Published April 10, 2014 by World Resources Institute Blog. Written by Manish Bapna and Dario Hildago.
In recent months, popular protests have broken out in cities around the globe. The causes were different: soaring pollution in Beijing; violent, gender-based crime in New Delhi; and access to public services in São Paulo. But, for each, inequality was a significant underlying factor.
Many cities face increasing pressure. The urban population has increased five-fold since 1950. Vehicle ownership is on course to double by 2050, while traffic accidents lead to 1.3 million deaths each year. Cities emit approximately 70 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. All of this is even more staggering when you consider that 1.5 billion people will move into cities in the next two decades, bringing the total to 5 billion worldwide.
The reality is that well-designed cities can generate jobs, innovation, and economic growth for all. But when designed poorly — with too much sprawl, waste, and inefficiency — they can divide cities and exacerbate pollution, inequality, and political instability. Moreover, poor design has long-term consequences given that urban infrastructure often lasts decades.
Against this backdrop, some 25,000 people have gathered in Medellin, Colombia, for the UN Habitat’s World Urban Forum this week. [Ed note: Conference took place April 5 - 11 2014.] The key question they face is: How can cities drive growth that is inclusive and sustainable at the same time?
The answer is complex, but three common elements stand out.
In order to create well-designed, compact cities, spatial planning needs to be explicitly integrated into municipal and national policies.
Compact cities often carry many advantages. New York City is notable for its highly dense layout that contributes to its using 40 percent less electricity and 25 percent less water, while containing 20 percent more green space compared with other large U.S. cities. In 2007, Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled PlaNYC, a cross-agency effort to drive innovation and growth, cut greenhouse gas emissions, and improve life for the city’s residents. Under the plan, New York’s GDP has increased by 13 percent while emissions have fallen by 16 percent in just six years.
Nearly 300 miles east of the World Urban Forum, Bogota’s Master Plan promotes compact, mixed-use, and accessible development. The city is already one of the densest in the world, and planners have proposed to prevent future sprawl by improving the occupation of central areas, enhancing accessibility for pedestrians and bicyclists, expanding mass transit, and protecting fragile watersheds and green areas.
Unfortunately, these examples remain the exception. More frequently, poor planning and perverse financial incentives lead to greater sprawl, create congestion, and promote excessive consumption and waste. In order to create healthy and compact cities, deliberate early design that avoids lock in to future problems is crucial.
Unlocking Urban Finance
Cities need their own revenue sources in order to avoid selling land that can lead to more sprawl and inefficiency.
Well-designed property taxes and development fees can increase investment for smart infrastructure. Finance can be leveraged through real estate developer fees, value capture taxes, green bonds, and carbon finance. In Hong Kong, for instance, the “Rail Plus Property” model enables the state to capture the increase in property revenues along new transportation routes, rather than have them accrue to private property holders. [Ed note: See Henry George 1879 book 'Progress and Poverty']
Shanghai raised $900 million by implementing a quota system that auctions a license to drive on city streets to the highest bidders — an approach which has been adopted by six other large Chinese cities.
With urbanization on the rise, investment is expected to soar. One potential source of city financing is a 2012 pledge of $175 billion for transport infrastructure by the eight largest multilateral development banks; however, to date, less than 5 percent has been allocated to urban public transport systems. With additional funds, cities can control their growth and resources can be channeled to ensure greater efficiency.
Finally, citizens, especially vulnerable communities, need the right information and an ability to influence decisions by their city leaders.
Traditionally, many European cities have been at the forefront of citizen participation. For example, in Stockholm, citizens voted to support the nation’s first congestion pricing charges. In Geneva, residents cast ballots to determine how the city should allocate urban space among private vehicles, public transportation, cyclists, and pedestrians.
Meanwhile in Porto Alegre, Brazil, a new open data portal is helping city officials make decisions on mobility, environment, sanitation, and public health. And in Mexico City, citizens are taking matters into their own hands by expanding cycling infrastructure and bike lanes. These examples illustrate how citizen engagement can promote more livable and sustainable cities.
