Tackling Climate Change With Land Use

This opinion piece looks at how technology alone can't be depended on to solve the environmental threats of climate change. Land use and development patterns must also be addressed.

"California is on the cutting edge of America's efforts to reverse climate change, right? And the Bay Area is on the cutting edge of California, right?

Then why are we building like it's 1957, and the best thing we can think of is driving on the freeway? Maybe this is what makes it different: Now we can drive hybrids on the freeway.

Guess we're on the cutting edge, after all."

"Last year, California - in an act that really was on the cutting edge - passed the Global Warming Solutions Act to reduce the state's total greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020. That's an ambitious goal.

Now we have to get there.

The clear first step is to tackle transportation... Transportation accounts for almost half of all the greenhouse gas emissions in the Bay Area and statewide.

There are two main ways to reduce emissions from transportation... increasing fuel economy and using low-carbon fuels ("technology"); and decreasing the number of miles driven ("travel").

Technological improvements are important.... But technology isn't enough. Even with the new vehicle-emissions law, California's total emissions from transportation in 2020 are projected to be 6 percent higher - not lower - than they are today. This is because the number of miles we drive will increase. Here in the Bay Area, it's predicted that for every 4 miles we drive now, we'll be driving 5 in 2020.

Our cars will be more fuel-efficient, but we'll be driving them more. So we'll be right back at square one - or really, square negative one - because the impacts of our travel will probably have overwhelmed the benefits of our technology.

We need to do a lot more if we're actually going to reduce our emissions. We've got to reduce the amount we drive.

To do that, we need to build in a way that makes it easy to get around. We need to build more homes near jobs, and make sure people can afford those homes. We need to build neighborhoods with shops, services, good public transit, and parks - all within easy walking distance of homes.

It might seem like it's too late to talk about building so we don't have to drive as much. Our cities are already built, aren't they? Well, recent studies have estimated that half of all development that will be around in 2030 hasn't been built yet. There's still time. We can still choose how development should look."

"We know it'll work to drive less. Let's build our cities to make it possible."

Thanks to Elizabeth Stampe

Full Story: Technology alone won't tame climate-change juggernaut



Not According to Cato . . .

Reading this article, I think it is a good reminder of why rational government land use planning is critical to yield positive community impacts that otherwise would be externalized by the market. And I am thinking particularly about a ridiculous article in the Christian Science Monitor that argued to the contrary: http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/1018/p09s01-coop.html


That CS Monitor article

That CS Monitor article said, for instance, that, Planning of other people's land and resources fails because planners will not pay the costs they impose on other people, so they have no incentive to find the best answers.

Most of the nation's 32,000 professional planners graduated from schools that are closely affiliated with colleges of architecture, giving them an undue faith in design. This means many plans put enormous efforts into trying to control urban design while they neglect other tools that could solve social problems at a much lower cost.

(The example they immediately give is:
"For example, planners propose to reduce automotive air pollution by increasing population densities to reduce driving. Yet the nation's densest urban area, Los Angeles, which is seven times as dense as the least dense areas, has only 8 percent less commuting by auto. In contrast, technological improvements over the past 40 years, which planners often ignore, have reduced the pollution caused by some cars by 99 percent.")

Try thinking of their point in different terms. What I mean is these terms
also cited on Planetizen today; what I mean is government thinking in terms of people first and places second (Glaeser's point, and probably something CS Monitor was onto), even when that means thinking of jobs first and design potential last.

Prepare for the AICP Exam

Join the thousands of students who have utilized the Planetizen AICP* Exam Preparation Class to prepare for the American Planning Association's AICP* exam.
Starting at $199
Planetizen Courses image ad

Planetizen Courses

Advance your career with subscription-based online courses tailored to the urban planning professional.
Starting at $14.95 a month

City Coasters

Hand-drawn engraved maps of your favorite neighborhoods are divided up across 4 coasters making each one unique.
Red necktie with map of Boston

Tie one on to celebrate your city

Choose from over 20 styles of neckties imprinted with detailed city or transit maps.