Tuesday, January 12, 2021

City Publishes Slightly Different Take on Emissions

Last week the City and consultant team published a new pass at a greenhouse gas inventory.

Summary on a consumption-based GHG
It's still the cars

Nearly two years ago, the City published a "sector-based" analysis, and this is a "consumption-based" analysis.

The City's release is hard to parse. 

While it is a fine thing to keep iterating and improving our understanding of emissions as technical matters, the big picture with this new analysis is essentially unchanged. On this new analysis transportation is still the biggest source of emissions. If we thought that a different analysis was going to give us a pass on driving, we were wrong. 

It's not clear why this new analysis was necessary at this point in the process. Differing analyses might help us make decisions on the margins, or prioritize details. But different analyses aren't going to change anything in the big picture and larger strategy.

In that light, this new analysis reads a little like a temporizing move, an evasion, muddying the waters, or a lateral move. It's not a move forward. It doesn't seem like anything that helps us get closer to the heart of things. Worst case, it could signal a shift from thinking about changing systems, system incentives, and price signals to a framework of "individual choice." 

But we already ask people to make the individual choice to take the bus, bike, or walk. And as long as we provide copious free parking and free road access and mandatory lawn and driveway zoning, the structured incentives for driving vastly exceed the incentives for busing, biking, or walking. The quantity of our garbage is another example where we ask people to reduce and we have limited success. It's going to take deeper change than just asking people to make better consumption choices.

The timing of the new analysis, and reasons for it, just seem a little odd. At the moment, then, this is a footnote, a minor technical thing. Maybe there will be more to say as its place in the total process becomes clearer.


Here's the "individual choice" frame made explicit in the inventory document. BP made the "carbon footprint" popular in a 2005 campaign, and there are reasons to be skeptical of it.

Not about City policy, but about personal choice

And here's the individual choice frame use by an autoist interest group in a context that implies it will work to their benefit.

The individual choice frame
is understood to benefit autoism
via Twitter


Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

One of the consultant leads is all about individual change. Privatized action for change and socialized risk/costs. It's a little worrisome that the Climate Action Plan is being framed as a matter of individual virtue, and not a matter of public policy that applies equally at all scales to the virtuous, non-virtuous, and the vicious. Without system change, nudges and appeals to virtue work only on the margins.

"Kim is also the Verdis team’s behavior change expert, having earned a Certificate in Sustainability and Behavior Change from the University of California, San Diego in 2017. She has created numerous campaigns that have influenced individuals at our clients’ organizations to adopt more sustainable behaviors....

Kim holds a Master of Divinity from Pacific School of Religion and a B.A. in the History of Art and Visual Communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Added a clip explicitly on the personal choice frame.