A local religious scholar was asked why so many few Seattleites go to church and her reply was “No one had built a cathedral to match Mount Rainier.” It is the natural beauty that is inherent to the Puget Sound region that creates an illusion that Seattle is a green clean and healthy place to live. In actuality the Seattle area is among one the country’s dirtiest places for pollution.
If halting climate change demands a massive shift in behavior of individuals and if “delight” is the catalyst for many of these changes in behavior, then what is the delight-incentive in an area that gives the illusion that we are living in a clean green area. The additional problem with this misperception is that as land values rise, companies relocate where land is affordable further enhancing the disparities of the affluent getting to keep their misperceptions and the poor getting pollution (Yes! here I go again with the social equity piece). Areas that are Troy Abel, an associate professor of environmental studies at Western Washington University stated that “Seattle’s pollution riskscape and urban development burdens were skewed toward the most socially vulnerable residents”
My concern is that, while everyone makes decision that contribute to the overall carbon foot print it seems to adversely affect the poor at a disproportionate rate at least in the immediate future. If residents of the Seattle area are under the delusion that they live in an unpolluted area because of the beautiful greenery, abundant bodies of water and mountain ranges, how can we begin to use the idea of “delight” to incentivize change when Seattle is already so delightful? Art walks may pale in comparison to water ways with Mountain backdrops and Art appointed train stations may not be able to measure up to the large evergreens canvasing this area.
It is important to still continue to find additional delights for these residents, especially when the most polluted areas are immediately affecting a segment of the population that is powerless to affect change. In class the question was posed “why do generations today seem less willing to act for the common good of all, unlike the early 20th century?” And the issue around sustainability definitely speaks to this notion. It is evident that there is a divide in the perception surrounding climate issues in this region. If the view from one person’s window is a Lake Washington and not a tall smoking stack, then this person may be unaware of the immediate problem with pollution because they can’t see it. And even though this pollution will eventually affect each of us the delightful surroundings may give the illusion that the problem is far and distant. Land can be zoned, not air or water.
This is not an intentional disconnect, but there is a definite disconnect that individuals have from one another and a lack of awareness that people are as interrelated as the air and water that we drink and breath. This disconnection from one another was created in the 1950’s during the industrial revolution and the Auto industry which promoted white flight and the notion that we don’t have to live life with anyone that is not like us. We can live in the middle of nowhere and drive in our cars alone, creating an “us-them” belief and further enabling this disconnect. This creates a mindset that affects individual behavioral decisions that are concerned with that individual that is making the decision and not the benefit of the whole. And so it goes: It’s not my problem, I don’t have a problem.
So bringing it back to good ol’ Seattle. Great beautiful green Seattle: The perfect city. Not too big, not too diverse, not too much traffic and not too much change….ever. It can’t be polluted, it’s the water taste great! Draught-schmaught it rains every day! Hear no evil, see no evil. “Seattle has been heralded for its leadership in sustainability, but our analysis questioned this reputation. Parts of the city fared poorly in all three dimensions of sustainability — environment, equity and economy,” Abel said
The illusion is created by the delight created by the natural beauty of the Puget Sound Region and the complete isolation and reluctance to change. My fear is that it will take too long for the powerful people to see the issue while the poor continues to suffer in it.