Macho exhaust; Tejon Ranch; and more
Some things we're reading about this week
This spring—although it feels like it was years ago—while I was driving my 1989 Nissan Sentra through Montrose, in Western Colorado, during the late afternoon rush hour, I espied a pickup truck merging into the long line of traffic. If you know Montrose, you know that this truck was one of dozens on that stretch of road—Chevies, Fords, GMCs, and maybe even a Toyota or two. But this one caught my eye due to its shiny black sheen, tinted windows, shiny wheels, and, most of all, the giant sticker on the cab’s back window: “Diesel Smoke Matters”. Wow, I thought, This guy (of course it was a guy) had managed to encapsulate toxic masculinity, fossil fuel fetishization, and racism in just three words!
And then he walked the talk, so to speak. The guy would speed up in the left hand lane until he caught up with a fuel-efficient vehicle. He’d sidle up next to the Subaru or Prius and “roll coal,” revving his engine in such a way that the exhaust pipe belched a big black cloud of diesel smoke into the other driver’s windshield. This disturbing little episode was brought back to me by Ruxandra Guidi’s excellent story in the Atlantic, “Real Men Drive Electric Trucks,” in which she asks: Will electric vehicles jibe with American machismo?
Ford, Tesla, GM, and Rivian are all getting ready to roll out big, electric trucks in the hopes of capturing the massive market for massive vehicles. There even will be an electric Hummer. Early looks indicate that they will be just as huge, intimidating, and capable of crushing small cars, bicyclists, and pedestrians as their combustion-engine cousins. So one might think they would provide just as much fuel for certain men’s masculinity (or, if you prefer, compensation for other inadequacies), only in a greener form.
But what if it’s not just size that matters for masculinity, but the diesel smoke? Would the Diesel-Smoke-Matters dude have to figure out some other way to take out his exhaust-wrath if he had no exhaust? Will the Delta County demolition derby survive without the roar of combustion, the smell of exhaust, and the low-grade carbon monoxide poisoning of the audience? Guidi intrepidly attends a monster truck show to find out. The result is an excellent read. Check it out.
If you put electric vehicle chargers in a 19,300-home development-to-be in open space an hour away from Los Angeles, does it make it environmentally friendly?
Okay, it’s not just charging stations: Tejon Ranch’s proposed Centennial development in Southern California’s Tehachapi Mountains would also have solar panels on all those homes, no natural gas hookups will be allowed, hundreds of thousands of acres will be put into a conservation easement, and other incentives for EVs would be included, all with the aim of achieving “net-zero” greenhouse gas emissions.
These and other promises were enough to get Climate Resolve to drop its legal challenges to the development, according to a recent writeup in the Los Angeles Times. And, sure, if you have to build a brand new city in the desert, then this is probably the way to go. It’s certainly greener than the sprawl that makes up most of metro Phoenix or Las Vegas. But do you really have to build a new city in the California desert?
Yes, California is experiencing a major housing crunch. And Tejon Ranch—the development company—says Centennial will include 3,500 affordable housing units. Bravo for that. But unless Tejon Ranch also creates enough jobs for all of those folks, most of them will end up driving a long ways to work, which is crappy for the environment and the collective psyche whether the cars are electric or not.
And then there’s the question of water. On its website, Tejon Ranch says it has rights to plenty of wet stuff—it is a working agricultural operation, after all. But having water on paper isn’t all that meaningful when there isn’t any real water to be had. California is literally drying up: State water officials announced a couple of days ago that several water agencies won’t get anything from the State Water Project next year, and cities from north to south are announcing tighter and tighter restrictions on water use. There is simply no way that 19,300 additional homes won’t add to the strain.
And besides there are far better ways to add housing stock, such as substantially increasing density in Los Angeles by building much more multi-family housing, which by nearly every measure is greener than single-family homes. The NIMBY’s won’t like it, and it will require significant zoning changes, but wouldn’t it be better than sacrificing more open land?
In related news, for one of his last stories in the Arizona Republic, Ian James (now with the LA Times) writes about big investment companies buying up thousands of acres of Arizona farmland so they can ship the associated irrigation water to the Phoenix suburbs and sell it to new desert developments.
It still hasn’t snowed in Denver. Cheyenne broke 70 degrees F in December for the first time ever. And a wildfire burned 24 homes in central Montana. In December.
It’s dry out there, folks:
This is a great piece by Moab’s KZMU on working in the service industry in a tourist town in a time of exorbitant housing prices and COVID. Well worth a listen.
Tree poachers strike El Malpais National Monument in New Mexico, chopping down ancient alligator junipers.
I wrote this one. Nevertheless, each time I read it, I get more enraged. It’s an infographic that Luna Anna Archey and I put together for High Country News about wealth inequality in the West. Warning: Unless you’re a bizillionaire, it might just enrage you, too.
Finally, we’ll wrap this up with a little nugget of hope. Mixed with a little bit of climate hell, that is. From the Los Angeles Times’ Sammy Roth:
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