BY WENDELL COX – Congratulations to America. According to the US Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions were reduced 526 million tons from 2005 to 2011. This is no small amount. It is about the same as all the CO2 emissions in either Canada or the United Kingdom. Only five other nations emit more than that.
The bigger news is that this was accomplished without any of the intrusive behavioral modification proposed by planners, such as by California’s anti-detached housing restrictions, Plan Maryland, or the state of Washington’s mandatory driving reduction program.
Of course, part of the national reduction was due to the economic difficulties since 2005. However, even with 1.8 percent gross domestic product growth in 2011, EIA shows that CO2 emissions fell 2.4 percent in 2011.
The magnitude of the decline over six years is impressive. Actual GHG/CO2 emissions were reduced more annually between 2005 and 2011 than smart growth proponents claim for their strategies after 45 years of draconian policy intrusions.Modeled smart growth forecasts in Moving Cooler’s middle scenario (by Cambridge Systematics and the Urban Land Institute) show the annual GHG/CO2 emission reduction in 2050, calculated from 2005, to be less than the emissions reduction in the average year between 2005 and 2011.
This is despite what would be four decades of trying to force people to live where they don’t want, in housing they don’t prefer, while trying to drive them out of the cars that required to sustain economic growth in modern metropolitan areas.
Moving Cooler’s forced densification and anti-automobile strategies were so radical that the Transportation Research Board authors of Driving and the Built Environment, could not agree that a similar approach was feasible, because it would be prevented by public resistance to the personal and political intrusions (Note 1). They would also be hideously expensive, as the Moving Cooler authors ignored the much higher costs of housing associated with smart growth’s behavioral strategies.
This comparison demonstrates the conclusion of a recent Cambridge University (United Kingdom) led study (see “Questioning the Messianic Conception of Smart Growth”, which stated:
In many cases, the potential socioeconomic consequences of less housing choice, crowding, and congestion may outweigh its very modest CO2 reduction benefits.
Government policies have had little to do with the reductions, except to the extent that they precipitated the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression (such as by encouraging loose lending standards and the smart growth housing policies that drove house prices up so much that the housing bust became inevitable).
Market forces have made a substantial contribution to the reduction. There was a substantial shift to the use of natural gas from coal, a conversion that is really only starting. There was also a modest improvement in automobile fuel efficiency (though much more is to come).
In 2007, the McKinsey Corporation and The Conference Board published a study (co-sponsored by the Environmental Defense and the Natural Resources Defense Council), which said that sufficient GHG emissions reductions (Note 2) could be achieved without driving less or living in more dense housing. Our more recent Reason Foundation report showed that the potential for GHG emission reduction from more fuel efficient cars and carbon neutral housing far outweighed any potential for reductions from smart growth’s behavior modification.
Note 1: Transport consultant Alan E. Pisarski evaluated Moving Cooler in an article entitled ULI Moving Cooler Report: Greenhouse Gases, Exaggerations and Misdirections.
Note 2: Most of GHG emissions are CO2.
Wendell Cox is principal of Wendell Cox Consultancy (Demographia), an international public policy firm and specializes in urban policy, transport and demographics.