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Growing Cooler: Climate Change Is Just Another Air-Pollution Regulation Problem

Sep 24, 2007

The smart growth crowd has weighed in on global warming, suggesting that more compact development patterns could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 7-10%. Why? Because there's significant evidence that compact development patterns reduce vehicle miles traveled; and without the introduction of cleaner-burning fuels, the only way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles is to reduce driving.

But this is not likely to happen without more tough regulation that links emissions with land use.

At least that's the argument contained in a new report called "Growing Cooler: The Evidence on Urban Development and Climate Change." And it's a sobering argument as California seeks to implement AB 32.

The report has received a lot of publicity because it was issued by the Urban Land Institute. But it was really a collaborative effort between ULI, the National Center for Smart Growth at the University of Maryland, Smart Growth America, and the Center for Clean Air Policy. The authors included such familiar smart growth names as Reid Ewing, Don Chen, and David Goldberg.

The report doesn't present any new research results. Rather, it re-packages a lot of existing research on smart growth and compact development in the context of climate change. Nevertheless, a lot of it is interesting.

The report drives home the point that the greenhouse-gas emissions issue is really not very different from any other air pollution. The report concludes that any reduction in carbon dioxide emissions is likely to be offset by an increase in driving pretty much the same thing that has happened, at least in California, with carbon monoxide emissions over the last 40 years.

And the report's main policy recommendation is to create a greenhouse-gas emissions conformity provision for regional transportation plans. This would be the same conformity requirement that currently exists for other air pollutants.

So there you go: This is just another air pollution problem. And California faces the same tough choices on greenhouse gas emissions as we have faced for decades on other emissions. Except in this case, the goal isn't to curb the increase in emissions. The goal is to reduce emissions by a lot. Which means any solution is going to force radical change in the way we live.

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