An Opportunity to Put Cities on the International Development Agenda
These issues — and more — are being discussed in Medellin. Among the major topics is how the future international development agenda will speak to the poverty, inequality, and sustainability challenges facing cities. As leaders consider what comes once the Millennium Development Goals expire in 2015, it is clear that cities should be a key element of the agenda.
Near-term decisions by local governments, developers, and planners will determine the resource management and quality of life for billions of people in the coming decades. The World Urban Forum can spur new ideas and drive a deeper commitment to sustainable, equitable urban growth around the world.
Related: City Energy Project
In railing against everything from bike lanes to transit spending, pundits and politicians often raise the spectre of a “war on cars.” Of course, there is no war on cars – but there should be.
Cars directly kill and hurt more people every year than most diseases, resulting in 1.5 million deaths and 78 million injuries needing medical care, according to the World Bank. Road injury is the eighth leading cause of death worldwide. Pollution from cars also causes acute and chronic health problems that often result in premature death–from heart disease and stroke to respiratory illness and lung cancer.
Environmental impacts of cars are also well-known and wide-ranging, including climate change, smog and oily run-off from roads, not to mention the green space sacrificed for infrastructure to sell, drive, fuel and park them. Despite fuel-efficiency improvements, emissions from vehicles have more than doubled since 1970, and will increase with rising car demand in countries like China, India and Brazil, according to the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report.
Because many people, especially North Americans, can’t conceive of a world without cars for everyone, we overlook major problems caused by our private automobile obsession. We’re rightly outraged when a company like General Motors ignores faulty ignition switches in some of its vehicles, thought to have caused 13 deaths over 13 years. The massive recall that followed was justified and necessary. But as a headline on Treehugger’s website argues, "It’s time for a bigger recall of a seriously defective product: The Car."
The article continues:
Since we can’t recall every car all at once and redesign the entire country, there are at least things we can do to make it less bad. Significantly reduce speed limits. Make drivers pay the full cost of infrastructure construction and maintenance through the gas tax. Build the cost of medical care for those millions of injured by cars into the price of gas. Invest in walkable cities and alternative forms of transport.
Seattle newsweekly The Stranger, only somewhat tongue-in-cheek, created a 2011 manifesto for a real war on cars. “We demand that car drivers pay their own way, bearing the full cost of the automobile-petroleum-industrial complex that has depleted our environment, strangled our cities, and drawn our nation into foreign wars,” it says. “Reinstate the progressive motor vehicle excise tax, hike the gas tax, and toll every freeway, bridge, and neighborhood street until the true cost of driving lies as heavy and noxious as our smog-laden air.”
As Treehugger notes, we can’t shift from car-centric societies overnight. And until we find ways to better design our urban areas, many people will continue to rely on cars. After all, in the “developed” world, and increasingly in the developing world, we privilege private automobiles when creating infrastructure, often at the expense of what we need for public transit, walking and cycling.
Some even claim automobile and oil companies bought and dismantled streetcar and urban rail lines from the mid-1930s to the 1950s to sell more cars and oil. Fuel efficiency wasn’t a concern because, before pollution and climate change impacts were known, gas sale profits were a priority. Many factors were involved in the development of car culture, but we now find ourselves in an era when much of our oil is burned to propel mostly single users in inefficient vehicles.
Even with today’s improved fuel standards, only about 15 percent of the energy from each litre of fuel burned is used to move the vehicle, which typically weighs 10 to 20 times more than the passenger(s) it carries. That translates to about a one percent efficiency to move those passengers.
Although we can’t stop using cars altogether, we can curtail their damage to people and the environment. We can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by cutting back on car use, choosing fuel-efficient vehicles, joining a car pool or sharing program and reducing speed. At the policy level, we need increased investment in public transit and cycling and pedestrian infrastructure, stronger fuel-efficiency standards, reduced speed limits, higher gas taxes and human-centric urban design.
Besides combating pollution and climate change, reduced dependency on private automobiles will lead to healthier people, fewer deaths and injuries and livable cities with happier citizens. And that’s worth fighting for!
Posted by Gypsy Chief
Posted on April 16, 2014 in Washington’s Blog. Written by Staff.
