The Taylor Swifting of Seattle Climate Policy
The City of Seattle's Office of Sustainability and Environment has released what has to be the most embarassing government video ever produced. Considering the Department of Ecology and Puget Sound Partnership's dog poop rap video is also out there, this is saying something.
The video, titled "We're So Green," has a message about as complex as a Taylor Swift song. With lines like "We are Seattle and we're leading the change," to call the video self-absorbed doesn't seem to go far enough.
What's more, the video is filled with errors and irony. For example:
- Seattle isn't "leading" on climate change. The per-capita rate of emissions reduction lags behind the nation as a whole. While Seattle politicians brag about leadership and the failure of the rest of the country, the data show even Texas is doing better over the last decade than Washington state and Seattle.
- Despite the promises by the previous mayor and city council, Seattle won't even reach its own pledge to meet the carbon reduction targets of the Kyoto Protocol.
- "We make use of the sun." As a report sponsored by the WWF, ClimateWorks and others demonstrates, there are few worse, less-effective ways to reduce carbon emissions than solar panels. There are, however, few more ostentatious ways to show that "we're so green."
- "We grow our own food." My garden potatoes and onions are as good as they come, but growing food in small patches in places where the weather and soil is not optimal uses more, not fewer, resources. Also, as much as I enjoy farmers' markets, numerous studies have demonstrated that buying locally grown food has a higher environmental impact.
- "We make use of the rain." Ironically, this was illegal until recently and is still somewhat unsettled. The state Department of Ecology says as a practical matter, it won't require a permit, but the law isn't clear.
- "We bring our bags to the store." Life-cycle analysis by the UK Environment Agency found that reusable cotton bags need to be used about 170 times before they break even with energy consumption compared to plastic bags. Use them less than that and you not only use more energy, but you also have a dramatically greater impact on water quality from growing the cotton.
As I argue in my book "Eco-Fads," environmentalism has become more about making ourselves look and feel good rather than actually helping the environment. There could hardly be a better example of that trend than the money and time the City of Seattle spends to boast of their moral superiority by appearing green, even if that claim doesn't match the scientific reality.