Tag Archives: Garrett Hardin

15 Minutes to Save the World?

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Throne, Altar, Liberty

The Canadian Red Ensign

The Canadian Red Ensign

Thursday, March 16, 2023

15 Minutes to Save the World?

The expression “15 minute city” is a little under ten years old.  It was about four to five years ago that it first began to circulate significantly and it really took off during the time when people everywhere proved themselves to be incredibly stupid by their willingness to submit to the all but total elimination of their most basic freedoms because of their naïve faith in medical experts who told them that they needed to stop living in order to avoid dying from the bogeyman of the bat flu.   Last month, however, 15 minute cities became big news as mainstream media outlet after mainstream media outlet began running op-ed pieces about how critics of the concept were engaged in “conspiracy theory”.  At the start of the last week in February I typed the words “15 minute cities” into Google and pressed the search button.   The top results, both on the news tab and the main Google page, were articles of this sort from sources like CNN, The Guardian, and even the Weather Network.  Indeed, the only one of the highlighted stories not to include the word “conspiracy” in the title was a piece from Bloomberg entitled “No, 15-Minute Cities Aren’t a Threat to Civil Liberties”, which, of course, was yet another denial of the “conspiracy theory” about 15 minute cities.   At the time I did this search these stories and many more were all fresh, having been released in the previous two days, most in the previous twenty four hours.   

Now, if someone wanted to convince people to take seriously the idea that there is some sort of nefarious international plot behind the latest buzzword expression in urban planning, one way to go about doing so would be to get the entire mainstream media to issue a denial in lockstep like this.  When media companies all begin saying the same thing like a horde of brainwashed cult members chanting a mantra it is usually best to consider the exact opposite of what they are saying to be the truth. Indeed, if people like our Prime Minister, that contemptible lowlife Captain Airhead and J. Brandon Magoo, that creep who gives off the strong impression of someone who wandered off from the geriatric ward of an asylum for the criminally insane only to find himself in the White House were to start using their state pulpits to denounce anyone opposed to 15 minute cities as fringe extremists we would know with a certainty from this the supporters of 15 minute cities are up to no good.

So what are 15 minute cities?   Are they part of a sinister plot to rob us of our freedom of motion and imprison us all within our own neighbourhoods?   Or is the idea behind them an innocent one, aimed at renewing neighbourhoods and reducing traffic congestion, upon which unfair suspicion has been thrown by the unsavoury associations of those promoting and defending it?

Back in the 1960’s the term “walkability” entered the vocabulary of those with an active interest in revitalizing big cities or at least hindering them from dropping to a lower circle of Dante’s abyss.   Making a city walkable meant making it as friendly and accessible to pedestrians as possible.    The opposite of walkability was urban planning aimed at maximizing the ease and speed with which one could get around a city by car which was one aspect of the “urban renewal” movement that had influenced much or most of the city planning of the previous few decades.  The 15 minute city is an adaptation of this concept of walkability or, to be more precise, a variation of an older adaptation the 20 minute city.  The basic idea of a 15 minute city is that of a city in which people have access to everything they would need on an ordinary day in their own neighbourhoods within a 15 minute walk or bicycle ride from where they live.   As with many ideas that generate heated controversies the heat comes more from the implications than from the basic concept.   If it were possible to transform a city into a 15 minute city where everyone has everything he needs within such a small radius from his home without in any way altering anything else about the city and the lives of its inhabitants this would undoubtedly be an improvement and a very good one at that.   If quality of life in a city were measured strictly in terms of convenience it would be an exponential improvement.  The problem is that it is not possible to transform a city in this way without making many other changes.   Since the advocates of 15 minute cities seem to be largely motivated by environmental concerns it would be appropriate here to cite Dr. Garrett Hardin’s First Law of Human Ecology “We can never do merely one thing.”   It is those other things that would need to be done to transform cities into 15 minute cities that have a lot of people’s dander up.

Take, for example, the plans for low traffic neighbourhoods which Oxford, the city in Oxfordshire, England that is home to Oxford University, recently announced its intention to implement on a trial basis starting next year.   A low traffic neighbourhood is a concept that is related to that of a 15 minute city and often promoted together with it, so much so that the two are sometimes mistaken as being synonymous with each other.  The difference is that a low traffic neighbourhood is designed to keep something out of the neighbourhood – traffic congestion due to through traffic – whereas a 15 minute city is designed to put something in the neighbourhood – the necessities of everyday life easily accessible by walking or cycling.  The Oxford city council has announced its intention, beginning next year, of dividing the city in to six districts and placing a limit of 100 on the number of times residents can drive from one district to the next, through certain routes between 7 am and 7 pm, to be enforced by licence-plate camera and fines.   Residents would be able – for a fee – to apply for an additional allotment of trips through the limited routes.