Scientific Study Shows that the U.S. Is an Oligarchy
We noted last year:
American democracy – once a glorious thing – has devolved into an oligarchy, according to two leading IMF officials, the former Vice President of the Dallas Federal Reserve, the head of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Moody’s chief economist and many others.
But don’t take their word for it …
A new quantitative study by Princeton’s Martin Gilens and Northwestern’s Benjamin Page finds that America is not a democracy … but is an oligarchy.
Here’s a quick visual overview from the study:
In other words, when the fatcats want something, it will probably happen. But when the little guys want something … not so much.
Highlights from the study:
A great deal of empirical research speaks to the policy influence of one or another set of actors, but until recently it has not been possible to test these contrasting theoretical predictions against each other within a single statistical model. This paper reports on an effort to do so, using a unique data set that includes measures of the key variables for 1,779 policy issues.
Economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence. Our results provide substantial support for theories of Economic Elite Domination and for theories of Biased Pluralism, but not for theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy or Majoritarian Pluralism.
Very few studies have offered quantitative evidence concerning the impact of interest groups based on a number of different public policies.
Prior to the availability of the data set that we analyze here, no one we are aware of has succeeded at assessing interest group influence over a comprehensive set of issues, while taking into account the impact of either the public at large or economic elites – let alone analyzing all three types of potential influences simultaneously.
The chief predictions of pure theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy can be decisively rejected. Not only do ordinary citizens not have uniquely substantial power over policy decisions; they have little or no independent influence on policy at all.
By contrast, economic elites are estimated to have a quite substantial, highly significant, independent impact on policy.
These results suggest that reality is best captured by mixed theories in which both individual economic elites and organized interest groups (including corporations, largely owned and controlled by wealthy elites) play a substantial part in affecting public policy, but the general public has little or no independent influence.
When a majority – even a very large majority – of the public favors change, it is not likely to get what it wants. In our 1,779 policy cases, narrow pro-change majorities of the public got the policy changes they wanted only about 30% of the time. More strikingly, even overwhelmingly large pro-change majorities, with 80% of the public favoring a policy change, got that change only about 43% of the time.
Our findings probably understate the political influence of elites.
What do our findings say about democracy in America? They certainly constitute troubling news for advocates of “populistic” democracy, who want governments to respond primarily or exclusively to the policy preferences of their citizens. In the United States, our findings indicate, the majority does not rule — at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes. When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the U.S. political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.
If policymaking is dominated by powerful business organizations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.
No wonder the chairman of the Department of Economics at George Mason University said that politicians are not prostitutes, they are pimps … pimping out their services to the highest bidder.
And not only do we not have democracy, but we also no longer have a free market economy. Instead, we have fascism, communist style socialism, kleptocracy, banana republic style corruption, or – yes – “oligarchy“.
Related: Is America an Oligarchy?
Posted by Gypsy Chief
Published by The Christian Post. Written by Phyllis Schlafly.
President Barack Obama and his feminist friends have been trotting out their tiresome slogan that women are paid only 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. Every reputable scholar who has commented has proved that this is a notorious falsehood that anyone should be embarrassed to use.
U.S. law calls for equal pay for equal work, but the feminist slogan is not based on equal work. Women work fewer hours per day, per week, per year. They spend fewer years as full-time workers outside the home, avoid jobs that require overtime, and choose jobs with flexibility to take time off for personal reasons. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, men are twice as likely as women to work more than 40 hours a week.
Women place a much higher value on pleasant working conditions: a clean, comfortable, air-conditioned office with congenial co-workers. Men, on the other hand, are more willing to endure unpleasant working conditions to earn higher pay, doing dirty, dangerous outside work. In 2012, men suffered 92 percent of work-related deaths.
If a man is supporting his family, at the peak of his career, he often works longer hours to maximize his earnings. By contrast, a successful woman who reaches a high rank in her career is more likely to reduce her working hours.
All these reasons for women voluntarily choosing lower pay are now beyond dispute among those who have looked at the facts. But even those explanations for the alleged pay “gap” are still only part of the story.
