We Have to Move Beyond "Greening the Status Quo"

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the future house

A really important point gets made in a really interesting podcast.

The latest episode of the podcast The War on Cars, Can the Millennials Win the War on Cars? did not seem promising. I run from anything with the overworked trope about millennials in the title, and it focuses on a local New York politician, "the first bonafide, avocado toast–eating Millennial to hold citywide elected office."

OK, Corey Johnson is very interesting, but around 20 minutes in the discussion changes a bit, when the team starts discussing how older politicians really do not get climate change, even when they are running on it.

Doug Gordon discusses presidential candidates like Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington, who is running for president and is completely focused on climate change. "Then you go back and look at what he is doing as Governor, and one of the things is propose a 12-billion dollar highway plan for the state of Washington."

Then comes the really important point, the one we have been discussing on TreeHugger a lot:

I think one of the things with the older generation of people [is] when they consider fighting climate change, they look around the world as it is and think, in the future, to fight climate change, we will have the world exactly as it is, but the things that power it will be green. So we will build this massive highway, but the car you drive on it will be powered by electricity, generated by solar, your house will be plugged into solar, but they don't actually think about land consumption and sprawl, the cost of all of this stuff.
It's greening the status quo.

Doug continues, saying that this is "what I think separates the older 50s or 60s-age politicians from the younger crop." Sarah pops in to say of older politicians, "I am sure there are some that get it, but I can't think of any right now."

©. Alex Wong/Getty Images

© Alex Wong/Getty Images

They are both profoundly right and totally wrong in this. Young politicians are just as eager to green the status quo. Even the Green New Deal did this, proposing "zero-emission vehicle infrastructure and manufacturing" or electric cars, and barely mentioning any alternative form of transportation, and ignoring bikes and feet. As I wrote when it was released:

By far, the single biggest determinant of how much one drives is the density where you live. This is the biggest oversight in the Green New Deal... we have to change the way we design our communities. We have to intensify our suburbs. Then we can support good transit, cycling and walking infrastructure.

On Streetsblog, Angie Schmitt goes after the Green New Deal kids for not doing enough about transit, noting that it just called for increased investment in “affordable and accessible public transportation and high-speed rail,” and had to instead radically change the formula for funding transportation.

credit: Matthew Spremulli via MIT News

© Matthew Spremulli via MIT News

People of all ages are dreaming up ways to green the status quo. Gen-Xer Elon Musk is probably the worst, with that lovely big wide suburban house I love to hate, with the solar shingles, big battery and two Teslas in the double garage. But rooftop solar tends to benefit the people who own their own rooftops, and that means more sprawl. Others are planning suburban utopias served by drones and self-driving cars, sort of green-teching the status quo.

People of every generational cohort are doing this. Greening the status quo is a really important concept, and it has nothing to do with age.