Now this does not amount to locking Oxford residents within their districts.   If Oxford goes ahead with this – and does not take it any further – Oxford residents will be able to pass between districts any time they wish and as many times as they wish if they do so on foot or by bike, and even by automobile if they take routes other than the more direct ones upon which the limits are being placed.   This whole thing does, however, give off too much of a vibe of a high-tech, updated, version of “show us your papers, comrade” and so it is not surprising that the Oxford announcement was met with a large and vehement protest, especially since people were already fed up with this sort of thing from the three years of public health emergency tyranny.  These measures do carry the potential for evolving into the permanent confinement of people within their own neighbourhoods through mission creep much like “14 days to flatten the curve” evolved into two and a half years of lockdowns, forced masking, and vaccine passports and mandates.   Indeed, not only do they have the potential for evolving in this direction there is a very high probability that they will do so.

One reason for this is because those who are promoting low traffic neighbourhoods based on the 15 city model are openly motivated by the goal of getting people to drive less.  When the earlier, more general, concept of walkability was conceived it was part of a response to several decades of urban planning based on utilitarian principles.   The kind of urban planning that involved houses, small businesses, parks and playgrounds, local schools, libraries, hospitals and the like being torn down, often through the means of entire city blocks being seized by governments and handed over to developers, to make way for large apartment complexes, office buildings, malls, and the like.   While large-scale urban planning on utilitarian principles went back to the nineteenth century, it had exploded around the middle of the twentieth century due to mass production’s having made motor vehicles increasingly available and affordable.   This factor also, of course, affected the way the designs of these planners as utility now included such things as parking lots and freeways.   A backlash against this sort of thing began in 1961 when Jane Jacobs published her The Death and Life of Great American Cities, which documented the negative side of “urban renewal”.   Jacobs did not just write about the subject but was also an activist who fought against this sort of urban planning both in New York where she lived when she wrote her book and Toronto where she moved about a decade later, in both cities fighting against the construction of freeways or expressways.   Among her criticisms of this kind of planning was that it was making cities into places for cars rather than for people.   Those who began to promote the concept of walkability owed much of their inspiration to Jacobs.   The promoters of the 15 minute city model would like us to think that they are following in these earlier footsteps and perhaps in a limited sense they are.   Their primary objection to automobiles, however, is very different.  

Jacobs and those whom she inspired in the 1960s objected to tearing down houses and digging up parks to make way for freeways and parking lots because these actions uprooted and dissolved communities and razed the neighbourhoods in which they had lived in order to replace these with dead, concrete, spaces made for machines rather than men.   The promoters of the 15 minute city model, such as Anne Hidalgo, mayor of Paris, France, and her Columbian born advisor, Carlos Moreno, the professor at Sorbonne University who seems to be the one who came up with the concept, by contrast, don’t want people driving cars because they want to see a radical reduction in the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere.   People like this think that the drastic reduction in carbon dioxide emissions they want is necessary to save the world.     People who think that the world is at stake are not people likely to accept or respect limitations on their efforts nor are they people likely to listen to reason coming from those who disagree with them. If, therefore, placing limits on the daytime use of high density routes fails to achieve a reduction in car use and simply diverts heavy traffic to other routes, the planners will be likely to revise the model – and keep revising it until they achieve their goal.   Such revisions will move the model closer and closer to something resembling people being permanently locked into their own neighbourhoods.

There is another difference between the original pushback against the large building/parking lot/freeway type of urban planning and the advocacy of the 15 minute city today which supports the conclusion that the concept is inherently flawed in such a way that its implementation, however, good the intentions of those behind it may be, would inevitably lead to urban life becoming more tightly controlled.    Prior to the invention and mass production of the automobile every city was a city in which every neighborhood had its local store, school, etc. so that there was no necessity for long daily commutes that were impractical before motorized transportation.   Transforming cities that were like this into cities where many if not most people live in one district, work in another, and do all their shopping in yet another and where the city’s infrastructure is designed to facilitate the fast motor vehicle transportation that makes such an arrangement feasible required city governments to expropriate private property and spend massive sums of money in imposing a redesign upon their cities dreamed up by engineers who had been given an unprecedented amount of centralized control over what their cities would look like.   In other words, the kind of urban transformation to which people like Jane Jacobs’ objected, in which older, traditional, more organic communities were bulldozed down and paved over to make way for concrete and asphalt edifices designed for machines rather than the people the machines were themselves built to serve, required government to insert itself far more actively and visibly in the everyday lives of urban inhabitants than it had before, which meant that this was a step away from a more free mode of life and towards a more controlled mode of life.  

