October 03, 2005
Do Good Communities Make Liberals?
While studying the connections between social capital and health I stumbled across something rather odd. States with high social capital--strong connections between people and their communities--tend to vote democratic.
Harvard researcher, Ichiro Kawachi, one of the leading lights on social capital and health, has performed several studies that make state-by-state comparisons; and he's shown that, on average, states with higher social capital also have better health outcomes. But as I was peering over some of his charts I couldn't help but notice that states with higher social capital also tended to be "blue" states--they voted for John Kerry in the last presidential election.
Unfortunately, Kawachi reports the results for only 36 states (the others did not have sufficient data to support his study) so my little "finding" here refers only to those states, though they do include all the big ones. That's just one of the limitations, but I still think it's interesting that 6 of the 10 states with the highest social capital voted for Kerry in the 2004 elections. Meanwhile, 8 of the 10 states with the lowest social capital voted for George Bush in '04. Don't believe me? Here's the rank-ordered list....
(In keeping with prevailing media norms, republican-voting states are coded red; democrat-voting ones are blue.)
As the list here shows, the relationship is certainly not comprehensive--there's a lot of muddle in the middle--but on the extremes there does appear to be a correlation between low social capital and voting for Bush.
While Kawachi never mentions the voting comparison, in a separate study he offers a plausible explanation in the context of health outcomes. He suggests that high social capital leads to more civic engagement and, in turn, to more investment of resources, money, and concern into the community at large. For Kawachi, that investment is a partial explanation for better health outcomes--places with high social capital care more about the welfare of others.
So I wonder whether--to the extent that democratic voters favor more public investment in the community and republicans less--that Kawachi's explanation fits. Places with higher social capital reflect their preference for community in their voting habits. In other words, good communities foster democratic voting.
Just a thought.
A couple of notes and caveats are in order...
*** Kawachi's measurement of social capital is, in this instance, a shorthand. It's the percent of people responding "yes" when asked whether most people would take advantage of them if given the chance. Most researchers think this is a reasonable, if abbreviated, way to assess social capital.
*** My list is extrapolated (read: eyeballed) from Howard Frumkin et al., Urban Sprawl and Public Health (Island Press: Washington, DC: 2004), p 167.
December 30, 2004
2004: The Year of 1 Percent
I’m speaking of budding trends toward a durable way of life in Cascadia. The region reached the vicinity of 1 percent on a number of heartening, if incipient, measures during the past twelve months.
- In British Columbia’s Fraser Basin—the heart of agriculture in western Canada—there are now almost 100 certified organic farms, as the Fraser Basin Council reports (pdf, page 5). That’s 1 percent of all basin farms. Organic isn’t the alpha and omega of environmental responsibility (as I’ve been saying), but it’s something.
- The area of Cascadia’s forestland managed under the standards of the Forest Stewardship Council has risen steeply since the late 1990s. It hit 1.8 million acres in 2004 after the announcement of Potlatch’s certifying its Idaho lands. That’s roughly 1 percent of the region’s forestland.
- The green building movement surged in 2004, drawing a lot of media attention along the way. The number of LEED-certified green buildings doubled to 30 in the region during 2004. An additional 214 buildings under construction have applied for registration with the US Green Building Council. The trend is sharply up, as the chart displays. Altogether, applicants and certified buildings come to about 20 million square feet of indoor space. Reliable figures on total buildings (thousands!) under construction are hard to come by, but my guesstimate suggests the LEED segment is at least in the ballpark of 1 percent of new construction. And LEED has yet to issue guidelines for the vast residential building market.
- Wind power now provides about 1 percent of electricity in the Northwest states. Virtually all this power has come online since 2000.
- The region’s (mostly new) voluntary green power purchasing programs are growing nicely: they recently saturated 1 percent of the market in the central Puget Sound region, as Clark noted recently.
- Hybrids, especially the Toyota Prius, are hot commodities, moving so fast from dealers’ lots that waiting lists run to months. They remain a tiny fraction of the region’s fleet, but I bet they’ve exceeded the 1 percent mark, as a share of new vehicles sold.
Getting to 1 percent may seem disappointingly little, but the diffusion of innovations—whether new products, business practices, or habits—typically follows a bell-shaped curve (discussed here and here).
In less arcane terms, that means the next step after 1 percent may not be 2 percent but 10 percent. So let's hope 2005 is the year of 10 percent.
