The Green New Deal’s huge flaw

This
story
was originally published by Slate and is reproduced here as part of
the Climate Desk
collaboration.

There might be no better monument to the limits of American
environmentalism in the climate change era than a parking
garage in Berkeley, California
. It’s got “rooftop solar,
electric-vehicle charging stations, and dedicated spots for
car-share vehicles, rainwater capture, and water treatment
features” — not to mention 720 parking spots. It cost nearly
$40 million to build. At night, it positively glows. And it’s a
block from the downtown Berkeley BART station.

That America’s most famous progressive city, one where nearly
everything is within walking distance, spent $40 million to
renovate a parking garage one block from a subway station suggests
that progressive Democrats remain unwilling to seriously confront
the crisis of climate change. America’s largest source of
greenhouse gas emissions is transportation. In California, the
proportion of CO2 from transportation is even higher: above 40
percent. Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín anticipates that the Center
Street Parking Garage will out-green all others in the state with a
LEED Silver rating, making it a perfect example of our approach to
climate change: glibly “greening” the lives we live now, rather
than contemplating the future generations who will have to live
here too.

On Thursday, Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
and Senator Ed Markey unveiled just such a fix: the Green New Deal,
a proposal that bills itself as a plan for the environment and the
economy in equal measure. It is designed to steer America toward a
low-carbon economy, fulfill the right to clean air and clean water,
restore the American landscape, strengthen urban sustainability and
resilience, and put a generation to work. With prominent
endorsements from leading Democratic presidential candidates,
Ocasio-Cortez has brought more attention to climate change in two
months than her Democratic peers did in the past two years.

But the Green New Deal has a big blind spot: It doesn’t
address the places Americans live. And our physical geography —
where we sleep, work, shop, worship, and send our kids to play, and
how we move between those places — is more foundational to a
green, fair future than just about anything else. The proposal
encapsulates the liberal delusion on climate change: that
technology and spending can spare us the hard work of reform.

The environment

America is a nation of sprawl. More Americans live in suburbs
than in cities, and the suburbs that we build are not the gridded,
neighborly Mayberrys of our imagination. Rather, the places in
which we live are generally dispersed, inefficient, and impossible
to navigate without a car. Dead-ending cul-de-sacs and the divided
highways that connect them are such deeply engrained parts of the
American landscape that it’s easy to forget they were,
themselves, the fruits of a massive federal investment program.

Sprawl is made possible by highways. This is expensive — in
2015, the Victoria Transport Policy Institute estimated
that sprawl
costs America more than $1 trillion
a year in reduced business
activity, environmental damage, consumer expenses, and other costs.
Leaving aside the emissions from the 1.1 billion trips Americans
take per day (87 percent of which are taken in personal vehicles),
spreading everything out has eaten up an enormous amount of natural
land.

Environmentalists know transportation is the elephant in the
room. At first blush, the easiest way to attack that problem is to
electrify everything, and that’s largely what the Green New Deal
calls for, with goals like “100 percent zero emission passenger
vehicles by 2030” and “100 percent fossil-free transportation
by 2050.” The cars we drive feel more easily changeable than the
places we live.

But electric vehicles are nowhere near ready for widespread
adoption — and even if they were, “half
of the world’s consumption of oil
would remain untouched,”
Bloomberg reports. A Tesla in every driveway just won’t cut
it.

The economy

Even if there were an electric car in the garage of every
net-zero McMansion, sprawl’s regressive legacy would persist in
the economy. Sprawl requires us to spend more time and more money
to reach the places we need to go.

The strongest demonstration of this is the fact that
Americans’ jobs are far from where they live. This is
particularly true for poor
people and people of color
, a phenomenon known as “spatial
mismatch.” “Highways disproportionately benefit Americans who
own or have access to automobiles,” political scientist Clayton
Nall writes in The Road to
Inequality
. “Even when carless Americans do have access to a
car, it is not always feasible — as a result of scarce time and
financial resources — for poorer Americans to regularly drive the
distances that must be covered by suburban expressway
commuters.”

Tales of guys who have to walk an absurd number of miles to work
— until they are gifted a car — hit local news affiliates every
so often. As Angie Schmitt writes
for Streetsblog
, these are mistakenly cast as feel-good stories
about workers overcoming adversity. In reality, they testify to
the unjust
correlation
between job sprawl and racial
segregation. Sprawl
costs us all
, but it disproportionately racks up costs for poor
people, nonwhite people, and women.

All that is a result of a federal stimulus for a disconnected
pattern of development that imposes an enormous burden on our
finances, our environment, and our pursuit of equity.

The solution

In Alissa Walker’s exhaustive
report in Curbed
on why electric vehicles won’t save
California, she argues that even with breakneck advances in
renewable energy and electric cars, the country must still reduce
the number of vehicle miles traveled. EVs
won’t save the rest of America, either
.

But the good news is that if we do account for land use, we
will get much closer to a safe, sustainable, and resilient future.
And even though widespread adoption of EVs is still decades away,
reforms to our built environment can begin right now. In short, we
can fix this. We build more
than 1 million
new homes a year — we just need to put them in
the right places.

Unsprawling America isn’t as hard as it sounds, because
America is suffering from a critical, once-in-a-lifetime housing
shortage. The National Low Income Housing Coalition reported last year that
the U.S. has a national deficit of more than 7.2 million affordable
and available rental homes for families most in need. Of course, if
we build those homes in transit-accessible places, we can save
their occupants time and money. But the scale of housing demand at
this moment is such that we could build them in car-centric
suburbs, too, and provide a human density that would not just
support transit but also reduce the need to travel as shops, jobs,
and schools crop up within walking distance.

The Green New Deal is ostensibly a jobs program, an
environmental program, and a redistributive program. If it’s a
jobs program, it must wrangle with spatial mismatch. If it’s an
environmental program, it must tackle the fact that an all-electric
fleet of cars is functionally, at this time, a pipe dream. And if
it’s a redistributive program, it must grapple with how roads
paved into suburban and exurban greenfield developments deepen,
expand, and exacerbate segregation.

A Green New Deal must insist on a new, and better, land use
regime, countering decades of federal sprawl subsidy. The plan
already recognizes the need to retrofit and upgrade buildings. Why
not address their locations while we’re at it? Suggestions of
specific policies that would enable a Green New Deal to address
land use have already emerged: We could, simply, measure
greenhouse gases from our transportation system
or build
more housing closer to jobs centers
. Reallocating what we spend
on building new roads to paying for public transit instead would go
a long way toward limiting sprawl.

Where we live is no coincidence of preference. Federal policy
has enforced inequities and disparities for both the environment
and vulnerable people at a national scale. It’s never too late to
address the most fundamental aspect of our carbon footprint: where
we live. And building housing near jobs, transit, and other housing
— rather than ultra-LEED-certified parking garages — is merely
a political choice. No innovation required.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline The
Green New Deal’s huge flaw
on Feb 9, 2019.

Source: FS – All – Ecology – News 2
The Green New Deal’s huge flaw