Letter to the We Campaign

Kinds folks at the We Campaign.

I love what you’re doing, and am excited about the campaign. But to look through your site, and see nary a decent mention or section explaining the energy/emissions ramifications of where we choose to live is really disheartening.  We’re never going to radically lower our emissions unless we begin driving less, even if we adopt the most stringent proposed fuel and mileage standards.

New research (highlighted in the just-released book Growing Cooler: The Evidence on Urban Development and Climate Change) shows that expecting to solve the climate crisis by pinning our hopes on more efficient cars or cleaner fuels, while continuing the same form of disconnected, auto-dependent development, will leave us worse off than when we started, mostly because of the skyrocketing amount of driving that we will all have to do to traverse the landscape.

But there’s good news: Research by EPA and others shows that residents of compact, walkable neighborhoods and places drive nearly 1/3 less than their auto-dependent suburban counterparts.

Just a sentence on the website that says “take public transportation” as a solution doesn’t cut it. People who live near public transportation DO take it. And in great numbers. But getting new lines, new systems, and new investment into places across the country is what’s really needed. Most people drive everywhere, simply because they are given no other realistic option, due to the separated-use pattern of development for the last 50 years. And our government massively subsidizes the costs of new roads that simply invite more sprawl and more traffic, while making transit projects jump through endless hoops and prove cost-effectiveness — standards that road projects don’t have to meet.

Rather than pinning our hopes on brilliant scientists coming up with a zero-emission, 100 mpg vehicle that will replace the millions of cars today on the road overnight, Growing Cooler presents a much more ready-made solution:

Simply meet the pent-up, unmet, underserved market demand for walkable, connected neighborhoods in places that are close to school, work, retail, and recreation, with a plethora of transit options: whether a short drive, a walk, a bike ride, or a bus/train trip away.

Transportation represents a third of our total emissions, and expecting to stem the climate crisis while hoping properly-inflated tires and compact florescent light bulbs are going to do the job just isn’t all that inspiring.

Invest in public transportation. Quit subsidizing single-use sprawl, which the housing market is starting to indicate might be overbuilt anyway. Meet the demand for more housing options in areas where people can do what they need to with a car.

It’s not about forcing people to live in high rises or “give up the car.” People will continue to live in car-based suburbs for the forseeable future. But there’s a reason why my neighborhood in Washington, DC sells at a price premium while the exurbs are plummeting in value. It’s a form of development that we’ve largely quit producing en masse for the last 50 years. And it’s a place that affords me the opportunity to easily have a carbon footprint nearly 2/3 less than my counterparts in the suburbs and exurbs.

Again, we’re excited about the We Campaign, but this is a gross oversight that you should really be embracing. Even both Democratic presidential candidates have gone farther than your recommendations in their respective energy and transportation platforms.

People are desperately looking for these places to live in. We’ve got to do more to encourage the market, and to get people to understand where a large chunk of their emissions come from — and what they can do about it with a simple decision about “where to live.”

The emissions savings on a green house in a location where someone has to drive 100 miles a day are totally overwhelmed by the emissions from their car, even if they’re driving a Prius. We’ve simply got to reduce the amount of driving we have to do. Until that happens, all the little changes are going to be window dressing on a house that’s sinking into the mud faster and faster.

That’s where the we campaign can take up the reins and help people connect the dots. I hope you’ll seize the opportunity to make this happen.

Feel free to contact us for more information. We’d be happy to connect you with the book’s authors or other experts who can speak to this gap in your platform.

Growing Cooler: https://smartgrowthamerica.org/gcindex.html

Energy and Climate: How smart growth relates: https://smartgrowthamerica.org/climate.html

Steve Davis
Communications Associate
Smart Growth America