Saturday, December 5, 2020

City Revises Intro to Visioning Exercise, Misconstrues word Practical

Clearly seeing the concerns about the focus on "resilience" and adaptation in the development of a Climate Action Plan, the city and consultant team have revised the intro to the current visioning exercise. (Previous note here.)

Revised intro to "resilient Salem"

The first version, avoiding the central matter

But the changes seem more cosmetic than substantial.

A bit defensively perhaps, in this new introduction they reiterate:

Creating a practical vision of the future is the first step in our climate planning process because it depicts a destination at which we plan to arrive where emissions have been reduced and Salem residents are protected from extreme weather events.

This still seems very wrong. 

In this passage the word "practical" in "practical vision" is doing all the work, even magical work, because the "practical" act is in the hard policy choice, not in any broad gesture of imagination and digital sticky note. By "depicting a destination" at which we have already arrived, we skip over the hard work in the real world and do it in our heads, in imagination rather than in the actual policy choices and renunciations we will have to make. When we imagine, we omit the hard trade-offs. Imagination and vision are not practical!

The inventory has been totally sidelined

If we want to achieve a 50% reduction by 2035, we should apply that reduction to this pie chart and then ask how do we get there. If transportation is currently 53% of our total, our subtarget for transportation in 2035 would be 27% of our current totals. Then we ask, how do we get there? That's the practical part. Some subtargets may be easier and others harder, and then we can do a reduction rebalancing based on what areas we choose to emphasize first, always keeping in mind the overall goal.

A rebalancing phase - later in the process - is where this kind of sticky note visioning work might help clarify choices and trade-offs.

The sticky note visioning exercise at this early point seems very premature and like a way to privilege gassy words and vision over real world choices, some of which may be difficult.

The City and consultant team still do not yet seem serious about crafting a plan that will get us to a real 50% reduction in fifteen years, and are still dodging the central matters.

Addendum, December 10th

In a piece at Salem Reporter, "As Salem looks to address vulnerabilities brought on by climate change, state releases grim report," published yesterday, the City appeared to use a kind of fatalism to disparage the idea they were even going to try to meet the 50% reduction target for 2035.

Salem Reporter, December 9th

Maybe in writing and editing the piece the City's message was stripped down and simplified. It's possible that there was a larger and more rich context for the comments.

Even so, it is difficult to read the comments as anything other than an evasion of reduction goals:

Even if we reduce greenhouse gas emissions tomorrow [and since we all know this is an impossible task, we are not going to focus on reductions, and we will instead prepare] to be facing these things.

It would not be hard to talk about the urgency of reducing emissions, and then to place adaptation as a secondary project in the context of emissions reductions.

But this is very clearly and very firmly not what the City is doing. Instead they frame up emissions reductions as "aspirational," as "bold and ambitious," something of nearly Promethean audacity, something in fact that cannot be done "tomorrow." Since it's impossible, we don't have to do it at all. 

They are slow-walking planning for any emissions targets.


Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Over on FB a commenter links to the post and summarizes, asking as if with a rhetorical question, "Can any vision that is "practical" really get us to net zero carbon by 2050?" They think the conclusion here is "no."

That is not intended.

There are many practical things that will help us reach net zero by 2050!

The beef here is that the visioning exercise is avoiding the practical details. The beef is with what looks like a deliberate misunderstanding of "practical" that gets absorbed into a vision and its lack of detail. The priority is on the vision instead of the detail.

At this stage we already have two visions, a 50% reduction for 2035, and a net zero state for 2050.

What we need are the nuts and bolts of practical detail that get us started on that path, not still more gauzy visioning.

Sorry if that was not clear.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Another problem with the visioning is that we've already done a lot of it. Our Salem conducted a large-scale visioning exercise, but you'd never know it in this context of the Climate Plan.

And of course there was the Vision 2020 project a decade ago.

It's very hard not to conclude that visioning is a substitute for the policy choices that will sometimes be difficult.

Why end free parking and initiate decongestion pricing and ban new gas cooktops when we can write a glorious vision for 2050?

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Updated with clip and comments from Salem Reporter