Thursday, April 20, 2006

"Best practices" for household land use?

   What if land use law required you and me -– the average household –- to limit our impact on the environment in the way that big businesses are regulated? 
   A straightforward and effective method of pollution control is the “best technology” approach, which is an application of the larger idea of “best practices.”  If a factory someplace has developed a new way to limit pollution -– say, by a new filter, different raw materials, or a new chemical process – then all competitors in that industry must roughly follow suit. 
   What if “best practices” were applied to household land use?  After all, the biggest culprit behind many environmental harms these days are not big factories but the average citizen.  Consider three examples. 
   First, think about lawns.  Americans dump thousands of tons of fertilizers and billions of gallons of potable water on their lawns, in the pursuit of suburban perfection.  Commercials warn us of the evils of the insidious dollarweed and dandelions invading our acres of grass.  What would be a “best practice”?  Accept local climate constraints (no bluegrass in Utah or Maine), use water very sparingly (and apply only in the morning), use no fertilizer, and accept some weeds and bald spots.
   Next, think about auto usage.  Unless one got a variance for a physical infirmity, law could require citizens to walk or bicycle for trips of less than one mile.  Indeed, all trips to the ATM or the convenience store might have to be made without a motor vehicle.  Such a law would compel local governments to allow for the return of the corner grocer and would ensure demand.
   Finally, think about air-conditioning.  This April, where I live in Florida, the weather has been perfect -– highs in the low 80s, lows in the upper 60s.  Yet I hear the annoying rumble of a number of air conditioners on my block every morning.  Why?  Because cooped-up houses experience the greenhouse effect to some extent –- radiant heat builds up during a sunny day and does not escape well at night; thus the median indoor temperature of a sealed house rises somewhat above the median outdoor temperature.  A “best practice,” however, can easily solve this.  Open the windows!  By keeping the windows open at night, one can keep the temperature down (I have yet to turn on my AC this year).  Yet many Americans can’t be bothered when the air-conditioning switch is so easy.
   Can one truly be an environmentalist these days unless one follows best practices in one’s own household land use?

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