To fight global climate change, fight global sprawl

The drive-through lifestyle, exported by America and adopted worldwide, is the “operating system for growth” that is a root cause of rising carbon emissions.

Michael Mehaffy explains how the ‘drive-through’ lifestyle, started in America and exported throughout the world, involves a lot of other patterns of consumption that feed off each other, exacerbating problems of sprawl and global degradation.

The point is, this is a global inter-locking system, working as a kind of “operating system for growth.” We call it “sprawl” for shorthand—but as most of us recognize, it’s not just low-density development, but an entire inter-locking, now international system of physical and economic development. It includes all the economic practices, lending rules, engineering standards, zoning codes, and all the other “operating system” elements, at local, national and international scales.

The other important thing to note about this system, as most of us know but tend to forget, is that it didn’t just happen: it was planned. The system of sprawl, the current “operating system for growth,” was not the natural outcome of American consumer tastes or inevitable market evolution, as some mythology still holds. It was created consciously by businesspeople, politicians, architects and planners, for what seemed like good reasons at the time.  It was and is a choice, one that is now being made on a global scale, as the McDonalds examples show. And it was and is immensely profitable. Of course, the problem is that it is fundamentally unsustainable, and it incurs other catastrophic costs—like climate change.

We have the option of a truly more urban model—with more transportation choices, more diversity and mix of uses, more walkable streets and public spaces, and more vitality and “critical mass.”  Those things are all very good for climate change.

Wildfires are becoming more destructive. A new book says that’s not natural — and it’s not climate change

“Flame and Fortune in the American West,” a book by University of Colorado Denver professor Gregory Simon argues that increasing devastation by fire is a result of building homes and businesses in unwise places, rather than the easy scapegoat of ‘climate change’. An interview with the author discusses economics and development patterns that increase fire risk at the urban boundary:

“One objective of the book is to say, look, you can change land use planning in this way or that way, you can change the rules, you can change development to reduce fire risks and costs. But the other part of the book is concerned with how we talk about fire. I argue that when we suggest the problem is caused mainly by climate change and environmental factors we are actually exonerating — unfairly — the role of humans and city developers in creating these risks in the first place …  We keep spreading cities farther and farther out and I think that needs to be part of the discourse. Fires disasters aren’t natural, they’re very social.

I propose ways in which we can slow down this process of converting landscape, and adding risk to the landscapes and extracting profits from landscapes, by doing things like taking land out of availability through conservation easements or making development more costly, whether that means reducing fire protection services or reducing home ownership incentives.”