Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Peter the Prescient

Politics is loaded with people who love power for its own sake. They're the reason change is often so slow and hard. Sadly, longevity in politics is more about playing things safe than taking brave stands. So when a politician puts their career-building aside to stand for something that matters, it's something to celebrate.

Peter Steinbrueck, who has been on Seattle's City Council for a decade, could clock year after year doing good things at City Hall without ever drawing a serious opponent until he eventually becomes Mayor. And being that rare politician who really is motivated by principle, that would be OK. A little boring maybe, but OK.

Instead, he's opted out of re-election this year to focus on transportation policy. “At this time," he says, "I believe it is more important to fight against a new era of auto-dependence than to spend this time on my own re-election campaign.” At this time in Seattle that means opposing both the tunnel and viaduct rebuild options in favor of the surface transit alternative. Living up to his father's legacy to Seattle is a challenge Peter has always worn with grace, and I believe that this is absolutely the fight that needs his leadership at this time in our city's history.

It's nearly impossible to fathom the centrality of denial to our culture. Oil is a non-renewable resource, and most of the world's oil fields have already peaked. This means that they have reached the point at which more than 50% is gone, and what's left can only be extracted at greater expense for declining output. US fields in the lower 48 peaked in 1970. Alaska peaked in 1988. Canada and Mexico have also peaked. Much of the world's remaining oil is located where we must kill for access. Iraq's oil reserves are the largest in the world, and remain mostly untapped.

As oil grows more expensive and scarce, ways of living that assume cheap and plentiful energy will change. It is by no means an exaggeration to say that world peace and environmental sustainability both hinge on naming and confronting our addiction to oil.

I am amazed that tunnel proponents and viaduct rebuild advocates who all claim to be looking out for future generations don't see the writing on the wall. Car culture is doomed. Mass transportation and a more sustainable organization of home, work, and the production of necessities is the future.

Across the street from where I live in Shoreline is a baseball diamond that hosts little league games thoughout the spring and summer. Parents of kids from Queen Anne to North Bothell and Woodinville line our street with cars. The majority of these are always SUVs, or huge trucks that no one needs unless, perhaps, they are employed in the building trades.

Around late summer, The SUV migration ends, and we start seeing the ultimate frisbee folks. They arrive in their little subcompacts, run around the field for awhile, and then go. Some of them even arrive on bikes or by bus. They leave a very light footprint. They are the future. Peter sees that. So should we all.

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