Perhaps an even more important reason for women’s lower pay is the choices women make in their personal lives, such as having children. Women with children earn less, but childless women earn about the same as men.
Another fact is the influence of hypergamy, which means that women typically choose a mate (husband or boyfriend) who earns more than she does. Men don’t have the same preference for a higher-earning mate.
While women prefer to HAVE a higher-earning partner, men generally prefer to BE the higher-earning partner in a relationship. This simple but profound difference between the sexes has powerful consequences for the so-called pay gap.
Suppose the pay gap between men and women were magically eliminated. If that happened, simple arithmetic suggests that half of women would be unable to find what they regard as a suitable mate.
Obviously, I’m not saying women won’t date or marry a lower-earning men [sic], only that they probably prefer not to. If a higher-earning man is not available, many women are more likely not to marry at all.
In colleges, there are no gender separations in courses of study, and students can freely choose their majors. There are no male and female math classes. But women generally choose college courses that pay less in the labor market.
Those are the choices that women themselves make. Those choices contribute to the pay gap, just as much as the choice of a job with flexible hours and pleasant working conditions.
The pay gap between men and women is not all bad because it helps to promote and sustain marriages. Since husband and wife generally pool their incomes into a single economic unit, what really matters is the combined family income, not the pay gap between them.
In two segments of our population, the pay gap has virtually ceased to exist. In the African-American community and in the millennial generation (ages 18 to 32), women earn about the same as men, if not more.
It just so happens that those are the two segments of our population in which the rate of marriage has fallen the most. Fifty years ago, about 80 percent of Americans were married by age 30; today, less than 50 percent are.
Just a coincidence? I think not. The best way to improve economic prospects for women is to improve job prospects for the men in their lives, even if that means increasing the so-called pay gap.
The real economic story of the past 30 years is that women’s pay has effectively risen to virtual parity, but men’s pay has stagnated and thousands of well-paid blue-collar jobs have been shipped to low-wage countries. Nobody should be surprised that the marriage rate has fallen, the age of first marriage has risen, and marriage, in general, has become unstable.
Gypsy Chief’s Comment:
This is hilarious. Republished word for word as a service to our readers
Related: The stabilizing influence of masculine dominance on women’s lives. Sunshine Mary
Posted by Gypsy Chief
Published in Rainforest Action Network Blog on April 13, 2014. Written by Amanda Starbuck.
This could be the tipping point for the horrific practice of Mountaintop Removal coal mining.
Just this week, JPMorgan Chase updated its environmental policy, revealing that it will be ending financial relationships with Mountaintop Removal coal mining companies.
Wells Fargo and BNP Paribas/Bank of the West have recently taken similar steps. If the other major banks commit to stop financing mountaintop removal, fossil fuel companies will have no choice but to end the obliteration of mountains and poisoning of communities for coal.
That’s why thousands of people are joining Rainforest Action Network to tell Bank of America, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley to stop financing Mountaintop Removal coal mining!
Mountaintop Removal (MTR) is a mining practice that uses explosives to literally blow the tops off mountains for the coal inside. The rubble is then pushed into streams and poisons the water supply for thousands of people. This is morally unacceptable and why many, many local communities in Appalachia, along with activists around the world, are taking a stand against MTR.
For more than five years, Rainforest Action Network members like you have demanded JPMorgan Chase and other banks drop MTR financing. And while we’ll have to remain vigilant to ensure JPMorgan Chase stays on the path away from MTR, the bank’s new policy demonstrates that your activism is working.
JPMorgan Chase will no longer be doing business with companies like Alpha Natural Resources — the worst of the worst when it comes to MTR. Last month, the EPA issued Alpha the largest water pollution discharge penalty in the history of the Clean Water Act. The company also faces ten lawsuits over water pollution at its MTR mines.;
JPMorgan Chase, the largest bank in the United States, shows that the smart money is leaving companies like Alpha Natural Resources. Other major banks do not want to be singled out for continuing to support environmental destruction and poisoning communities.