December 28, 2004
Guns, Germs, and Measure 37
Jared Diamond, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Guns, Germs, and Steel -- which described how quirks of geography and environment (rather than, say, racial or cultural superiority) helped some cultures succeed -- has a new book out. This one analyzes why some cultures fail; it's titled, appropriately enough, Collapse. In this week's New Yorker Malcolm Gladwell's reviews the book, giving an interesting twist that's very relevant to the Northwest.
As a caveat: I haven't read either of Diamond's books, though I have read a brief version of his "collapse" arguments here. Essentially, Diamond argues that cultures often fail because they mismanage basic resources: soil, trees, water, and the like. The review highlights an interesting case: the failure of the Norse colonies in Greenland in the 1400s. Apparently, the Norse re-created European culture (including agriculture) in two of the more livable corners of the island; but eventually they exhausted the fragile arctic soils, which caused their cattle-based agricultural system to enter terminal decline. Ultimately the settlers were forced (gruesomeness alert!) to eat their pets before they finally starved to death.
What's curious about all this (and I will get around to the point eventually) is that, even when the going was terrible, the Norse colonists never ate fish. Archeologists simply can't find fish bones -- or at least, hardly any -- in their settlements. Apparently, a cultural bias against eating fish prevented them from even considering them as an option, even at the end. Diamond's lesson: the residents of the outposts valued their culture (which, at the time, apparently looked down on fish) more than their very survival.
The Northwest connection? In his review, Gladwell mentions the
passage of Measure 37 in Oregon, which pitted a cultural preference for
land-use decisions unfettered by regulatory meddling, against a
far-sighted set of laws designed to protect Oregon's landscapes for the
long haul. Here's what he says...
It is hard to read “Collapse,” though, and not have an additional reaction to Measure 37. Supporters of the law spoke entirely in the language of political ideology. To them, the measure was a defense of property rights, preventing the state from unconstitutional “takings.” ...
The thing that got lost in the debate, however, was the land. In a rapidly growing state like Oregon, what, precisely, are the state’s ecological strengths and vulnerabilities? What impact will changed land-use priorities have on water and soil and cropland and forest? One can imagine Diamond writing about the Measure 37 debate, and he wouldn’t be very impressed by how seriously Oregonians wrestled with the problem of squaring their land-use rules with their values, because to him a society’s environmental birthright is not best discussed in those terms. Rivers and streams and forests and soil are a biological resource. They are a tangible, finite thing, and societies collapse when they get so consumed with addressing the fine points of their history and culture and deeply held beliefs...that they forget that the pastureland is shrinking and the forest cover is gone.
I don't know that I believe that the ultimate effects of Measure 37 will be so dire. But it is clear that this is a case where a clearly articulated set of cultural values -- those regarding the sanctity of private property -- trumped a less-clearly articulated set -- maintaining the integrity of the landscapes that support and enrich us, and that will allow our children and grandchildren to thrive.
November 19, 2004
Lessons from "Lessons from Measure 37"
Watching reactions to passage of Measures 37—and my original post here (Lessons from Measure 37) —it seems the issue isn’t whether the glass if half-full or half-empty. It’s whether the glass has been shattered, never to hold water again.
Former Oregon Congressman Les AuCoin writes for High Country News' Writers on the Range: “When Oregonians passed Measure 37 by a lopsided margin of 60 percent to 40 percent, they signaled that they had become a different people….they changed the ethos of a state that had for 30 years celebrated open spaces, greenways and livable communities over development.”
One response to my post took it to task as presenting a dangerous “veneer of reasonableness” that ignores the reality that “the sky is falling.” Further, “People who care about the most minimally responsible land use and environmental regulation really shouldn't spout this kind of nonsense to make themselves sound moderate. Oregon's land use laws aren't (well, weren't) draconian….”
So, the sky is falling. Land use in Oregon has been repealed. And the answer is to shout louder, invoke the ghost of Tom McCall more vividly and passionately.
Before I am excommunicated totally from the environmental community, let me once more say that I do believe the consequences of Measure can be severe. I do believe its passage is a dark day for Oregon. My difference is with those who believe the right response is to dig the trenches deeper and refight the battle we just lost.
