No action on global warming | Orange County Opportunity Lost on Vote of 3-4

No action on global warming

Jun 15, 2009

Mike nelson

Last week the Orange County Board of Commissioners had an opportunity to prohibit new drive-thru windows. Why would we be interested in banning drive-thru windows? Many folks view them as a necessary convenience of early 21st century life.

There are two reasons to consider prohibiting them (an action, by the way, that Carrboro took over a decade ago). First, we talk a good game about walkability; the county’s new comprehensive plan calls for building a more walkable, pedestrian-friendly community. Yet, our planning regulations all too often create the exact opposite. Drive-thru windows, by any reasonable definition, do not promote the pedestrian-friendly development our comprehensive plan calls for.

But the even more important reason to prohibit drive-thru windows is to reduce air pollution and to take our community’s first steps towards addressing a global warming. When we’re campaigning, we local elected officials make all sorts of promises about the need to address global warming and how we’ll do our part. But for the most part the rhetoric hasn’t been followed up with action.

Here’s a fact I stumbled across when doing some research in the subject of idling cars. When a car idles for an hour, it emits nearly 4 lbs of CO2. Of course, we don’t idle our cars for an hour at any one time. But add up how many cars are idling in line at a fastfood restaurant the next time you drive past, or at the bank. It all adds up, my friends, and it adds up quickly.

Prohibiting new drive-thru windows (existing ones are grandfathered in and will not be closed down) would be one small but important step toward reducing our contribution to global warming.

Unfortunately, the motion to ban them failed at last week’s county commissioner meeting on a 3-4 vote. Bernadette Pellisier, Alice Gordon and I all voted for the ordinance. After the vote failed, Commissioner Jacobs moved to discuss the matter again in the fall and requested additional information. He may eventually vote for a ban, so the battle is not yet lost.

I fully realize that prohibiting new drive-thru windows will be controversial with many of our constituents. And it may not be a politically easy step to take. But if we are serious about addressing global warming, if our campaign rhetoric means anything, then act we must. Agreed, this is small step that will have only an incremental effect. But it would be a start.

Let’s get started and stop talking.

Mike Nelson is a member of the Orange County Board of Commissioners who lives in Hillsborough.

“Climate policy is characterized by the habituation of low expectations and a culture of failure. There is an urgent need to understand global warming and the tipping points for dangerous impacts that we have already crossed as a sustainability emergency that takes us beyond the politics of failure-inducing compromise. We are now in a race between climate tipping points and political tipping points.”
David Spratt, Philip Sutton, Climate Code Red, Australia, Published July, 2008

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