for lockers for a dozen bicycles, you still have 680 square feet to plant trees.

External benefits, or benefits that are not reflected in market transactions, are more difficult to precisely measure, but include increased permeable surface area, reduced surface water runoff and pollution, et cetera. To the extent that providing bicycling commuting facilities decreases motor- vehicle use, the project decreases air pollution, atmospheric carbon dioxide, dependency on foreign oil, congestion, noise, vibration, motor vehicle accidents, road maintenance and land loss to roads.

Carbon Neutral or NOT!

British Petroleum has devised a scheme and posted a website,, to let drivers calculate their annual CO2 emissions and then buy carbon emission offsets or credits so that they are "carbon neutral". Purchases will help fund environmental projects like biogas converters and wind farms. But is it as good as it sounds?  Is "carbon neutral" the same thing as "environmentally neutral"?

  1. Carbon emission offsets are not environmentally equivalent to not burning fuel in the first place. I.E. if you combust hydrocarbons and buy a wind farm, the CO2 is still in the atmosphere.
  2. Vehicles with internal combustion engines emit a lot more than just CO2.  The scheme ignores CO, NOx and SOx. Even if you are carbon neutral, your CO is not friendly, and the NOx and SOx are not "neutralized". 
  3. "Average aggregate of CO2 emitted" doesn't take into account whether the vehicle burning the fuel is a Hummer (see our SUV ad) or Prius (or other fuel efficient hybrid). (Terrapass calculated by vehicle, and Greenhouse Gas Calculator takes into account energy consumed for other uses, as well.)
  4. Some scheme don't incorporate the CO2 output and other environmental impacts of producing, delivering and disposing of a vehicle (and appliances) -- which some people consume every year or two. (Some schemes do add a percentage for life-cycle impact.)
  5. The impact of a unit of CO2 emission can vary depending on where it is emitted.  Emissions in urban areas, with high population density, probably have much higher direct impacts than pollution in open rural areas where they dissipate more harmlessly.
  6. The scheme ignores the interaction between emissions and atmospheric conditions.
  7. Many of the "carbon neutral" investments are devoted to create new clean energy, rather than to substitute for current polluting energy.  It is complex, but our best chances are through conservation.
  8. Will there be enough space in fertile habitat to plant the trees for true carbon offsets? And then, do saplings (small trees) soak up the same amounts of CO2 as older trees?  It will take many years for the full effect of the "carbon sink" to work. In the lag period, what happens if we keep pumping current levels CO2 into the atmosphere? 
  9. If the investment schemes make everybody guilt-free about driving cars when and where they want (since it's now "carbon neutral"), will people ignore the other impacts of motor vehicles and traffic -- not just atmospheric pollution, but increased impermeable surfaces, water pollution, stress, social isolation and wasted time?

The challenge is to be environmentally neutral, or better yet environmentally positive -- at this point we need to actively work to health the earth!

Second-hand Car Smoke & Human Health

Los Angeles recently passed an ordinance requiring smaller restaurants to ban smoking. Support for the law is based on a study by the American Lung Association that demonstrated that secondary smoke caused lung-disease in thousands of non-smokers. The parallel between secondary smoke and auto emissions is hard to miss. So where is the lawsuit for the secondary effects of cars? Why doesn't someone sue the auto/oil industry? One explanation is that the auto/oil industry is larger than the tobacco industry and the bicycle advocacy community is smaller that the American Medical/Lung/Heart Associations. Unfortunately, most major environmental organizations don't take a strong stand against cars -- perhaps they too are addicted.
[Ron Goodman, People Power Update]

Children & Pollution

Road traffic is the greatest single source of air pollution that put children at risk of developing lung disorders, according to a new report by Greenpeace UK. The report review worldwide data. "Air Pollution and Child Health" is available from: Greenpeace UK, Canonbury Villas, London N1 2PN, UK, for L5.50.

Student Address to Earth Summit 1992

Very poignant:

Bicycle Prescription

Just as doctors have been instructing their patients for years not to eat fats or smoke, they should include in their prescriptions for their patients' health and the health of their families, strategies for reducing driving single-occupancy vehicles (SOV).

Each mile motor vehicles are driven contributes to air, water and noise pollution, demand for roads and road maintenance, etc. and is a missed opportunity for a health promoting walk or bicycle ride. The non-motorized alternatives to SOV's reduce stress, promote cardiovascular circulation and leave the environment as clean as you found it.

