Thursday, November 5, 2009

Climate Change & Land Use

Over the last week or so there has been an debate on the Environmental Law Professors listserv about climate change. John Nolon sent an interesting overview of his latest article on how encouraging more compact land use addresses climate change and a host of other environmental concerns.   Following is the text of that e-mail, posted here with Professor Nolon's permission.

'One of the ways of appealing to the priority environmental concerns of Americans, which do not yet include climate change, is to focus on policies that reduce carbon dioxide through compact, mixed use developments that improve energy efficiency in buildings and reduce driving.  In a forthcoming article in William & Mary Environmental Law & Policy Review, I calculate that doubling the density of future development, as 100 million more Americans join the population in the next three decades, will decrease carbon dioxide emissions by 1.2 Gt/yr compared to housing them at current densities.

"The article suggests that focusing on land use settlement patterns may be one method of reaching the hearts and minds of Americans. Here are two excerpts [footnotes and calculations omitted]:

Much has been made of a recent Gallup poll showing that Americans are not overly concerned about the effects of “global warming.”  …. Instead, the pollution of drinking water is their greatest environmental concern: fifty-nine percent worry “a great deal” about the issue. Fifty-two percent worry a great deal about the pollution of surface waters, fifty-two percent about toxic contamination of soil and water, forty-nine percent over the supply of fresh water, forty-five percent about air pollution,  forty-two percent about the loss of tropical rain forests, thirty-seven percent about species extinction, and only thirty-four percent about global warming.  As the narrative in this section demonstrates, the Land Use Stabilization Wedge, although framed in terms of climate change mitigation, deals directly with most of these concerns.  Analyzing the Gallup poll results reminds us that everything in the environment is connected and that American’s first concerns are those they see first hand.  It is unremarkable that those polled are more concerned about their nearby streams and rivers, their own drinking water, and the air above their communities: all of which are stressed because of the effects of “global warming” and sprawling development patterns, which increase CO2 emissions.  The effects of our current human settlement patterns, other than increasing CO2 emission, include polluted runoff from impervious coverage, ground water and fresh water depletion due to high per household water usage, GHG pollution of the atmosphere, deforestation due to development, and species extinction due to land development, temperature increases, flooding, and drought.

* * *

Illustrative of the type of development that is within the power of municipalities to encourage, and that reduces energy consumption and CO2 emissions, is Hudson Park, which is an enhanced transit oriented development project in Yonkers, New York.  Located next to the main commuter rail station in the downtown, it is designed for and marketed to young professionals, most of whom commute to Manhattan or one of the other New York City boroughs.  Hudson Park occupies 4.362 acres and contains 560 rental apartments, along with 15,000 square feet of commercial and office use.

The density of this development is 128 dwelling units per acre, much more than the 15 dwelling units per acre used for the climate change mitigation calculations above, but somewhat typical of the residential density needed around express-stop transit stations to generate the ridership required to make commuter rail service economically viable.  If we could shift 25 percent of the nation’s next 100 million residents (25 million people or 10 million households) from single-family dwellings on quarter acre lots to developments such as Hudson Park, the corollary benefits to the environment would be dramatic.  To illustrate, such a shift would prevent 876,951 acres of impervious coverage, and achieve annual reductions of 477 billion gallons of stormwater runoff and 394 billion gallons of potable water consumption.

Professor Nolon has written extensively and interestingly about what he terms "local environmental law" and how land use impacts environmental concerns.  I'm looking forward to reading this forthcoming article.

Jamie Baker Roskie

Community Design, Density, Development, Environmental Law, Housing, New Urbanism, Smart Growth, Sprawl, Water | Permalink

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How do I get on this listserv?

Posted by: Michael Lewyn | Jul 7, 2010 2:36:01 PM