Any serious attempt to transform a city into a 15 minute city would require a further step in the same direction.    This is because the model calls for all necessities to be available to people within a 15 minute walk or cycle ride from their home.   Obviously, if a city has to be transformed into a 15 minute city then these necessities are not already available this close.   Therefore, to remake a city according to this model would involve moving businesses and services into neighbourhoods that don’t already have them.  A government that wants a certain type of business in a neighbourhood has to do a lot more to achieve its goal than a government that wants to keep a certain kind of business out of a neighbourhood.  If a city, for example, does not want strip bars and casinos next to elementary schools, then all it has to do is pass a zoning restriction.   If, however, a city decides that it wants a bakery in a neighbourhood that does not have one, a simple change to zoning laws would not in itself accomplish this.  Somebody has to put the bakery in there.  Either the city would have to build and operate a bakery itself or, if it was dead set on having one, it would have to lure a private baker in with some sort of incentive.  A bakery is only one type of business.   To turn a city into a 15 minute city its government would have to do this not merely with bakeries but with every sort of business and service it deems essential, and in every neighbourhood.

While those promoting the 15 minute city model claim to be the heirs of Jane Jacobs they are in spirit far closer to the city planners she fought against in New York and Toronto.   As different as the two kinds of urban planners are in their attitude towards automobiles, they are united by a common belief that if you get the right urban engineers, with the right ideas, and sit them down together in a drawing room, they will be able to come up with a design for a city which if enacted would produce maximum happiness for the maximum number of the city’s inhabitants.   If, however, freedom is essential to human happiness, and it is, then this sort of thinking is counterproductive because it can only move cities in the direction of being more planned and less free.   Those who make pitches for the 15 minute city concept like to try and sell it to us as a restoration of an older, simpler, way of life.   That way of life, however, belonged to traditional communities which possessed at least one quality that was more conducive to happiness than that in modern cities and which cannot be reproduced artificially by planning.  That quality is that of being organic.   This is a quality that comes about in a community naturally, when families live together in the same place, working in the same businesses, shopping in the same stores, worshipping in the same churches, for several generations over the course of which a sense of social oneness grows.   This cannot be reproduced artificially by planning and attempts to do so will only produce ugly caricatures of natural, traditional, communities.

One does not have to speculate about sinister motives behind the 15 minute city concept – and without such speculation you do not have a “conspiracy theory” – to have serious misgivings about the idea.   Urban planning of this nature cannot recreate true organic communities, inevitably requires an increase in government control and a decrease in human freedom no matter how benign the motivation, and, being wedded to an environmentalist ideal of eliminating carbon emissions that has in recent years taken on the characteristics of a cult of fanatics is set on course to evolve into something far more unpleasant.    — Gerry T. Neal

The Coronavirus: Counting the Cost

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The Canadian Red Ensign

The Canadian Red Ensign

Saturday, March 28, 2020

The Coronavirus: Counting the Cost

Let us suppose that tomorrow Justin Trudeau were to make the following announcement:

I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that the experts have told us that it will take twenty years of extreme social distancing for us to be certain COVID-19 will not resurge. The good news is that we have developed the technology to fully automate production of all essential goods and the delivery of the same. Everyone is therefore ordered to remain in their homes for the next twenty years. All of your needs will be met. Robots will produce all the food and toilet paper and everything else you need and bring it to your home. There is no need for you to go outside. Armed drones will patrol the streets nonstop to enforce your compliance with this order. I am sorry that you will not be able to see your friends or loved ones outside of your immediate household who live with you again, except through video communication, for two decades, but it is necessary to prevent COVID-19 from resurging and flooding our health care system. I will remain in office for the duration of this period to see to it that everything functions smoothly. See you in twenty years.

Would we tolerate this?

Would we agree that the total loss of our freedoms of movement and association for two decades was a price worth paying in order to protect us from this virus?

I hope – which is probably a safer word to use here than assume – that most of us would answer “no” to both of these questions. Yet, with one significant exception, the differences between the hypothetical announcement and what we are actually being told are ones of degree rather than kind. It appears, however, that most of us would answer these questions “yes” had they been asked of what the government is actually saying.

This raises the interesting question of where the line falls between what we are willing to put up with from the government in terms of suppression of our basic freedoms in order to contain or combat this pandemic and what we are not. At what point does the price become too high?

