Randal O’Toole: Fix Environmental Problems, Don’t “Fix” Behavior

by David Bier on December 29, 2011

in Blog

Randal O’Toole used to be a mainstream environmentalist until he saw how government operated. In Gridlock: Why We’re Stuck in Traffic and What to Do About It, O’Toole (known as the Antiplanner over on his blog) describes how “behavioral” solutions to environmental problems fail, and why technical solutions that get the government out of people’s behavioral choices is the way to go.

Gridlock was published in 2009

When I went to college at Oregon State University, Ralph Nader came to Oregon and inspired students to form the Oregon Student Public Interest Research Group to do research on social and environmental issues. In the summer of 1972, I was one of the group’s first student interns, and I worked on air pollution issues….

Because of traffic congestion, Portland’s worst pollution was downtown. So I proposed that Portland’s three-year-old transit agency, TriMet, contract with churches on the city’s periphery to use their parking lots as weekday park-and-ride stations. This would allow commuters to leave their cars well outside of downtown.

Once downtown, people still might need to get around, so I proposed that Trimet create a demand-responsive jitney bus system. Signal boxes on every street corner would allow people to call a bus. The nearest bus would pick them up and, after picking up or dropping off other people, drop them off at their downtown destination. The hardware and software for such a system was commercially available but had never been used in the U.S.

Portland’s traffic engineer had a very different solution to the city’s air pollution problems. Cars pollute the most at low speeds, he pointed out. So his idea was to install a traffic signal coordination system on downtown at faster speeds. According to his department’s calculations, this program, combined with the EPA’s stricter air pollution controls on new cars, would bring the city in compliance of EPA’s pollution standards by 1980. I worried speeding up downtown traffic would simply bring in more traffic, which would offset the clean-air benefits of higher speeds. But the city adopted the traffic engineer’s plan….

More than 30 years of experience have proven I was wrong in 1972. Various technical solutions to air pollution have had a tremendous effect in cleaning the air. They also greatly contributed to improved auto and highway safety. Behavioral solutions, however, have had either no effect or such a tiny effect at such a huge cost that they were not worth the effort.

Between 1970 and 2006, American driving grew by 166 percent. Yet according to the EPA, total emissions of carbon monoxide from automobiles and trucks decreased by 67 percent; nitrogen oxides decreased by 48 percent; volatile organic compounds decreased by 77 percent; particulates decreased by 63 percent; and lead fell by more than 98 percent. These improvements are entirely due to technical solutions. The most important of these is tailpipe controls such as catalytic converters. New cars today emit less than 10 percent of the pollution per mile of cars built in 1970; some, less than 1 percent. New cars are cleaner every year, so as they replace older cars on the road, automotive air pollution problems are steadily disappearing.

Local programs such as traffic signal coordination have contributed to these reductions as well. Signal coordination saves people time and also saves fuel. When drivers burn less fuel, their cars emit less pollution. The city of Portland estimates that coordinating signals at 135 intersections saves motorists 1.75 million gallons of gasoline per year, which means a lot less pollution.

Behavioral tools, however, have had virtually no effect on air pollution. Per capita driving has grown in cities that emphasize behavioral tools just about as much as in cities that focus on technical tools. Differences in the growth of per capita driving among cities relate more to differences in the economic health of those cities than to their transportation programs. To the extent that people can detect an effect from behavioral tools, the costs of those tools greatly outweigh the benefits….

The same comparison of behavioral and technical solutions holds true when addressing other social costs of driving, such as traffic accidents, energy consumption, or greenhouse gas emissions. While some might argue that these are, in fact, not social costs, the fact remains that if a city, state, or nation wants to reduce them, then technical solutions work better than behavioral ones…. While driving had increased by more than 175 percent [since the 1960s], driving today is more than 70 percent safer than it was before 1970…. Reduced fatalities resulted from improvements in both highway and auto safety, not from people driving less.

Despite the fact that behavioral tools have completely failed to reduce driving in the past, many proposals to save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions rely on such tools. In 2008, the California legislature passed a law requiring all urban areas in the state to increase their population densities, which is supposed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by reducing driving. Numerous transit agencies have justified rail transit based on rail’s supposed ability to save energy and reduce toxic and greenhouse gas emissions…

When taking all things into consideration, alternative modes of travel, such as rail transit, consume just about as much energy and emit as much greenhouse gases (and in some cases more) as automobiles. Any savings at all from attempting to change people’s driving habits would be extremely costly.

(Excerpted from pages 107-110)

Faux Science Slayer December 29, 2011 at 3:40 pm

Any attempt to regulate Earth’s temperature by controlling minute discharges of a benign, three atom, life giving gas will fail. There is NO such thing as a ‘greenhouse gas’ which is a false concept intentionally designed to allow a government enforced Faux Commodity Market. This is explained in “Fractional Reserve Banking Begat Faux Reality” posted at Faux Science Slayer website. There is also no Hubbert Peak Oil as the planet creates Hydrocarbons continuously as a by-product of fission. This is explained in “Fossil Fuel is Nuclear Waste”. Humanity is not going to be saved by the current ‘green energy’ fads which are also frauds. Read “Green Prince of Darkness” for the truth about the one time, one way, molecular erosion process of solar cells. Only a corrupt Federal Reserve Ponzi scheme run be evil elites could bring you this level of fraud.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: