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Tackling Climate Change With Land Use

<p>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.</p>
October 26, 2007, 7am PDT | Nate Berg
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"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

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Published on Sunday, October 21, 2007 in The San Francisco Chronicle
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