Can’t Fix Climate Without Fixing Land Use

Given the ins-and-outs of legislative bargaining, I think it’s arguably for the best that draft climate legislation in the Senate doesn’t do much of anything about how we use land. But as Christopher Leinberger argues on the merits this is really a topic that can’t be avoided. 30 percent of emissions come from transportation and 40 percent come from buildings. Walkable urbanism can bring that way down:

We now know that walkable urban development — where most daily trips from home can be made by walking, bike, or transit and where houses unintentionally shares their heat with the next door neighbor — uses far less energy and emits far less GHGs than the conventional drivable sub-urban household. Drivable suburban households are dependent on their cars for nearly all trips from a house with all sides exposed to the elements. Research shows that these urban households use and emit one- to two-thirds of the energy and GHGs of a car-dependent suburban household. The Urban Land Institute estimates, following three studies, that transportation-only GHG emissions reduction from walkable urban development could reduce total GHG emissions by 10 to 20 percent by 2050 alone.

We need policy that promotes demand-mitigation measures so more Americans will use less energy and emit less GHGs by where and how they live, work, and recreate. The fact that there is pent-up market demand for low GHG-emitting pedestrian-friendly urban development makes this a relatively easy policy for consumers to accept to boot.

To put this perhaps another way, what makes these measures such winners as a climate strategy is that they’re cases where we have more GHG emissions than we otherwise might simply because we’re using the land in an economically inefficient way. Changing policies to allow denser development will boost economic growth and help offset less growth-friendly measures like higher electricity costs for industrial production.