Sunday, November 18, 2007

To change the climate, change the burbs?

The recent Energy and Climate in New Jersey report, sponsored by Rutgers University, said it will be tough, but possible, to meet New Jersey's environmental goal of reducing the output of heat-trapping greenhouse gases to 1990 levels by 2020.

To get there, it will be necessary to reverse the state and nation's entrenched suburban mindset, says Richard Hossay, a professor of political science at Richard Stockton College and consultant to sustainable-development projects.

"If we're going to handle climate change, we've got to get people out of their cars," Hossay told an audience last week in Ocean County, NJ.

The fact that transportation emissions make up 64 percent of greenhouse gases in the United States skews the environmental costs for other parts of society, he said, noting that the single biggest emission cost associated with schools comes from parents' vehicles--"those SUVs making two trips a day to pick up and drop off."

To evolve away from car-dependent lifestyles, "we need to change the balance of incentives," says Hossay. To reduce fuel use from carrying children every morning, that means putting housing close to schools, and spending money for better traffic safety and more police, so parents feel confident their children can walk to classes safely.

Reversing the trend toward large-lot, single-family homes on suburban fringes means changing a lot of attitudes, from those of home buyers to environmental activists, Hossay cautions.

"When you put a house on 5 or 10 acres, it seems like you're preserving the watershed," he said, but he notes that the disturbance associated with that kind of development brings other environmental problems. Hossay advocates a return to smaller, mixed-use developments with homes clustered close together and stores and services within walking distance.

With the right incentives, convenience and economic self-interest will lead people to use less energy, he says.

For more, see today's Asbury Park Press story by environmental writer Kirk Moore.

DEP ties global warming goal to auto emissions lawsuit

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