Urban Planning


Thin Climate Strategy in Bay Area Transit Plan

3273414070_fd61bfa09a_mThe new Draft Transportation 2035 Plan released Wednesday by the Bay Area’s Metropolitan Transportation Commission calls for $226 billion in spending over the next 25 years to “confront global warming and traffic congestion.”  But close up, the plans seems more like a sorely needed band-aid to patch up the region’s ailing transit infrastructure.  Fully 82% of the plan’s funding is designated for upgrading and maintaining the existing system, with 13% allotted for transit expansions.

The plan includes $400 million (0.2%) for a “Transportation Climate Action Campaign”  to raise public awareness about climate change and individual actions that residents can take to reduce the region’s carbon footprint. The campaign will also include a grants program to subsidize demonstration projects  for reducing auto emissions with alternative fuels or car-sharing projects.  An additional $1 billion is set aside for bicycle facilities and programs.

But when, by the MTC’s own numbers, 40% of the Bay Area’s emissions come from the transportation sector, $1.4 billion to fight greenhouse gas emissions seems paltry given that this is the plan to carry us through to 2035. By law, California’s greenhouse gas emissions need to be reduced approximately 30% by 2020.

MTC Executive Director Steve Heminger said the plan “tees up two strategies that we have consistently indentified as the most important in making progress in reducing environmental emissions like CO2, in reducing vehicle miles of travel, and those are road pricing, and a better link to land use without transportation investment.”

The idea is that reducing traffic congestion by increasing the cost of driving, be it with higher bridge tolls or charging drivers to use HOV lanes,  greenhouse gas emissions will decrease.  And by upgrading aspects of the region’s transit system, more people will choose to forgo the car and opt for public transit.

“From an infrastructure perspective, I think this plan is about as climate positive as it could be,” said Heminger.

Use the audio players to hear Heminger explain how the plan attacks climate change:

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Green Index a Green Light for California Economy?

ggheadlands.jpgA new study from the privately funded think tank Next 10 will be released today, making the case for an economic revival based on giving the state and the nation a “green” overhaul. The study includes the latest reading in Next 10’s California Green Innovation Index, begun a year ago.

Next 10 is essentially using California as a case study, showing that you can have it both ways; growing and greening at the same time (the same argument advanced by President Obama and Al Gore, among others), and that other states can choose to follow California’s lead. According to the report, California’s “energy productivity” is 68% higher than the nation as a whole. Next 10 defines energy productivity as the total economic growth produced per unit of energy.

Much of the story is told in one especially interesting graph (p. 14 of the report), which shows diverging trend lines for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and GDP (gross domestic product, by which they really mean gross state product). The graph shows that since 1990, GHG emissions, measured per capita, have dropped, despite a fairly steady rise in GDP.

Next 10 interprets that divergence to mean that emissions need not be linked to prosperity. By extension, they’re also saying that prosperity and energy efficiency do go hand-in-hand. Next 10’s economists argue that a good chunk of those economic gains came from energy savings, as the state became more efficient.

There are some flashing yellow lights in the report. For instance, while Calfornians have been able to reduce the number of vehicle miles traveled (VMT) per capita, total miles keep rising with the growing population. Reducing vehicle miles is one of the most effective (and challenging) ways of reducing GHG emissions. The newly passed anti-sprawl legislation (SB-375) aims to reverse–or at least slow–this trend.

Loaded to the gunwales with  wonky goodies, the report is more a rear-view mirror than a predictive tool. When I reminded Next 10’s lead economist Doug Henton of the old investment caveat, “Past performance is not an indicator of future returns,” he said he sees no reason to think that California’s energy productivity curve is topping out, i.e. reaching that “point of diminishing returns” that they teach you in Econ 101. He cites a record $3.3 billion in venture capital for related technologies last year.

Two Billion Cars

We already have one billion, worldwide. Transportation researcher Dan Sperling says that stands to double within about a generation, with unthinkable consequences for air quality and climate change.

But it’s his job to think about the unthinkable. Sperling is a founder of the UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies and a member of the California Air Resources Board. He talks about his new book, Two Billion Cars, on today’s podcast of NPR’s Fresh Air.

PPIC Analyst: Start Adapting Now to Climate Change

This is a guest post from Louise Bedsworth, research fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California.  She and PPIC Research Director Ellen Hanak are co-authors of the report: “Preparing California for a Changing Climate,”  which we wrote about here last month. The report discusses the challenges that climate change poses for a number of the state’s environmental and resource institutions and how well prepared we are for addressing these challenges.

What is adaptation to climate change and why do we need it now?

We have discussed our report on preparing for climate change with a variety of audiences over the past several weeks, beginning with a half-day event in Sacramento on December 2nd that included state leaders, representatives from environmental organizations, and city officials from all over California.  We found that while the topic of adaptation can seem to be all doom and gloom, there are several programs in place and underway that should help California prepare for the effects of climate change that we can’t prevent. One important question that keeps coming up at these events is why we need to be thinking about adapting to global warming now that the state has focused on fighting it.

Adaptation, or climate change preparedness, refers to the adjustments that can be made to help to cope with the effects of climate change.  These impacts include higher temperatures, accelerated sea level rise, and disruptions to the state’s water supply, all of which have real consequences for California.  For example, the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission has prepared maps showing what the Bay would look like with one meter of sea level rise.  These maps show the significant impacts on San Francisco Bay communities and infrastructure, including inundation of the region’s airports and Silicon Valley.

Ideally, adaptive actions will help to reduce vulnerability in the face of change or to improve resiliency.  Even under the most optimistic scenarios (e.g., successful emission reductions globally), some amount of climate change appears to be inevitable.

Adaptation goes in hand-in-hand with efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  Generally speaking, the more successful efforts to reduce emissions are, the less adaptation will be needed.  And, some efforts to reduce emissions – such as energy efficiency – will also help us adapt by lessening energy use under high demand conditions.  But, adaptation and mitigation efforts can be in conflict – for example, planting non-native trees either to store carbon or provide shade can help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but could place additional stress on efforts to protect native species in a changing climate.  To avoid such conflicts now and in the future, adaptation needs to be well-defined and integrated in the current climate policy discussion in California.

A recent report from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies found significant obstacles to climate change adaptation in the United States.  These were similar to barriers that we observed for California – uncertainty in the science of climate change, lack of funding or resources, regulatory and legal obstacles, and lack of political will or incentive.

But, we also found some reasons to optimistic about the prospects for adaptation in California.  Water and electricity agencies appear to be out in front on adaptation and overcoming these obstacles.  As service providers, both water and electricity providers have an incentive (and an obligation) to be considering adaptation.  They are used to doing long-range planning and weathering supply uncertainties.  Finally, and very importantly, water and electricity providers have a rate-payer base that can provide funding for undertaking adaptation.  In addition, there are tools in other sectors that can help with adaptation.  There are public health programs such as disease tracking and heat emergency plans that can provide a starting point for developing climate change preparedness.

As the California Resources Agency develops the state’s Climate Adaptation Strategy, the knowledge and experience from these programs should provide a solid starting point.