Energy economics, putting a price on carbon and the hundreds of coal power plants coming online in China and India are surely the towering issues in the unfolding policy discussion of climate change. But one area less talked about is the impact of the physical landscape on emissions and energy use. Since one-third of US fossil fuel consumption goes to transportation, for example, would more concentrated settlement reduce the number and duration of individual vehicle trips, and thus emissions? How efficient are cities in terms of energy use on a per-capita basis?
Cities and states that have put global warming high on the agenda are discovering that there is much to be learned, as they weigh policy options. At the state level, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced he would seek to establish emissions reporting, adjust petroleum prices, research alternative fuels and increase energy efficiency.
Massachusetts recently joined the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a Kyoto-style cap-and-trade regime covering nine Northeastern states http://www.rggi.org/. South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford called for a global warming summit to address how future growth and development can be tailored with climate-change impacts in mind. The Regional Plan Association announced that its annual assembly would focus on climate change, energy and growth in the New York-New Jersey- Connecticut metropolitan area http://www.rpa.org/.
Cities are on the front lines of climate change, and they are doing much to both try to mitigate the worst climate change scenarios and prepare for what may be the inevitable impacts in the decades to come, says Armando Carbonell, chair of the Department of Planning and Urban Form at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.
At the annual gathering of big-city planning directors at the Lincoln Institute last October, planners reviewed their options for mitigation measures, including seemingly simple but effective steps as replacing street lighting with more energy-efficient technology.
In addition, Edward J. Blakely, a professor of urban planning at the University of Sydney and recently named by New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin to lead the rebuilding effort following Hurricane Katrina, will lead research for the Lincoln Institute on how cities can adapt to climate change.
Blakely, former deputy mayor of Oakland and former dean at the New School University of New York, was named a research fellow for 2006-2007 to study how global warming threatens cities worldwide, through devastating changes in natural systems near densely populated communities.
Blakely's research will focus on modeling and designing new urban settlements, as well as retrofitting old ones. Many cities, including New Orleans and many coastal communities, are taking their cue from insurance companies concerned about changes in natural systems in the decades ahead.
The Blakely research will lead to the design of more robust visualization and analytical tools to support policies leading to urban settlement systems that better respond to natural events such as cyclones, high temperatures, storms, fires and floods, Carbonell said.
"Being in New Orleans will strengthen this research, and I look forward to creating models to help planners, policymakers and citizens take the steps that are necessary," said Blakely, professor at the Planning Research Centre at the University of Sydney in Australia and visiting professor in urban and regional studies at the University of New Orleans, who began this month as executive director of recovery management in New Orleans.
The link between land use and climate change is a growing area of investigation for the Lincoln Institute.