But can "we" solve it without addressing where we live?

we Campaign
“We” love the “we” campaign, but it has some glaring omissions

Many of you may have seen the hopeful television commercials over the last week with pictures of windmills, solar panels, and all things “green.” Former Vice President Al Gore launched a three-year, $300-million dollar campaign last week, officially called The Alliance For Climate Protection,” but known to everyone else as the “we campaign.”

We’ve transitioned relatively quickly from a country where most people might say, “climate what?” to one where millions of people are actively looking for things they can do, and perhaps not sure where to start. According to the AP,

The “we” campaign Web site hopes to change that by offering ideas on conserving energy at home and work and guidance for those who want to do more, like writing to their elected officials. “Some steps can be taken by individuals, but the biggest, most important decisions are going to be coming from government and corporate leaders,” Zoi said. “We need to have people saying, ‘We want you to take bold steps”

After seeing the introductory television commercial on CNN last Thursday morning, I headed over to the we website to find out more, curious to find out what sorts of bold steps Al Gore and Co. were encouraging Americans to take? After poring through their “Solutions” page, I was disappointed to see that I was not being encouraged to cut my emissions by a third by living somewhere which required less driving — or offered the chance to walk or take transit.

With one-third of our emissions generated by transportation, where we choose to live has quite possibly the largest ramifications on our own personal emissions. So it’s discouraging that the most well-known climate advocate running the most well-funded climate advocacy campaign doesn’t see encouraging more people to live in places where they have to drive less as an obvious — and simple — solution.

BeyondDC, while like us hopeful for the success of the campaign, also expressed their disappointment in the lack of mentions for smarter growth, walkable neighborhoods, public transit, or related options in an open letter to Al Gore:

You spend plenty of time talking about techno wizardry and new sources of energy, but we pored over your solutions page and find nary a mention of anything about changing our gluttonous driving-based lifestyle. You have a whole section titled Cutting fuel costs on the road, but in the entire piece the message “drive less” is nowhere to be found.

Tucked way down deep below whole chapters about minor subjects like light bulbs, properly inflated tires, and residential air filters, there’s a single sentence about public transportation and a passing reference to walking to work, but that’s the extent – a single sentence and a passing reference. Nowhere on the entire We Can Solve It site is there any mention about living in a walkable, urban community. Nothing about the damage caused by sprawl. Searches on your site for “transit“, “walkable“, “downtown” and “suburban” come up completely blank.

Perhaps Gore and the team are hesitant to be perceived as telling people where and how they should live. But they shouldn’t be. As Growing Cooler shows (and the recent NPR story highlights especially), making a big dent in our emissions is as simple as meeting the radically underserved demand for compact, walkable, connected places where driving may be one of only several options.

So just like BeyondDC did, I want to encourage everyone to head on over to the we campaign website, and send them a note. Join the campaign if you like, but do let them know that we expect more from them.

Point out that investing in transit and breaking down barriers to let the market produce more of this emissions-reducing product is a surefire way to make a sizable difference.

Point out that residents of more compact places drive one-third less than their counterparts, with no coercion whatsoever.

Point out that our demographics are shifting, and consumer preference is essentially crying out for more places where we can live without filling up a gas tank every other day.

I wrote my own letter to the campaign, which you can view in its entirety if you’d like some ideas. Let them know that we have to address this if we’re going to be serious about stemming the tide of global warming.

Image from the we campaign website.