Our movement is truly turning the tide against MTR. Companies like Alpha Natural Resources need financing from big banks to continue the destruction. If we make sure the banks can’t hide their responsibility for keeping MTR alive, we can force them to act to protect their image.
JPMorgan Chase is acting to protect its image right now by moving out of MTR financing. Let’s use that momentum. Send the banks a message today and help end Mountaintop Removal coal mining once and for all.
About the Author
Amanda Starbuck directs RAN’s Energy & Finance Programs, challenging large banks to stop funding the world’s most destructive industries and start funding renewable energy. Amanda can be found on Twitter: @Starbuck
Photo Credit: Vivian Stockman, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition
Posted by Gypsy Chief
If This Terrifying Report Doesn’t Wake You Up to the Realities of What We’re Doing to This Planet, What Will? | Mother Jones
The impacts of climate change are likely to be “severe, pervasive, and irreversible,” the chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said Sunday night in Yokohama, Japan, as the world’s leading climate experts released a new survey of how our planet is likely to change in the near future, and what we can do about it.
Here is more about this from Mother Jones Magazine. Published March 30, 2014 and written by Tim McDonnell, Jeremy Schulman, and James West.
Posted by Gypsy Chief
Published April 2, 2014 in How The Supreme Court Just Legalized Money Laundering By Rich Campaign Donors. Written by Ian Millhiser.
Posted by Gypsy Chief
Posted by Gypsy Chief
Published in Transition Voice Magazine on February 3, 2014. Written by Jeff Rubin.
Judging by pump prices, drivers might think oil companies were rolling in profits that only move higher. Lately, though, the big boys in the global oil industry are finding that earning a buck isn’t as easy as it used to be.
Royal Dutch Shell, for instance, just announced that fourth quarter earnings would fall woefully short of expectations. The Anglo-Dutch energy giant warned its quarterly profits will be down 70 percent from a year earlier. Full year earnings, meanwhile, are expected to be a little more than half of what they were the previous year.
The news hasn’t been much cheerier for Shell’s fellow Big Oil stalwarts. ExxonMobil, the world’s largest publicly traded oil company, saw profits fall by more than 50 percent in the second quarter to their lowest level in more than three years. Chevron and Total, likewise, are warning the market to expect lower earnings when fourth quarter results are released.
What makes such poor performance especially disconcerting to investors is that it’s taking place within the context of historically high oil prices. The price of Brent crude has been trading in the triple digit range for three years running, while WTI hasn’t been far off. But even with the aid of high oil prices, the supermajors haven’t offered investors any returns to write home about. Since 2009, the share prices of the world’s top five publicly traded oil and gas companies have posted less than a fifth of the gains of the Dow Jones Industrial Average.
The reason for such stagnant market performance comes down to the cost of both discovering new oil reserves and getting it out of the ground. According to the International Energy Agency’s 2013 World Energy Outlook, global exploration spending has increased by 180 percent since 2000, while global oil supplies have risen by only 14 percent. That’s a pretty low batting average.
Shell’s quest for new reserves has seen it pump billions into money-devouring plays such as its Athabasca Oil Sands Project in northern Alberta and the Kashagan oilfield, a deeply troubled project in Kazakhstan. It’s even tried deep water drilling in the high Arctic. That attempt ended when the stormy waters of the Chukchi Sea crippled its Kulluk drilling platform, forcing the company to pull up stakes.
Investors can’t simply count on ever rising oil prices to justify Shell’s lavish spending on quixotic drilling adventures around the world. Prices are no longer soaring ahead like they were prior to the last recession, when heady global economic growth was pushing energy prices to record highs.
Costs, however, are another matter. As exploration spending spirals higher, investors are seeing more reasons to lighten up on oil stocks. Wherever oil producers go in the world these days, they’re running into costs that are reaching all-time highs. Shell’s costs to find and develop oil fields, for instance, have tripled since 2003. What’s worse, when the company does notch a significant discovery, such as Kashagan, production seems to be delayed, whether due to the tricky nature of the geology, politics, or both.
Shell ramped up capital spending last year by 50 percent to a staggering $44 billion. Oil analysts are basically unanimous now in saying the company needs to rein in spending if it hopes to provide better returns to shareholders.
