January 22, 1994
Lester R. Brown and John E. Young
1776 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20036-1904
Re: Global Network: Computers in a Sustainable Society
Thank you for your interesting paper on good uses of the computer. Sharing email addresses is one of the best ways to facilitate the fast worldwide education that is necessary to "save the world".
And I liked the way you also presented the negative side of the computer (e.g. toxics released during fabrication). However, you "missed the boat" on computer modelling, presenting the good side but ignoring the bad. You really should tell the full story, because an enormous amount of damage is being done via computer modelling, and it is a subject that very few people understand. Let me give just two examples.
The Metropolitan Transportation Commission which controls the planning and (state and federal) funding of all transportation projects in the San Francisco Bay Area uses computer modelling to predict the air quality impacts of such projects (with the help of Greig Harvey). Their model is carefully constructed to "prove" that freeway construction and expansion improves air quality (!) and reduces fuel consumption (!). It does this partly by ignoring the growth-inducing effects of highway construction. MTC used this model to convince Federal Judge Thelton Henderson in 1990 that they were complying with the federal Clean Air Act (in a suit initiated by me and brought by the Sierra Club). (He wasn't difficult to "convince".)
Similarly, MTC, Elizabeth Deakin, and others (including most traffic engineers) have been promoting traffic signal synchronization and spending millions of dollars to implement it (or profiting from its implementation) on the basis of the same claim -- reducing air pollution and fuel consumption. However, the only "proof" of these benefits is computer modelling using a program that assumes what is to be proven!
Prof. Deakin and her husband Greig Harvey have been in great demand around the country to help other regions likewise evade the Clean Air Act and facilitate motor vehicle travel through roadway expansion and traffic signal synchronization.
I am enclosing more detailed explanations of these issues. I hope that you will have an opportunity to help expose these important threats to sustainable transportation.
Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.