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Michael Miller

Viewpoint

By Michael Miller
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The Road From Here, Part I

An eternal fight for natural resources would suit some people just fine. Not long ago, but before the propaganda from some circles had shifted to “It’s all a hoax,” a radio pundit was bloviating about how even the worst climate scenarios were no big deal. Even if the Midwest plains dried up from drought and coastal cities became swamped, plenty of new and fertile land will be opened up in the new, unfrozen Greenland and Antarctica. Right? Except the United States doesn’t own Greenland and Antarctica. I suppose the countries that have troops all over them will own them. Even the Canadians, only a little bit removed from actually being part of the United States, are not giving in or backing down over control of the new shipping routes and resources opening up in the Arctic. Will we eventually have troops in Quebec City?

 

The world’s inability or unwillingness to invest in human beings and to help improve the economic and political conditions of hundreds of millions of people comes back to haunt us now. In March, there was a brief blip, a momentary focus of media attention on a horrific massacre and ongoing violence in Nigeria between religious and tribal sects. Many Americans are not very concerned about who is killed in Nigeria or if some of these countries are stable. However, in December 2009, Nigeria was our third largest source of foreign oil, behind Canada and Mexico, and just ahead of Saudi Arabia. We’d better be concerned about the Nigerian civil war.

Depending on the month, sometimes Saudi Arabia comes in third.

Long Island newspapers should have a clock on the cover, like the famous “doomsday” clock on the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (it currently reads six minutes to midnight). What time will the clock read when gasoline hits $5, $6, $7 a gallon?

Europe survives with high gasoline prices in large part because they did not stop investing in their cities and the outstanding rail lines that connect them. The airports in Europe shut down last week because of the volcano, but Europe itself did not shut down (soon, the international banking industry may shut down Europe, but not the volcano).

Vauban is a new, upscale suburb of Freiburg in southwestern Germany completed in 2006 as an experiment in “smart planning;” 70-percent of its 5,500 residents do not own a car and happily ride the tram. In Great Britain, scores of proposed suburban malls and fast food restaurants have been refused planning permits since regulations in 2001 required that “more sustainable transport choices both for carrying people and for moving freight” be considered in land use decisions.

Quarry Village is a ritzy suburban development going up outside Oakland, CA, using Vauban as a model. You can own a car, but you don’t have to in order to get to Oakland and other Bay Area cities.

These are attempts to loosen the links between suburban living and driving cars. This doesn’t mean taking your cars away. It means giving people reasonable choices, which we don’t have now.

The dysfunctional federal government is not leading us where we need to go. State and local government is where the real action is going to be. Unfortunately, some of Long Island’s key public officials mostly just want to make sure that any change or disruption in routine happens after they move on. If you are an elected official right now, at any level, then you must take responsibility. We’re playing for keeps now, cats and kittens.

We’re going to have to make some changes to Suburbia in order to preserve it. It’s going to take zoning, housing and transportation strategies that might actually change environmental impact and help put this island on a sustainable course for the future.

Investing in change, public or private, depends on capital and credit. Unless we fix the broken system of public finance at all levels, we’re not building or changing anything. Otherwise, we’re mostly going to be closing schools, watching our roads crumble and walking away from underwater mortgages. It’s all tied together.

Greener, sustainable, survivable. That is where Long Island has to go, and fast, or we’re not going anywhere.

Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. Email: millercolumn@optimum.net