Big Oil is discovering that blindly chasing production growth through developing ever more costly reserves isn’t contributing to the bottom line. Maybe that’s a message Canada’s oil sands producers need to be listening to as well.
~ Jeff Rubin. Originally published in Jeff Rubin’s Smaller World
Posted by Gypsy Chief
Published on March 20, 2014 in Colorado Pols. Written by Michael Bowman.
Earlier this month the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) held its annual conference in Nashville. Jo Ann Emerson, former Missouri Congresswoman-turned-CEO of her top political donor, started the conference with an attack on the Obama administrations’ environmental record. She was followed by the alternative speaker Haley Barbour (who replaced Chuck Todd of NBC who was stuck in D.C. by the ice storm), the former governor of Mississippi. Mr. Barbour spent half an hour attacking everyone but conservative Republicans. Everyone in the room seemed concerned that the speaker had gone too far: the numerous, African-Americans, Democrats, unaffiliated voters and environmentalists felt unwelcome and uncomfortable with the harangue and showed it with very limited applause.
It’s hard to miss the irony that such a partisan witch hunt would be waged by an organization that exists only because of the vision of FDR and the New Deal — and today feasts at the trough of almost unlimited dollars doled out at treasury rates.
It didn’t go over well; Ms. Emerson has been deluged by letters from the membership, prompting this response:
Members of the Board,
In the week since the Annual Meeting, I have received plenty of feedback regarding our selection of speakers on Monday morning. You’re all well aware of what happened: Chuck Todd canceled his appearance over the weekend, the ice storm hit, and Governor Haley Barbour hopped in his car and drove seven-and-a-half hours to pinch hit. His remarks went well beyond what was discussed with staff, and even with me personally. In short, this was not the presentation anyone expected, nor was it well-received by our members who rightfully and correctly expect the content of our meetings stay within the context of NRECA’s mission.
Although there is no doubt Governor Barbour strayed into a partisan political field on his own, I’m responsible for the fence which is supposed to prevent that from happening. NRECA does not endorse the personal political views of any of our speakers. Our organization’s meetings are not opportunities for others to advance a political agenda of their own. I know some folks got up and left the room because they were upset by what happened, and I can’t blame them for doing so. This wasn’t a question of having political balance; it was a case in which those political subjects should never had been broached.
In the future, we will certainly be more careful when filling emergency speaking roles – including asking the crucial question or whether we are not better off abbreviating the program and dropping a speaking slot when we have a cancelation. Without the lead time to adequately prepare our speakers, there is never a guarantee that we will get what was advertised to us. I know I’ve learned a valuable lesson about what happens when you hand someone an NRECA microphone and you don’t quite know what they will say.
I apologize that this situation has put many of you in the position of answering for Governor Barbour’s appearance at the Annual Meeting. I’m sorry for the problems this may have caused for you. All I can say is that we will go forward smarter and more cautiously to assure this doesn’t happen again.
We’ve witnessed the coordinated efforts of the Colorado Rural Electric Association and their parent, Tri-State Generation and Transmission, as they launched the deceiving “War on Rural Colorado” campaign. This, even as they are making plans to significantly expand their already-existing Kit Carson County Wind farm, “Carousel“.
The transition is taking place, in spite of the best efforts of the old guard to thwart its every move:
In the case of wind, simple economics is driving this transition. A quick transition away from coal will not only conserve our resources and provide us with solutions to our current challenges, but create scores of new job opportunities and build a new tax base across America’s rural communities.
As the American West is approaching a panic on the loss of Glen Canyon Dam’s generation capacity, 100x that capacity sits undeveloped across the Central Great Plains. For every challenge that faces us, there is nothing but opportunity that awaits us. It starts with political will.
Rural America is a special place – one being systemically marginalized by its leadership. It wasn’t always this way; we used to understand our interdependence with urban areas. We understood our role in society as producers of food. A 21st century vision adds “energy producer” to that list. It’s time to stop looking back … we’re not headed that way.
Let’s let what was once old, be new again.
Posted by Gypsy Chief