Monday, February 25, 2008

We Can't Put the Fire Out with Gasoline

By Dave Somers and Valerie Steel

The choices made now in local land-use and zoning plans, about where our growing population will live and work and how we will get around, will lock us into development patterns that will determine our contribution to rapid, extreme climate change.

According to numerous studies, vehicle emissions comprise half of the state's greenhouse gases that fuel global warming. As Washington continues to grow, it is essential that we devise ways that allow us to live prosperously while driving less. Car-dependent sprawl is the leading cause of decreased farm and forest land, and depletion of carbon-cleaning, oxygen-producing vegetation is another factor in global warming. In the U.S., residential and commercial buildings account for approximately 65 percent of electricity consumption, 36 percent of energy use and 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. Integrating sustainable building design along with smart land use planning can reduce this consumption by up to 50 percent.

Transportation, farm and forest conversion, car-dependent land use planning and outdated construction techniques are serious issues in Snohomish County. Last year in Snohomish County, 18 percent of all new homes were built out in our rural areas, eating up valuable rural lands, creating conflicts with working forests and farms, and creating longer commutes and clogged roads. Unfortunately, the trend in rural development is increasing, not decreasing.

In order to achieve the state's goal to significantly reduce global warming pollution, fact-based, responsible decisions need to be made now so we may thrive in a way that reduces driving and meets the increasing demand for sustainable neighborhoods that are walkable and bikeable, well served by mass transit, employ low-impact development techniques and are a joy to be in.

Land use is at heart a local issue and local leadership is essential if we are going to reduce greenhouse gas emission related to how we live on the land. There will be no national solution to this part of the problem. We must come up with solutions here in Washington -- in our own communities, cities and counties.

Fortunately, local jurisdictions representing nearly 70 percent of the state's population have committed to major reductions in their carbon footprints, including Everett and Edmonds. Additionally, Snohomish and six other counties have joined ICLEI -- Local Governments for Sustainability -- which seek to implement local solutions to global problems like unnatural climate change.

Because Washington has already adopted smart growth strategies through the adoption and implementation of the Growth Management Act, we are poised to be national leaders in figuring out sustainable land-use policies that will help reduce global warming emissions. The GMA recognizes the state's diversity from urban to rural and east to west and puts forward statewide goals that require cities in more populated areas to plan for future population growth, establish urban growth areas, ensure adequate infrastructure, protect environmentally critical areas and preserve agricultural and forest lands for local renewable resource production. The GMA is an excellent framework for tackling atmospheric calamity at both the state and local levels.

The challenge of successfully confronting global warming -- reducing our future emissions, adapting to anticipated impacts and possibly reversing damage -- will require coordinated effort and support statewide. That is why we are working to pass a bill during this year's legislative session, Local Solutions to Global Warming (SHB 2797 and SSB 6580), which will provide local governments with the tools and support needed to address and reduce land-use contributions to global warming pollution.

Specifically, the bill adds a goal to the GMA of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to expected impacts of global warming. It directs the state to provide cities and counties with a tool to inventory, measure and estimate land-use-related greenhouse gas emissions. Through a competitive grants program, funds will be available for municipalities that are already taking action or are interested in beginning to address climate change through land use and planning.

To learn more about Local Solutions to Global Warming and to read the bill in its entirety, please visit:

We urge the Legislature to pass this bill and support local governments so we can stop adding fuel to the fire and before we all get burned.

Dave Somers is a Snohomish County Council member, representing District 5. Valerie Steel owns Greening Properties, a real estate firm in Everett.


Noel said...

"Land use is at heart a local issue and local leadership is essential if we are going to reduce greenhouse gas emission related to how we live on the land."

As a land developer, I am puzzled by the fact that land use and new development are always targeted as the root causes of environmental problems. Why? Shouldn't government be stepping to the plate and fixing the errors of the past? There are miles and miles of county road that have absolutely no storm water controls. Acres and acres of ROW that have had all the trees removed. For example, next time you drive north of the Stilly crossing on I-5 look at the median between the north and south bound lanes. If the state is concerned about water quality and greenhouse gases, why isn't there a concerted effort to reforest this median? The amount of impervious area and traffic volume draining to it would be equivalent to hundreds of lots of new development. Reforesting that median would do more for water quality and greenhouse gasses than anything that could be done on ten new developments. But the state does nothing but pass new laws to put the burden on new development as if that will solve the problem. It won't. Instead of looking to see what they can do to fix their own problems, governing bodies are always looking to see how they can get others to do it for them.

Noel Higa

Karen said...

I see on the SDTF we'd like to see the developers step up to the plate to address issues on there own but instead trees are plowed and uprooted, top soil is stripped from the land.

I do not believe that government wants to put burden on developers, instead to do jsut as you suggest not to let past errors continue you.

Really appreciate your comments.

Noel said...

You're missing the point. Development is already faced with tremendous costs and hurdles. For politicians to represent that controlling development is the "heart" of the issue is disingenuous. New development is doing its share and much more. But government is doing little to change the way they operate and to pro-actively start to solve some of the existing problems. Look around. How many new developments would it take to equal the uncontrolled runoff from an existing city? How many trees would developers have to cut to equal what was cut to build I-5 through Snohomish County? Until government and the taxpayers decide to do something about the existing situation, nothing will really change. To suggest that "land use is at the heart" is pure nonsense. It will take a concerted effort of all of society to even begin turning the global warming problem around. Not just wringing more out of a few developers.


Anonymous said...

Valerie who wrote the piece with Dave wanted to respond to you but she would like to know who you are. A brief introduction would be nice.