What is happening on the ground rather than in the ether of the Internet is interesting and a bit more encouraging. Governor Kulongoski has forthrightly declared his opposition to waiving land use regulations, saying government should follow the path of compensation instead. In contrast to former Congressman Les AuCoin, he has declared the view that Oregonians voted for “fairness” in the land use system but in no way did they vote to repeal it.
Cities and counties have begun exploring local implementation ordinances that might reach both toward “fairness” and narrowing the worst of the potential consequences of Measure 37, as discussed by the League of Oregon Cities and covered in the Bend Bulletin.
True, these are tentative and probably inadequate steps. But they have one important quality about them: they treat the decision at the polls as legitimate while attempting to implement the decision without overreaching on either side. For those who want to continue to argue that the voters’ decision was in fact illegitimate, a fraud perpetrated on a gullible electorate by clever ballot-title writers—tell it to the voters.
I do agree with one point that is consistent through all the responses to my first post: it is essential that the media now cover the unfolding implementation of Measure 37 like a blanket. Governments responding to claims for compensation or waivers must act in daylight. The media must present a continuing saga of how it is working out. Who is filing for what? What are the effects of all these filings? And, is this what voters really wanted?
Only by this sort of coverage will the public be positioned to consider fixes to Measure 37. But, it has to be honest. It has to be real. It is to be enduring. The public will not buy stories of potential harm. And, importantly, they won’t buy any stories if they conclude that the intent is to undo Measure 37 completely.
This puts governments and supporters of Oregon’s land use system in a tough position: Striving for an honest implementation of Measure 37 that keeps faith with the voters on the fundamental issue of “fairness.” Seeking to mitigate the worst of the potential harm of the measure. And, all the while, playing it straight so that voters see and believe both the good-faith implementation and the dark side of Measure 37 that was obscured during the campaign.
I’m not against “shouting louder.” But it might work better if we stopped to listen first.
November 11, 2004
Visualizing the Vote
The standard electoral vote map displays islands of blue amid seas of red. Obviously, densely populated areas tended to vote one way, and sparsely populated areas another. So even though the actual presidential vote was fairly close, the maps make it look like a landslide.
We've already blogged about one way of visualizing the vote that improves on the standard red-blue dichotomy. But here are two maps that help to equalize population densities:
And second, a "cartogram" from physicist Mark Newman at the University of Michigan, which takes the Robert Vanderbei's "purple haze" map of the U.S., and stretches it to equalize the population density...
I'm not sure if these maps mean anything, really. But they're neat to look at. There are still other ways of visualizing the electoral map at The Blogging of the President.
(Thanks to map guru Josh Livni of CommEn Space for the tip.)
Pay as You Grow
Following up on Dave Yaden's post yesterday: now that Measure 37 has left Portland's urban growth boundary in tatters, David Bragdon, president of the three-county Portland Metro governing body, is looking for other ways to encourage smart growth.
From the Willamette Week:
Most observers doubt Measure 37 can be knocked off by lawsuits or overhauled by the Legislature. So, Bragdon says, planners must seek new ways of promoting compact urban-style development. One of the most promising methods: jacking up fees. Numerous studies have shown development fees do not recoup costs of new infrastructure--roads, sewer and water--or services, such as police, fire, utilities and schools. As Metro lawyer Dick Benner puts it, "We subsidize rural development."
Some localities, such as Lancaster, Calif., make developers and homeowners outside the urban core pay their own way--thus encouraging smart growth. Says Bragdon,"We need to be undertaking a similar methodology here."
The principle that sprawling growth should pay its own way, rather than being subsidized by other taxpayers, should be applied to all of the Northwest's cities and towns, not just Portland.
November 10, 2004
Lessons from Measure 37
Environmentalists feel like they have been sucker-punched with the overwhelming passage of Measure 37 in Oregon.
Measure 37 was an initiative sponsored by some large timber companies and property-rights advocacy groups that requires state and local governments to compensate property owners when land use and other regulations reduce the value of property by limiting its use. Alternatively, governments can rescind regulations. Because of the way the measure is written, the potential damage to environmental and land use protections that the public otherwise values is great. Polling shows that voters did not know or did not believe the full reach of the measure, which has given rise within the environmental community to debate over what to do. (Here are some links to arguments pro and con.)
The face of the measure presented to voters was an elderly lady denied use of her property or compensation when land use and other regulations reduced its value or limited its use. To environmentalists, the sinister soul of the measure was an ambush of Oregon’s much-valued land use planning system.
