recycling simply does not work to reduce the amount of plastic in the world”.
And although the public’s enthusiasm for anti-plastic campaigns is partly motivated by the feeling that it is a simpler and more solvable problem than climate change, the two issues are more closely connected than most people realise. Seven of the 10 largest plastic producers are still oil and natural gas companies – as long as they are extracting fossil fuels, there will be a huge incentive to make plastic. A 2016 World Economic Forum report predicted that by 2050, 20% of all oil extracted across the world would go towards making plastic. “Ultimately, plastic pollution is the visible and tangible part of human-made global change,” the scientists Johanna Kramm and Martin Wagner wrote in a recent paper.
This is the paradox of plastic, or at least our current obsession with it: learning about the scale of the problem moved us to act, but the more we push against it, the more it begins to seem just as boundless and intractable as all the other environmental problems we have failed to solve. And it brings us up against the same obstacles: unregulatable business, the globalised world, and our own unsustainable way of life.
What I did find were many vibrant and surprisingly active communities of the Post-Left; anti-civilization eco-anarchist groups scattered across various chat servers. Their style is witty and cutthroat, radically inclusive, multicultural, LGBTQ, pro-diversity, posting twenty-four hours a day at the speed of 4chan; “race/class/gender is a social construct and we must do away with all of it.”
They reject traditional strategies of collective bargaining and coalition building. They conceive of markets as, essentially, ahead of regulation. ‘How can progressivism be progressive if regulation itself is reactionary?’ Technological progress creates new markets faster than they can be regulated. Civilization means an inevitable drift to the right. Anything other than dismantling civilization is only a temporary stop-gap which by design cannot hold back the brutal efficiency of capitalist acceleration.
[Economies] need to transform the ways in which energy, transport, food , and housing are produced and consumed (O’Neill et al. 2018). The result should be production and consumption that provides decent opportunities for a good life while dramatically reducing the burden on natural ecosystems. In terms of greenhouse gases, global net emissions should be zero around 2050 – in Europe and the US by around 2040. (Rockström et al . 2017)
Disabled people don’t make it through the apocalypse. At least that’s the conventional wisdom of both speculative fiction and our own world: If the biomedical industrial complex collapses, so do all the people who rely on its products. Corporations need us to believe this, yes, but it’s hard to deny the truth of it. If pharmaceutical companies like Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk, and Sanofi were unable to continue manufacturing insulin, or if it became so scarce as to be affordable only to the investors and technocrats packing their bags for Mars, I’d be done for in a matter of weeks. It’d be nice to think some miracle collective of anarchist scientists could pop up to take their place, but that’s not how we tend to imagine the end of the world going down. So, while people with disabilities have historically populated film and literature more regularly than any other minority group—frequently as “narrative prostheses” where their bodies become plot-driving problems—they disappear from our postcapitalist futures. That is, unless they’ve been mutilated or mutated by the same catastrophe that caused the world to collapse or they’ve gained some kind of supercrip cyborg body in the chaos. (Think of the double-entendre-ish firearm worn by Furiosa in Mad Max.) Those of us with the kinds of everyday illnesses, dependencies, and access issues that more typically define disability can’t hope to make it into the fast-paced, social-Darwinist worlds of apocalypse movies.
But what if my experience in my disabled body is what saves us?
Testing for PteroType.
Vancouver is densifying in areas that will make people sick and exacerbate inequality.
Vancouver has a housing affordability crisis. They are trying to make homes more affordable by building more of them, and they’re primarily building in dense strips along arterial roads.
Living near a road with lots of car traffic is very, very dangerous. The air pollution makes you sick, stupid, and demented. The noise pollution also makes you sick, tired, fat, and dumb. Both take years off of your life.
This housing is still far too expensive for people making the median income in Vancouver to actually buy, but they’re likely to be renting it and some wealthier professionals will likely use it to try to get a foot in the property market. But there’s a real downside to living in these places. As the NYTimes opined yesterday:
The emphasis on vehicle traffic flow is also a perversion of basic social equity, and the costs show up in ways large and small. Vehicles in cities contribute a major portion of small-particle pollution, the kind that penetrates deep into the lungs. (The percentage can reach as high as 49 percent in Phoenix and 55 percent in Los Angeles. It’s just 6 percent in Beijing, but that’s because there are so many other pollution sources.) People living close to busy roads, particularly infants and older people in lower-income households, pay most of the cost in respiratory, cardiovascular and other problems. A 2013 M.I.T. study estimated that vehicle emissions cause 53,000 early deaths a year in the United States, and a study just last month from Lancaster University in Britain found that children with intellectual disabilities are far more likely to live in areas with high levels of vehicle pollution.
Right now, Vancouver’s planning priorities mean that the lower your income, the sicker your home is likely to make you. And being sick makes you poorer. By densifying along roads with lots of car traffic, we’re exacerbating the already deeply problematic wealth inequality in Vancouver. We’re letting a very few people with millions of dollars in assets live in safe parts of the city away from cars and forcing everyone else into homes where they don’t sleep well, where their kids don’t learn well, and where they die years young.
From that same NYTimes opinion, here are a few of the smaller ways prioritizing cars is deeply unfair, expensive, and bad for us all.
- Most people in cities from Bangalore to Brooklyn cannot afford to keep a car, and yet our cities routinely turn over the majority of public thoroughfares to those who can.
- [Parking] means that we often cannot afford room for parks or shade trees, which other studies have repeatedly shown to be an important factor in the health and mental well-being of residents.
- Urban walking has thus deteriorated from a civilized pleasure to an overheated, unshaded, traffic-harried race to a destination.
When you consider the enormous costs and unequal distribution of the negative health effects from reduced exercise, air and noise pollution caused by car traffic, it looks even worse. And that’s completely ignoring the way car-dependence drives up housing costs through parking requirements and damages retail by turning streets into places cars pass through rather than a place people go.
It doesn’t have to be like this!
Instead of densifying along arterial roads, we could zone areas dominated by single family homes so they can be more like the incredible West End. I think Dunbar is the perfect neighborhood to transform into a dense, livable community.
Both have big, gorgeous trees, unique and personal gardens and quiet streets. Both are next to large, forested, world-class urban parks. Both abut large workplaces (the West End – Downtown and Dunbar – UBC).
But a block in the West End has hundreds of people. A block in Dunbar might have 40.
The West End is much more affordable, walkable, and bikeable, and the large population means it can (and does) support many more shops and amenities. Dunbar’s retail areas are very small and have a lot of empty storefronts. The West End isn’t crowded, but you see other people. Dunbar feels dead. Transit in the West End is both more unnecessary and more available than in Dunbar.
Dunbar is more like the West End was a century ago, but the West End changed – and for the better.
The West End community is one of the oldest residential areas in Vancouver. In the late 1890’s and early 20th century, this was the upscale neighbourhood in Vancouver. Many large family mansions were built then slowly replaced by low rise apartment buildings. Today there is a mix of old mansions, homes and heritage apartments throughout the West End.
With good zoning decisions, traffic calming off the arterials, and better transit, Dunbar could become a beloved, quiet, interesting home for tens of thousands more people.
Another option is to acknowledge that cars make us sick and cost us a ton of money, and that they don’t belong in cities. We could limit or ban private cars entirely in high density areas of the city – I’d start with pretty much all of the downtown and move to much of the Broadway corridor, along parts of Kingsway and Southwest Marine Drive, through much of East Van between Main and Victoria, the Drive and around Nanaimo and Dundas St.
We can even be truly brave and do both.