The reluctance of many to think in terms of this question comes from the mistaken notion that the cost of the measures that our country and many others are taking to combat the COVID-19 pandemic is entirely, or at least mostly, economic. Those who hold this mistaken notion, then argue from the maxim that lives are more important than money, property, the economy and the like, that no economic cost is too high to achieve the end of saving lives from COVID-19. As I observed in my last essay, the premise of this reasoning is a lie concealed behind a moral truism. While it is true, of course, that lives are more important than material goods, if you wipe out material goods you will end up destroying lives.

Let us consider the point that I sought to make in the hypothetical Trudeau speech above by that one item that is a significant exception to the rule that it differs from what he is actually saying only by degree rather than kind. In the speech, Trudeau has found a technological solution to the problem of providing people with their essential needs while everyone is locked in their homes for their own good. Robots will do it all. No such solution is available in the real world. If it were, however, it would remove the economic element from the equation entirely. Yet the problem remains. How many, even with the assurance that all their material needs will be met, would consider living under a house arrest enforced by the most Orwellian of means for twenty years to be an acceptable cost to pay in order to stop COVID-19?

My point is that the cost of “extreme social distancing”, “isolation” and “shut down” over too long of an extended period of time, even with the economic element subtracted from that cost, is too high a price to pay. It is not a rational solution to the problem of the pandemic. Which is not surprising considering that it was quickly put in place by governments, on the advice of epidemiological experts, when they suddenly found that their earlier inattention to the outbreak when it was confined to China had brought it to their own doorsteps. Decisions made in haste are not likely to be thoroughly thought out rational decisions. Especially when you are trying to compensate for having earlier underreacted to a potential crisis. That is what leads to overreaction.

Andrew Cohen of the Ottawa Citizen in his recent comparison of the Canadian and American methods of handling this crisis clearly expresses his preference for the Canadian way of doing things over the American. I too prefer the Canadian way, although for me, that way is and always will be, defined by the Canada of 1867, whereas for Cohen, the Canadian way seems to be defined by whatever the Liberal Party says Canada is all about in the present moment. He mentions that Canadians tend to listen to and respect experts more than Americans, or at least the sitting American president. Perhaps that is true. In this case, however, the Canadian government is acting like it has been listening to only one kind of expert.

The kind of people we call experts today are the result of the centuries long process of the specialization of knowledge. If you are looking for something to do in your time of isolation you might want to consider reading Richard Weaver’s discussion of this process in Ideas Have Consequences. We have gone from prioritizing the ability to see the big picture to prioritizing the mastery of small subsets of knowledge. The person who has so mastered his own field of knowledge is the expert. Being an expert in one field does not translate into being an expert in all, or even competently knowledgeable in fields other than his own, and, while this is an over-generalization, of course, it is nevertheless the case that experts tend to have a kind of tunnel vision and are often grossly ignorant of other fields than their own.

Thus, the epidemiologists called upon to advise on how to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and prevent the medical system from crashing by being swamped have provided a solution that would work according to the knowledge available to them. That knowledge is limited to their own field. They are incapable of calculating the number of lives that would be lost due to problems such as mass starvation if we crash the economy in order to practice extreme social distancing. Note that the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization is already warning of a looming global food shortage caused by these Communist anti-COVID measures. Indeed, they seem incapable of understanding that if you crash the economy to save the medical system, you lose the medical system too, because it is the economy that pays for the medical system. The people advising this strategy clearly do not possess even a basic understanding of economics, history (other than the history of disease outbreaks), and constitutional law. The government is clearly not listening to experts in these fields. If it was, it would not be so quick to take measures that could potentially recreate the Great Depression and the inflation of the Weimar Republic. Nor would it have attempted, as it did earlier this week, to pass a bill eerily similar to that which made Adolf Hitler into the dictator of Germany eighty seven years ago.

The government needs to listen to voices knowledgeable in these areas as well as those knowledgeable in containing epidemics. It would do well to pay heed to Dr. Garrett Hardin’s First Law of Human Ecology – “You cannot do only one thing”, which means that anything you do to produce a particular end or solve a particular problem, will have other repercussions elsewhere.

