Letter: Account for development’s impact
June 7, 2018
To paraphrase Hamlet: to build or not to build, that is the question. Hamlet was considering life or death. If we believe the thousands of scientists that warn us of impending climate disaster, we are also considering an existential question. Of course, I'm referring to a land use question. Building, which is typically a form of growth, is a question for all levels of society. But let's narrow it down to this valley.
Since the 2008 crisis things have been gathering steam. Both private and government have been going at it. We've gained schools, police buildings, homes, commercial buildings, multifamily, and much more in the pipeline. At the same time our communities have formulated new climate and energy plans that speak to drastically reducing the valley's greenhouse gas emissions. Those emissions, as we know, are mostly from the operation of our buildings and our transportation. Other activities include five ski areas and numerous golf courses.
These new energy plans encourage increasing the efficiency of buildings and taking steps to "green" transportation as well as to change our personal energy habits. Targets are set to reduce energy use by a certain percentage by a given year. Local planning rules specify better practices, and local building departments are adopting codes that require more efficiency.
What we do not have are penalties for not meeting the emission reduction targets. Nor do we have the specific steps that ruling bodies must take to ensure the goals are met. And yet, developments are being approved without the knowledge of whether these new sources of emissions will make it impossible to meet the goals. There is no "budget." All that is asked is that the new construction be more efficient than older buildings. All these new buildings will still emit greenhouse gases.
But it doesn't stop with the new buildings. There are "external" and "driven" emissions related to any new development. None of that is accounted for in their approvals. There are emissions just in the construction process. There are "embodied" emissions that result from producing and delivering the materials. Any new business requires people to work in it.
People need places to live, and they need the support of the local communities to live here. That is: health care, police, fire protection, schools, day care, recreation and more. By continuing to increase the local population and economy we are making the goals of emission reductions harder if not impossible to achieve.
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I'm calling this fraud. The community leaders tell us they want to fix a problem, then they do just the opposite and make it worse.
Drastic steps need to be taken. Our land use codes have made promises to property owners that certain things may be done with their property. As Spock would say: The needs of many are greater than the wants of the few. Development authorities need a new word in their vocabularies: "No." I would not allow the construction of another single family house.
Portland, Oregon, has passed such a law. I would not allow the construction of another building that does not produce more energy than it will consume; and that must include the energy consumed by all that would work there, and all the energy related to the products or services.
We are in a phase, not of business as usual, but of more business than usual. The answer to Hamlet is: "not to build." The future depends on it.