How did it happen? Was it nothing more than a clever sneak attack by the property-rights movement and developers that fooled voters by presenting a falsely benign face? Did voters really know what they were voting on? Surely they didn’t understand the consequences for land use and protection of the environment in Oregon.
If so, we will be tempted to conclude, the correct response is to undo the damage any way possible. Get the courts to overturn the election (it worked the first time, with Measure 7 in 2000). Get the Governor and friendly legislators to hack and trim and hedge the measure (it is not a Constitutional Amendment so it is open to legislative amendment or even repeal). After all, one good sneak attack deserves another.
Tempting. But wrong. Wrong politically. Wrong ethically. Wrong for the policy direction to which it constrains us.
Taking a few steps back, Measure 37 is the latest “teacher” of these lessons:
· For all the support the environmental community has built up over the years, it digs itself into a hole when it fails to recognize the spread of both apparent and real grievances with our land use and environmental legal apparatus
· No matter how good our laws and regulations, they are weak reeds without a nurturing and supporting public
· Our reliance on law and regulation has limits that behoove us to explore other pathways, including better use of the market and incentives (broadly taken)
These lessons are at the heart of two immediate junctures for the environmental community in Oregon (and maybe one in Washington). First, how will the environmental community respond to passage of Measure 37? Secondly, will Metro pursue habitat protection in the Portland urban area through a strict or much-looser regulatory regime?
Fortunately, we have guidance on both from two of the wisest and most committed stewards of the environment and community I know of.
Congressman Earl Blumenauer is preaching that the correct response to Measure 37 is not to overturn it with some legal or legislative maneuvering, because all the public will do is tell us even more emphatically, “damn it, we meant it.” While it is true that the public did not know the full potential consequence of the measure, they did emphatically mean what they said about the principle of compensation. And voters had experienced enough ham-handed government regulation to be sympathetic.
But, Congressman Blumenauer rightly points out, those who sponsored and supported the measure should bear some responsibility for its consequences. Typically, one of the great things about sponsoring an initiative is that you get to escape responsibility. So, he argues, put the sponsors on the hot seat for coming up with a plan to implement the measure that does what voters do want: provide relief for property owners with legitimate beefs, preserve fairness and certainty in local zoning and permitting, preserve the benefits of Oregon’s land use system—and find a way for governments to pay when necessary without gutting the rest of government.
There are risks with this, of course. But it does one important thing: it treats the decision of voters as legitimate, if imperfect. And, just as importantly, it begins to put pressure on the more responsible of those on the other side.
At the same time, it is important to continue to give the public an honest look at what is at stake and the consequences of Measure 37 as they unfold. I stress honest. The public is wary, even disbelieving, of claims that the sky is falling. We have to get out of the mold of focus-testing the cleverest slogan as a means of conversing with the public.
That’s the ethical part. It is also, in the long run, smart politics.
David Bragdon, Portland Metro Council President, is the other leader who is giving us smart environmental politics. Politics with an eye on the larger, longer-lasting consequences of decisions for both community and the environment.
As David faced the prospect this year that Metro might declare fully one-third of the Metro region as wildlife habitat subject to a full panoply of regulation at the regional level, he awoke to the realization that this was short-sighted and would undoubtedly be short-lived. And would undermine the capital Metro has built up.
So, he has proposed a much softer, more flexible approach that focuses more on the largest threats (much less on individual residential property owners) and relies more on local rather than regional implementation and enforcement, This has engendered a strong, to put it mildly, response from some in the environmental community who believe they have been betrayed.
In fact, David read the lessons of Measure 37 before the votes were cast. To his credit it wasn’t just about avoiding a public backlash, it was equally about finding alternative pathways that build toward a more enduring reconciliation of environment, economy and community.
Which is the third main lesson we must heed. Looking forward and realizing that many environmental issues reach to our individual behavior, we should also admit how clumsy and self-limiting regulatory approaches can be in these circumstances. We need to be happy warriors exploring alternative means to the same ends. (NEW has a number of ideas along these lines to offer.)
Now, none of this is to argue that regulation is not critical to sustainability nor that Measure 37 will not have grave consequences. It does argue that a narrowly defensive posture is unbecoming and unproductive.
