David Owen is one of those brave souls who doesn't think like the rest of us. He's challenging our notions of what "being green" means in a way you'll never hear from Gregor Robertson or the Tides Canada Foundation even after their 500-year vision for the planet ends. Owen knows that the real aim is reducing carbon from entering our atmosphere. Reducing the amount of energy we use is the way we achieve that.
Owen writes about important stuff like the Jevons paradox. What's that you ask? It's a pretty sound theory arrived at by economist William Stanley Jevons in the 19th Century. It argues that by making your energy use more efficient, you end up using more of it. Owen's article in The New Yorker called it "The Efficiency Dilemma" and it provides several case examples of where industries or even citizens use more energy efficient practices or products, it invites using even more energy.
This is why, for example, chasing the dream of the electric car over, say, seriously proposing a rapid transit alternative such as a streetcar makes no sense. The goal must be the reduction of carbon, which you achieve by making distances shorter for goods and services, and invest in rapid transit.
Then there is the local food movement, which Owen takes a critical view of here. I'm one of those people who would toil in a garden every day if I could, and I take considerable pride in the food we grow in our yard. But I recognize that "locavorism" presents not only economic challenges (note the news of a trendy farmer's cooperative going bankrupt last week), it also doesn't make sense for many products if a lower carbon footprint is your goal.
Owen is the author of a bestseller titled Green Metropolis: Why Living Smaller, Living Closer, and Driving Less Are the Keys to Sustainability. David has been invited to speak in Vancouver by Sam Sullivan's Global Civic Policy Society and the UBC School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. It's a free talk taking place this Thursday, March 17, 7:30 pm, at the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre. You must RSVP by email to firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to attend.
Owen's talk is titled "Why Manhattan is the Greenest City in North America." It's taking place in the city which proposes to become the greenest, but wishes to do so largely through symbolic gestures like community gardens at City Hall, and backyard chicken policies. Owen will be speaking on the "greenest" day of the year – St. Patrick's Day. Everyone who attends on Thursday night is encouraged to wear something green in the spirit of the occasion.
I highly recommend Owen's talk for those who are interested in the debate about "going green," and want to know how cities can truly achieve this. One reviewer describes Green Metropolis like this:
While the conventional wisdom condemns it as an environmental nightmare, Manhattan is by far the greenest place in America, argues this stimulating eco-urbanist manifesto. According to Owen (Sheetrock and Shellac), staff writer at the New Yorker, New York City is a model of sustainability: its extreme density and compactness—and horrifically congested traffic—encourage a carfree lifestyle centered on walking and public transit; its massive apartment buildings use the heat escaping from one dwelling to warm the ones adjoining it; as a result, he notes, New Yorkers' per capita greenhouse gas emissions are less than a third of the average American's.
The author attacks the powerful anti-urban bias of American environmentalists like Michael Pollan and Amory Lovins, whose rurally situated, auto-dependent Rocky Mountain Institute he paints as an ecological disaster area. The environmental movement's disdain for cities and fetishization of open space, backyard compost heaps, locavorism and high-tech gadgetry like solar panels and triple-paned windows is, he warns, a formula for wasteful sprawl and green-washed consumerism. Owen's lucid, biting prose crackles with striking facts that yield paradigm-shifting insights. The result is a compelling analysis of the world's environmental predicament that upends orthodox opinion and points the way to practical solutions.
Can Vancouver achieve this true green goal? Then we must challenge our thinking about what it really means to be green with the help of thinkers like David Owen. To see more of Owen's articles visit his blog at www.DavidOwen.net.
Read an op/ed by David Owen recently published in the Vancouver Sun. As well see a David Owen interview with Carlito Pablo in the Georgia Straight.
- post by Mike