Leonardo da Vinci said “Learn how to see. Realize everything is connected to everything else.”
So in modern parlance, a bureaucrat’s decision in a state capital can have big ramifications in other communities. Decisions that will impact many things not contemplated because we did not “Learn how to see.” I’ll give you an example that will illustrate my point.
Examples I will site are viewed through the lens of climate change and prioritizing public and private investment in the areas which create the most sustainable living conditions and the lowest carbon footprint from our human activity. Pursuing the lowest carbon footprint will ensure that we move to halt the anthropomorphic (man-made) temperature rise of our planet caused by the greenhouse effect. The most prevalent greenhouse gas is Carbon Dioxide and the Earth has a natural carbon cycle to reincorporate carbon back into the crust of the planet. When incorporated in the Earth’s crust it is an essential building block of life and does not warm the planet back acting like a pane of glass in a greenhouse. Mother Nature can recycle gigatons of CO2, but mankind’s activities have rapidly overloaded the natural balance of a hundred million year balance.
Other man-made greenhouse gases contribute to global warming too. Though less plentiful, but with potentially more ability to warm and damage our planet, are Methane, Nitrous Oxide, Chlorofluorocarbon, Hydrofluorocarbon, Sulfur Hexafluoride, and Nitrogen Trifluoride.
So we need to live our lives in ways which minimize, individually or collectively, our activities which release greenhouse gases. Gases which harm our environment and ultimately, if left uncorrected, may jeopardize our ability to survive on “spaceship earth.” We need to rethink everything and as da Vinci said – realize the everything is connected to everything else. Essential questions of how to reduce greenhouse gases or their effects need to be asked in every aspect of how we live, how we consume and how we invest privately and publicly.
Here’s an example:
The State of Connecticut decides to build a highway. Route 25 to be specific. I happen to have fought the construction of that road back in the 1970s. I felt it destroyed habitat and watershed and cost too much for the air pollution, sprawl and over dependence on the automobile that it created. But I, like all the young idealists who fought it, drive on it today because there is little alternative for mobility still decades later.
As part of that project, various decisions were made. Where the route would be, where the exits would be and how local neighborhoods and roadways would be reconfigured because of this enormous new roadway. Each of these decisions had a tremendous impact on our carbon footprint and ultimately contributed to greenhouse gas production and Climate Change. One decision was an access roadway which was constructed from Capitol Avenue to Chopsey Hill Road. It redirected traffic from Route 1 (The Historic Boston Post Road originally laid out by Benjamin Franklin to deliver mail from Boston to New York and Philadelphia.)
How did the construction of an access road in 1970 help to cook the planet ever since? Here is what I believe. First, if that roadway, a straightaway, used as a shortcut, had not been constructed there would have been several acres of housing or commercial property which would have remained on the City’s Grand List and contributed taxes for vital City services and created homes and places of employment. In a City without much land, a few acres here and there can make a real financial difference in many ways.
In addition, the property along Route 1 would have had much higher traffic counts and thereby had higher property values and would have paid higher property taxes and also would have added to the Grand List and contributed more money and created more jobs.
The roadway itself, now the responsibility of the City and not the State was built at double the width necessary. It was built about 60 wide rather than the standard 30 feet necessary. Cost of construction was twice as high as necessary and created a much higher cost to the municipality to maintain and eventually replace as it ages.
The fact that it was built as a quarter mile long, overly wide, straightaway promotes speeding and accidents which contributes to more dangerous conditions and accidents. That results in more human injury and higher insurance rates, not to mention lower property values and an inhospitable environment for more desirable modes of transportation like walking and biking. Oh yeah, they made a 60-foot wide speedway in a 100 wide right-of-way, but didn’t build sidewalks, bike lanes or traffic calming elements of any kind, surprised?
The roadway is made of an impervious material – blacktop, macadam, asphalt whatever you want to call it – it doesn’t allow for rainwater to percolate through the ground and be handled by Mother Nature’s water cycle. It runs off into storm drains – that’s ok right? NOOOO!
Bill Finch is the Executive Director of the Discovery Museum & Planetarium in Bridgeport and a Climate Fellow at the Rockefeller Institute of Government. He previously served as the acting Director of the New York State Thruway Authority and Canal Corporation, was Mayor of Bridgeport for eight years, and served as co-chair for the U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Task Force.