November 08, 2004
Get Out the Vote System
British Columbia's rather unique Citizen's Assembly on Voting Reform has recommended an overhaul of the province's voting system. And this Tyee article mocks its recommendation for selecting provincial legislators through a system known as the Single Transferable Vote, or STV. The mockery is easy--but misguided.
The basic idea of STV (and its close cousin, Instant Runoff Voting) is that voters can rank candidates in preference order. Thus the Citzen's Assembly slogan, "It's as easy as 1-2-3."
The most obvious benefit of a transferable vote system is that you can vote your conscience without harming your interests. As a concrete example, in 2000 a small percentage of U.S. presidential voters preferred Nader to Gore, and Gore to Bush. But under the U.S. voting system, in which you can only vote for one candidate, that secondary preference was simply ignored -- so those who chose ideals over tactics wound up living with their third choice.
The 2000 presidential election wasn't an isolated instance in which the winner-takes-all election system created a dubious result. President Clinton never got a majority of the presidential ballots cast, and might not have been elected if Perot weren't in the race. Washington's junior senator, Maria Cantwell, narrowly defeated Slade Gorton in 2000; but conservative voters who opted for minor-party candidates might have swung the election to Gorton, if their full preferences had been tallied.
Now, obviously, no voting system is perfect. This isn't just my opinion; it's actually a mathematical theorem (and one of the most arresting ones for twentieth century political scientists).
But the winner-takes-all system is particularly flawed. It's easy to gerrymander; it requires voters to cast their votes strategically, and sometimes in opposition to their true preferences; and, perhaps most importantly, it creates the potential for "spoiler" candidates, which marginalizes minor parties and narrows the political debate. If I were devising a democratic electoral system from scratch, winner-takes-all would be just about my last choice.
The Tyee article mocks STV voting for its complexity. I think there's a point there -- the Citizen's Assembly recommended combining legislative ridings (BC's voting districts), so voters may have far too many candidates to sort through; and there is a bit of complexity in how losing votes are partitioned to winning candidates.
But, please! In the U.S., we've lived for two centuries with the electoral college--as complicated and jury-rigged a voting system as any, and one that lets a candidate win the presidency even if they win a minority of the votes. I'd take the "complexity" of single transferable voting any day.
Red Fish, Blue Fish
In the wake of the election, the Reds are claiming a victory for values, and the pundits are wondering what the Blue values are. As a native Virginian with degrees in economics and business, and a profound respect for the connections between people and nature, I've felt a bit like a fish out of water during this election. Are my values scarlet red or royal blue? Pink or cornflower? Ack! Isn't this absurdly one-dimensional?
But one thing I love about transformational events like this election, is that they force people to clarify what they believe in.
Like others, I've been pondering these questions for myself, and by extension, the movement that I want to be a part of: What are my values? What kind of progress do I stand for? So I've put together this list – some principles for progress - in a nascent attempt to articulate them. It's rough, but it's a start, and I'd love to hear what others have to say. Because if we continue to live in this 50-50 red-blue land, we've got a long, slow, haul to a future we can be proud of. So here it goes. My kind of progress:
- believes that the best quality life is one in harmony with the natural world;
- knows that a good decision is one that's good today and good tomorrow;
- embraces basic conservative values of taking responsibility for our actions, conserving resources, reducing uncertainty and risk, building for the future, protecting rare assets, and leaving a legacy for our children;
- values human health and human potential - so that things like clean air, clean water, clean food, and education become simple, natural rights;
- says that "making progress" is more than just making money - it's about achieving the fullness of human potential;
- loves that the human drive to make progress is amazing, unstoppable, and our best hope at creating a future we can be proud of;
- believes that one of the highest roles of democratic institutions is to structurally align the interests of individuals and the market with those of the broader community, and then let the innovators take care of the rest.
I also believe there are tens of millions of people who hold similar beliefs (and hundreds of thousands in Cascadia alone), and, like me, are tired of their "values" being shuffled into some shade of red or blue. As Clark said in his November 5th post – most of us are more like a nice shade of purple. The trick is to clearly and consistently articulate those values, and translate them into the practical issues of the day.
November 05, 2004
The prevailing wisdom divides the U.S. into red and blue states. But that's not quite right: every state is really a mixture of red and blue. The same is true of every city, county, and town in the country -- and of most people as well.
This map, from Princeton professor Robert J. Vanderbei, is a better representation of the political landscape in the U.S. We're not all red or blue -- most of us are a haze of purple.