Less Auto-Dependent Development is Key to Reducing Global Warming Pollution, According to New Report

Groups Say Legislation to Encourage Efficient Land Use is Essential to Achieving California’s Global Warming Targets

OAKLAND, Calif. (September 20, 2007) – California needs to harness the power of smart growth if it’s going to achieve its ambitious global warming pollution reduction targets, according to a coalition of conservation and planning groups. The groups released a new national report, which shows that meeting demand for conveniently located homes in walkable neighborhoods could significantly reduce the growth in the number of miles Americans drive, reducing global warming pollution while giving people more housing choices.
“Efficient land use and compact development are the missing pieces of the global warming puzzle,” said Amanda Eaken, a policy expert with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “They’re key to reducing the growth in miles driven. If we don’t rein in this growing source of pollution, it will overwhelm our other efforts to reduce global warming emissions.”
The report “Growing Cooler: The Evidence on Urban Development and Climate Change” was released today by ClimatePlan, a coalition of California conservation and planning groups. It concludes that development patterns are both a key contributor to global warming and an essential factor in combating it. It warns that if sprawling development continues to fuel growth in driving, a projected 59 percent increase in the total miles driven nationally between 2005 and 2030 will overwhelm expected gains from vehicle efficiency and low-carbon fuels.
“Clean cars and fuels alone aren’t enough to reduce our tailpipe pollution,” said Rico Mastrodonato, Northern California Director for the California League of Conservation Voters (CLCV). “We need to design communities to make ourselves less dependent on driving.”
California ’s residents are driving more than ever before, fueling increases in carbon dioxide emissions. Spread-out development is the key factor in that rate of growth, according to the report.
Because so many new communities require a car for every trip, vehicle miles traveled (VMT) has increased at nearly twice the rate of California’s population. Today 41 percent of California’s global warming emissions are produced by the transportation sector. Unless we change our growth and development patterns, VMT will increase by 70 percent in the next 30 years, according to the groups.
“We need to start designing our communities for people, not cars,” said Stephanie Reyes, senior policy advocate with Greenbelt Alliance. “We need to create more homes that people can afford near where they work, shop and play. People need more options for how to get around.”
On average, Americans living in compact neighborhoods where cars are not the only transportation option drive one-third fewer miles than those in typical automobile-oriented places, such as subdivisions and office parks, the report found. The report cites real estate projections showing that two-thirds of development expected to be on the ground in 2050 is not yet built. In California about 52 percent of all development that will exist in 2030 will have been built after 2000. The report calculates that shifting 60 percent of new growth nationally to compact patterns would save 53 million tons of carbon dioxide annually by 2030, equivalent to a 16 percent increase in fuel economy standards.
“Growing smarter also is smart for our pocketbooks,” said Stuart Cohen, executive director of the Transportation and Land Use Coalition. “Californians spend $44 billion each year on imported fuel. Our addiction to oil reduces our purchasing power and exposes us to price spikes at the gas pump.”
The report’s findings show that people who move into compact, “green neighborhoods” are making as big a contribution to fighting global warming as those who buy the most efficient hybrid vehicles, but who remain in car-dependent areas. While demand for such smart-growth development is growing, government regulations, government spending, and transportation policies all still favor sprawling, automobile-dependent development. The report recommends changes in all three areas to make green neighborhoods more available and more affordable. It also calls for including smart-growth strategies as a fundamental tenet in global warming plans at the local, state and federal levels. 
In California conservationists are calling for passage of SB 375, a bill requiring the California Air Resources Board to establish an emissions target for personal vehicles and light trucks on a regional basis. The bill provides incentives for local governments and developers to provide housing and jobs close to transportation and transit corridors. Conservationists had hoped SB 375 would pass this summer, and they say it will be one of their top priorities in the 2008 legislative session.
“California's international leadership on climate change was established with the passage of the Global Warming Solutions Act,” said Senator Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), author of SB 375. “We cannot implement this landmark law unless we start planning for growth, housing, jobs and our transportation infrastructure on a regional basis.”
The “Growing Cooler” study represents a collaboration among leading urban planning researchers at the University of Maryland, the University of Utah, Fehr and Peers Associates, the Center for Clean Air Policy (a ClimatePlan member), and the Urban Land Institute. Smart Growth America coordinated the multi-disciplinary team that developed the recommended policy actions and is leading a broad coalition to develop those strategies further.
ClimatePlan is a newly-formed coalition of more than a dozen California organizations including the Natural Resources Defense Council, California League of Conservation Voters, Transportation and Land Use Coalition, Greenbelt Alliance, California Center for Regional Leadership, Local Government Commission, Center for Clean Air Policy, and American Farmland Trust.
“ClimatePlan is a new network of organizations that have come together to help decision makers understand the land use and global warming connection,” said Seth Miller, interim CEO of the California Center for Regional Leadership.