Moral Panic Against 15-Minute Cities is More Fossil Fuel Propaganda

All of these policy absurdities make sense when you understand that the movement is funded and financed by fossil fuel interests.

By Ryan McGreal

Posted February 10, 2023 in Blog (Last Updated February 10, 2023)

The latest moral panic from the people who brought you the "freedom convoy" last year is an eruption of outrage against the concept of a "15-minute city", or the idea that cities should be designed so that it should be relatively easy to get where you're going on foot or on bike, without needing to jump in a car and drive for every trip.

One might wonder who could possibly take offence to a city that puts amenities in convenient access, but all of these policy absurdities start to make sense when you remember that the movement is ultimately founded and financed by fossil fuel interests in order to destroy the capacity of liberal democracies to regulate carbon emissions.

A city in which most of what you need from a day-to-day basis within a 15 minute walk or bike ride is a major threat to an industry whose profits depend on forcing people to have to get in a car and drive to get anywhere.

All the culture war bullshit is just manufactured outrage - funded and fomented by the likes of the Koch foundation and the Russian government, whose existence is threatened by the risk of a global transition away from fossil fuels.

Whether it's renewable power or walkability or transit improvement or complete streets or carbon pricing or emissions targets, fossil fuel companies and the corrupt governments they bankroll fight tooth and nail to attack and undermine any and all threats to their livelihood.

Over the decades, they have built out a whole parallel media universe of bogus think tanks, publications, symposia, shills, astroturf groups, social media movements and other apparatus of disruption to undermine a public consensus in favour of public health and safety.

Like Frankenstein's monster, that parallel media universe has broken its chains and rampaged into other areas of public policy that rest on scientific consensus. It is no coincidence, for example, that the Yellow Vest fascists are also rabid antimaskers and antivaxxers.

Like Kissinger bombing Laos and Cambodia, the fossil fuel industry cannot allow public support for scientific consensus to take root anywhere in public policy, lest it spill over into effectively regulating greenhouse gas emissions out of existence.

This is an existential struggle for the fossil fuel companies and political power centres, and they will even go so far as to foment actual insurrection against liberal democracy in order to protect themselves from the threat of effective science-based public policy.

They regard something as innocuous and commonsense as a city with conveniently-located amenities as the thin edge of the wedge, a slippery slope to sustainability that would destroy their business model. So they go on the attack, using the well-worn but still effective tropes of antigovernment rhetoric.

I'm sure many of the people railing against a walkable community don't even realize they have been duped into the service of an industry that literally threatens the long-term viability of the planet for human civilization, all in the name of continued near-term profits.

A reminder that fossil fuel companies have known since the 1960s that their product causes global warming and threatens global human civilization. Their own scientists did the foundational research of modern climate science.

But instead of responding to this by transitioning away from extracting and burning fossil fuels, they decided instead to launch a broad, long-term campaign to delay, undermine and sabotage the growing public consensus about climate science and its policy implications.

It is probably already too late to hold warming below 2 degrees Celsius this century, but they're still at it to this very day, relentlessly funding denialist propaganda and disinformation and fomenting aggression against public health policy and the basic idea of civil society.

And they have been enormously successful. Like, if we can't even agree that it makes sense for an urban neighbourhood to have various amenities within walking distance, how on earth are we going to be able to tackle the actually hard problems in climate transition?!?