Sprawl a key factor in climate change | AspenTimes.com

Sprawl a key factor in climate change

Bob Berwyn
Summit County correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

Setting new standards for cars and trucks is only part of the answer when it comes to cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Land-use development patterns are also a key contributor to climate change, and an essential factor in combating it, a new study from the Urban Land Use Institute concludes.

Colorado is a major culprit when it comes to sprawl-induced traffic. Spread-out development is the key factor in that rate of growth, the research team found.

In 1980 Coloradans drove 22 million miles annually.

By 2005 that figure jumped to 47 million miles, a 114 percent increase.

The projected 59 percent increase in total miles driven between 2005 and 2030 threatens to overwhelm any greenhouse gas cuts achieved by adopting tighter fuel efficiency and emissions standards for vehicles.

Altering sprawling development patterns by meeting the demand for walkable neighborhoods could help shave carbon footprints and cut down on other types of pollution at the same time.

How big a factor is development? Urban Land Use director Michael Leccese said that shifting 60 percent of new growth to compact patterns could cut carbon dioxide emissions by 85 million metric tons annually.

By comparison, a recent blue ribbon panel report concludes that adopting stricter California-level emission standards for cars and trucks would reduce greenhouse gas output by 3.4 million metric tons between now and 2030.

“It’s not a question of foisting a different lifestyle on people. We just need to do more of what we’re doing,” said Democratic state Rep. Claire Levy, who represents western Boulder County, and Clear Creek and Gilpin counties.

“There is more demand for these types of neighborhoods than you might suspect,” Levy said.

But government policies and entrenched planning bureaucracies represent a challenge.

“Government regulations, government spending, and transportation policies all still favor sprawling, automobile-dependent development,” Levy said, urging state lawmakers to look at “smart growth” as a weapon in the fight against global warming.