Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Smart Letters: The Environment

Okay, so I love dishing on Dumb Letters as much as anybody. But sometimes I want to give a "Yay, team!" to the smart ones. There were two smart ones in today's NYT in response to Al Gore's thoughtful op-ed piece in Sunday's paper on our new opportunity to tackle environmental issues that have been sadly neglected by The Idiot and his gang of eco-thugs.

Smart One the First...

While we build a network of high-capacity underground electrical lines, we should also build high-capacity, high-speed, grade-level rail corridors.

Combining construction of both would lower the costs of each by combining right-of-way acquisition. Passenger rail, which is 5 to 10 times more efficient than air or car travel, would use local energy supplies and save energy over all.

Plus, this construction would spur the creation of hundreds of thousands of good jobs.

Ari Ofsevit
St. Paul

We have criminally neglected rail travel in this country. We had many opportunities to create a great rail network on par with Europe's (people don't have cars in Europe like we do; they don't need to) and we have failed every time, opting instead for more highways and more cars. Here in New York City most people don't have cars. It's difficult to keep one here but it's also unnecessary. The subway goes nearly everywhere and the few places it doesn't go are served by buses. Better public transportation means a better environment. And more self-sufficiency for people of limited financial means.

I like Mr. Ofsevit's idea of killing two birds with one stone. Three, really. JOBS! But I'd go one step further and go with maglev trains for intercity and long-distance travel. They have them in Japan and they're awesome. They can't be plopped onto existing tracks but if we're making new lines (or refitting old ones) they should be considered. They're fast, quiet, and efficient because they eliminate friction. And, at speeds of over 300mph, they can compete with air travel.

Smart One the Second...

The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization has estimated that nearly a fifth of the world’s greenhouse gases is generated by livestock production, more than by transportation.

Yet Al Gore does not even mention the need for Americans to reduce meat consumption as we attempt to rescue ourselves from the climate crisis.

Michael Radkowsky

I pride myself on not being a sanctimonious asshole about my food choices. I ate meat for over 30 years and dairy for another 5 or so. So it would be abject hypocrisy for me to excoriate others for not doing exactly what I do exactly when I do it. Nobody wants to be told what to eat (or not to eat) and I'm not going to look down on anyone for the choices they make in this area.

But a vegan with a Hummer has a much smaller carbon footprint than a carnivore with a Prius. Just sayin'. (Vegan with a Prius? Now you're talkin'. Vegan that takes solar-powered maglev public transportation? Be still, my healthily beating heart.)

What I like in this letter is that Mr. Radkowsky does not even say we need to eliminate meat consumption but that we should think about reducing it. This is easier for people to swallow. How many times a week do you eat meat? Six? Drop that to three and you've made a difference. Food for thought.


Kizz said...

While NYC does beat the heck out of a number of US cities in public transportation I'm not sure I'd paint the system quite as rosily as you do. There's over crowding almost everywhere and the people you mention who need it, those with lower incomes, are underserved almost everywhere that they can afford to live. It's a good system but it shouldn't be used as a model without significant improvements.

MAB said...

I didn't mean to imply that we live in a Wonderland of Star Trek-like efficiency. Our system has its problems. But, unlike most places, we do have a system. Which was the point. I'm all for making it better.

Mrs. Chili said...

I don't live in a city (though my town does CALL itself a city), and I can't get anywhere conveniently on public transportation. That there even IS a public transport system in this area is kind of amazing; Local U. subsidizes a bus service, but it's limited in scope AND schedule - I could probably get to work on it, but I couldn't get home in time to meet my daughters off their school buses, so I drive myself to work.

We (the great and collective WE) don't tend to think in terms of what we can do (or, more to the point, what we can NOT do) to make things better. It doesn't take huge and dramatic sacrifice, really - but if we all did a little bit of something, we could effect a whole lotta change.

:: wildsoda said...

You said you ate meat for over 30 years. Are you vegetarian now?

MAB said...

I'm vegan.

Mya said...

I didn't understand the whole vegan food movement when I first heard about it years ago. I just thought it was inconvenient - avoiding dairy?? That must be impossible! Now, after learning about the health and especially the environmental effects of meat consumption I have gained a huge respect and understanding for the vegetarians and vegans out there.

Reducing meat consumption is definitely something we all should adapt to – and the point you make is absolutely correct – you can’t force an extreme policy onto an entire population, you have to take small steps. I actually work for a public health campaign called Meatless Monday – we advocate cutting back on meat one day a week since this reduces your saturated fat intake by 15% thereby lowering your risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and stroke. You might be interested in an article we wrote about meat consumption and its effects on the environment:

Also – on the better rail system issue - California is taking initiative and creating the first high speed rail line between San Francisco and LA – here’s an article about it:

MAB said...


Cool! Thanks for the links.