Healthier Swedish Children

The introduction of lead-free gasoline in Sweden in 1994 has resulted in a dramatic decrease in the amount of lead in children's blood. A survey of 2,500 children and young people, from ages 3 to 19, found that the volume of lead in their blood fell by more than half between 1978, when lead was excluded from petrol.

World Bank Roundtable on Transport

The World Bank plays a big role in transportation through its lending decisions to developing countries. With this in mind, its Environment Department commissioned a paper by the International Energy Agency (IEA) to look at Bank options for addressing local and global problems related to transportation .

One finding of the paper was that initiatives to restrain Global Greenhouse Gases (GHG) emissions should be aligned closely with overall strategies to reform the transport sector.

Research and marketing of low-fuel, clean vehicles is one element of a strategy to combat air pollution and rising CO2 emissions in developing countries. Significant curbs in the growth of CO2 emissions from transport can only occur as a result of Bank activities only if they work directly with vehicle companies, both on matters of technology and policy.

The Bank and the IEA, organized a Roundtable in Oct 1998 that explored interactions and relationships between the Bank and the suppliers of motor vehicles that they hoped would accelerate the pace of development leading to GHG curbs.

The seminar was attended by representatives and experts from Chrysler, Ford, GM, Toyota, Honda, Daimler-Benz, Fiat, Volvo, Skoda, and key representatives of the industry in India. They were joined by several divisions of the Bank, the IFC, the GEF, and a few officials of outside organizations with similar interests.

The Roundtable had several parts. It began with a video, "Clearing the Air". This posed several questions and invited viewers to be active in addressing CO2 emissions from transport in the developing world.

The participants were then divided into three groups. Each group confronted a particular scenario familiar to transport planners: "Asthma", in which health problems arising from vehicle air pollution become a major issue and cost to governments; "Gridlock", in which congestion imparts serious slow-downs and major economic costs to economies; "Dry Well", in which various factors cut the supply of liquid fuels to transportation and raise prices.

The "Asthma" group reported a number of measures that could improve the air. The "Gridlock" group, by contrast, had little to report. They shied away from pricing or other behavior measures in favor of hoped-for technology. The "Dry Well" group repudiated the conditions of their scenario, saying that there was no credible case on anyone's horizon for long-term fuel shortages.

The next day, participants divided into groups to discuss six potential projects: station cars, fuel switching, bus networks, alternative fuels, electric two- and three-wheelers, and road pricing. It was not easy to formulate "bankable" projects, i.e. projects the Bank could fund for governments or private manufacturers to produce the technologies implied by these projects.

Vehicle company participants offered a wide range of closing opinions. Many felt there is not at present enough of a crisis (in terms of carbon emissions) for us to do anything. [1999]

US Moves to Cut Support to World Bank Environment Fund

Meanwhile, the US Senate is moving to cut money for a World Bank environmental fund that promotes energy-saving, low-pollution projects in developing countries. The Senate Appropriations Committee approved a budget bill that provides only $25 million to pay off initial U.S. commitments to the fund and nothing for a planned replenishment. [1999]

Sorry, Zero Emissions Company Too Green to be "Eco"

LONDON. When it comes to transport, you can't get much greener than a bicycle. Even John Prescott has been known to encourage people to take to two wheels rather than two Jaguars. And Westminster Council is so keen to help reduce the toxic fumes that hang over London that it awards green pennants to transport companies using low-emission or non-polluting fuels.

So when Andrea Casalotti's Zero Emissions company - which uses bicycles to provide courier services in the West End for companies such as Conran's Bluebird Store, Planet Organic and Imperial College- applied for a green pennant he assumed it would be ... well, a walk-over. Wrong. He was turned down.

Catherine Longworth, chairwoman of Westminster's environmental subcommittee, said: "Everyone knows that cycling is green - you don't need a sticker to say so. This is a scheme to encourage motorists to change their ways, and reduce pollution."

Mr.Casalotti, 38, a former futures trader and keen cyclist, who set up his company in Marylebone 18 months ago, said: "I thought we would be automatically accepted." Client Ilana Morissey, coordinator of the cardiovascular unit at Imperial College, described the decision as "absolutely outrageous."
[Peter Gruner, Evening Standard, 15.12.98]

Ed. Note: For year IBF has had difficulty getting listed in indexes and directories of environmental organizations. We assume it is because the automobile is still a "sacred cow" for most environmentalists.

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