Five terrible ideas that Concord should do to fight climate change

By DAVID BROOKS
Published: 12/2/2019 3:01:29 PM

Next week, Granite Geek will look at all the ranked-choice ballots that were mailed in – well over 100 of them, we’re still counting – in our experiment of how the Democratic primary would work with alternative voting systems.

If I’m getting fat by eating too many burgers, then also eating healthy salads won’t make me lose weight. I have to eat fewer burgers.

If we’re destroying the planet by doing things that cause climate change, then also adding good actions like installing solar panels isn’t the solution. We also have to do less of the things that are causing the damage.

If I’m getting fat by eating too many burgers, then eating healthy salads as well as the burgers won’t make me lose weight. I have to eat fewer burgers.

If we’re destroying the planet by doing things that cause climate change, then merely adding some good actions like installing solar panels isn’t the solution. We also have to do less of the things that are causing the damage.

But I like eating burgers and we like doing things that cause climate change, such as driving and buying stuff and always using as much electricity and heat as we want. Cutting back is unpleasant, and often worse, producing side effects as bad as destroying an industry or upending lifestyles.

But we live in the real world and it’s increasingly clear that we are going to have to learn to deal with bad side effects if we want to keep that world.

With that in mind, here are five ideas with horrible side effects that Concord should do if it’s serious about contributing to the fight against climate change. None of these would be worth a second thought if we weren’t facing a crisis – but we are, so let’s give them a thought.

I’ll start with the one that would hurt me the most because we’re all in this together.

Outlaw home delivery of newspapers

Every day, the Monitor makes an exact digital copy of the daily paper called the e-edition that has all the advantages of the printed edition, with turnable pages and layout that lets your eyes dance among the headlines and photos instead of scrolling down an endless everything-looks-identically-important rabbit hole. It also has the advantages of the digital world, such as text search and hot links and sharable articles.

It’s the best of both worlds. So why do we waste energy and paper and ink by printing and delivering thousands of physical copies to homes every day? Outlaw the practice!

Side effect: The dismal economics of digital journalism means the Monitor would probably go out of business. My household income wouldn’t like that, and another one of the checks and balances that the Founding Fathers cherished would disappear.

Leave I-93 and I-89 alone

The state’s Ten-Year Highway Plan contemplates spending at least a quarter of a billion dollars to slightly widen about 6 miles of interstate through Bow and Concord, plus tweak a few intersections.

Creating mega-tons of carbon-producing concrete and asphalt to make it easier for people to drive around is exactly what we shouldn’t be doing, especially since the new lanes will soon fill up with cars just like the existing ones (search “induced demand” to learn more).

So let’s not do it.

Instead, spend those truckloads of highway dollars on maintaining current bridges and roads, and preparing those bridges and roads for a world in which flooding and storms will become routine. That would produce just as many good-paying jobs as would be created by building new stuff.

Side effect: The I-93 redesign might help Concord get better access to the Merrimack River, which would be nice.

Discourage car-centric development

Two large developments are being considered in Concord right now, one at Exit 13 and one at Exit 17.

The Exit 17 proposal is the sort of thing America has churned out for a half-century – a big parking lot that isn’t near much else with some offices and stores on it. No houses are being proposed, probably because of the trash incinerator that’s nearby.

It looks like it will be a great place to shop and do business, but the only way to use it will be to get in your car and drive there, then drive home. We can’t afford that anymore.

The Exit 13 proposal is just a concept but it includes apartments and condos along with stores and offices. It would allow some people to live a portion of their lives without getting in a car and driving. We need a lot more of that.

Concord zoning should be changed so that development which can only be used by people who drive there becomes much more expensive and difficult to build.

Side effect: Land values have been shaped over the decades based on each property’s ability to house car-centric business or retail. Changing this would have a huge and immediate economic effect; there’d be bankruptcies and lawsuits galore.

This change would also create a push for denser development. You probably don’t want to see a condo building at the end of your block, Mr. and Mrs. Single-Family Homeowner, but that’s what Concord needs.

Wood construction for tall buildings

Making steel and concrete spews a lot of carbon into the air. Growing a tree removes carbon.

Replacing steel beams and concrete foundations with modern timber construction like cross-laminated timber turns carbon-nightmare into carbon-neutral, as Concord learned at the latest Science Cafe.

This isn’t theoretical, either; what is known as “mass timber” has already been used to make high-rises bigger than anything Concord will ever have.

The city should give big incentives, including property tax breaks, for engineered-lumber buildings. Even better, penalize new construction that could use it but doesn’t.

Side effect: There aren’t enough manufacturing plants to provide the material yet, and we’d have to be careful about the effect on northern forests from this new market for trees. Tax breaks can hurt the city budget, affecting city services.

Otherwise, this one seems pretty benign – unless your income involves making or selling steel and concrete, that is.

No cars at schools

Like virtually every American community, Concord has created the perfect public transportation system for a subset of the community, but much of that community doesn’t use it.

I refer to school buses, which go from your home to your destination when you need them to. You can’t get better than that.

So why does every elementary school have dozens of idling SUVs outside it, dropping off or picking up kids? Why is the high school parking lot full of cars driven by students who could have taken the bus?

Concord should end this by outlawing public cars at schools. Shut down the parking lots and so everybody who can take the bus has to do so – yes, including teachers and staff and administrators.

Side effect: Endless. We’d have to spend lots of money to greatly expand the bus system, adding routes and extra runs. Even so, it would be incredibly inconvenient for everybody, and would probably kill some after-school activities.

But it’s hard to think of anything that would have as big and immediate an effect on reducing the amount of greenhouse gas produced in the city limits.




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