We also need to be listening to those who can tell us something about the long-term consequences of conditioning people to fear normal human contact – the friendly handshake, the warm hug, etc. – as the harbinger of death, and to treat electronic, long-distance, communication as an adequate substitute to be preferred. We had a big enough problem with people gluing their eyes to their smartphones or other electronic devices, immersing themselves in an online virtual world, and shutting themselves off from the real world and the living, breathing, people around them, before this crisis. “Extreme social distancing” will only make it worse. Perhaps someone can tell us what the likely repercussions will be of instilling in our populace the exact opposite mindset to those who went to war for us in 1939, willing to sacrifice themselves and die a horrible death rather than that we lose our freedoms. Karen Selick has made a convincing argument that one of the results of the shut down and stay home approach will be a huge rise in domestic violence. Obviously she is talking about the effects on people who have families. It would also be good to know from mental health experts what the effect on single people who live alone – a much larger percentage of our population than ever before – of cutting them off completely from human contact for months will be. How long will they be able to keep their sanity? How long before the suicide rates skyrocket? How long before people start to snap and do terrible things?

All of this must be factored into the cost that the government is forcing us to pay for stopping COVID-19.

One wiser and more knowledgeable than all the experts put together once said:

“For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.” (Matt. 16:25)

He was speaking of those who believe in Him and are martyred for their faith. Perhaps we should be considering the broader implications of the principle.

The Cult of the Immigrant: Oh Canada, We Came to the Hockey Game for Thee

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Oh Canada, We Came to the Hockey Game for Thee

News item : March 18, 2017:The federal government and the Edmonton Oilers partnered to welcome 12 new Canadian citizens at Rogers Place Saturday afternoon as part of Canada 150 celebrations. Minister of Infrastructure and Communities Amarjeet Sohi and Mayor Don Iveson attended the swearing-in ceremony at Rogers Place.

As an introduction to Saturday night’s NHL hockey game in Edmonton on March 18th, a dozen “New Canadians” were honoured after their swearing-in ceremony by being called out on to the  ice wearing bright orange Edmonton Oilers’ jerseys. They waved to the applause of the crowd, and then joined in on the singing of our national anthem. How stirring.

Message: We are a land of immigrants, and no matter where immigrants come from, they will become good ordinary Canadians like you and me, eager to share their ‘diversity’ by partaking in ours. I mean, what could be more Canadian than wearing the home town’s hockey jersey at a hockey game?


“This is a special one because Rogers Place is a hallowed ground for hockey,” Edmonton Mayor Iveson said. “It’s such an important part of Edmonton’s story and history, so to know that these Edmontonians and new Canadians will always associate their citizenship with this place and the heart of our city is just an exciting memory for us to all carry.”

Thus the myth of Canada as a welcoming country that needs more and more and more immigrants is firmly cemented into the mentality of all those in attendance, and the viewing audience at home as well. The fact that people from India, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Afghanistan or Somalia are so happy to settle here in this largely cold wasteland flatters us. It is as if we were the owners of a restaurant who regard the line-up of patient customers outside as a compliment to our fine cuisine.

But there is a difference. Restaurant owners know that their restaurant has a limited seating capacity, just like Rogers Place.  Neither Canadians nor their political representatives understand that there are limits to growth. Contrary to conventional wisdom, we have limited resources. Even drinkable water is in short supply, never mind arable farmland.  And as far as affordable urban land goes, well, as Mark Twain would have said, “they’ve stopped making it.”  http://womenmakenews.com/content/story/myth-canadas-underpopulation-lay-it-rest)

Now don’t get me wrong. I think we are right to honour the immigrants who helped to build this country. Just as I am right to be grateful to the carpenters who built my house. But guess what. My house is built. Done. With little room or need to grow.  And while it needs ongoing maintenance, it doesn’t require that I bring in an army of carpenters every year, especially if they are going to wake me up in the wee hours by praying in the direction of Mecca.

The Cult of the Immigrant is an absurd anachronism for a mature nation that may well see robots doing half the work by mid century. The smokestack era and family farms are gone. We have no need for 300,000-450,000 extra bodies each and every year.  Unless of course it is to fill the seats of our hockey arenas.  Still, I don’t recall getting a dividend cheque from NHL hockey team owners for having to put up with rising house prices, unconscionable  rents, appalling traffic congestion, deteriorating infrastructure,  lower wages and sprawl that comes with growing the population and increasing their fan base.

potential fans

Above:  Potential Edmonton Oilers hockey fans,  just one swearing-in ceremony away from becoming full-fledged Canadian citizens.  Complimentary Liberal Party membership cards to be part of the Welcoming Package.



Tim Murray

March 19, 2017

PS We can always outfit our androids with Toronto Maple Leaf hockey sweaters and program them to watch mediocre hockey at atrocious ticket prices for 50 years without a championship in sight.

— “There’s nothing more dangerous than a shallow-thinking compassionate person.” Garrett Hardin