Are Old-Line Environmentalists Asleep at the Wheel?

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Dr. Bill takes to NYC’s streets to tell us about cars and global warming

Once a month, Environmental Defense, the venerable environmental organization, posts an "Ask Dr. Bill" video to their web site to answer common environmental questions. Dr. Bill is Bill Chameides, ED’s Chief Scientist.

This month Dr. Bill takes to the streets to answer common questions about cars and global warming. With a Yahoo Autos banner plastered across the screen, Dr. Bill says, "Our message for today is don’t stop driving, just drive and use your car smart."

If the video were shot in the parking lot of a gigantic suburban mall it would make more sense. But Dr. Bill is walking around what looks like Gramercy Park, a few blocks from the Union Square subway station, telling us, "cars are a fact of life," "we’re all driving cars" and no you do not have to give up your SUV or pick-up truck to do something about climate change (just keep its tires inflated). New York City, of course, is a place where less than half of households own a car, where we’re "all" taking the train and walking, and where a much bigger number of trips could easily be made by bicycle if the city helped make that more possible.

To my eye, the video really feels like it is light years behind the current state of debate about New York City’s urban environment. Coming on the heels of ED’s strong press release urging Mayor Bloomberg to commit to congestion pricing, it also feels like ED’s messaging is a bit schizophrenic.

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