Climate Change Advocates Target New Homes

Timothy L. Coyle
Consultant specializing in housing issues

If you thought the rancor surrounding climate change was all about the weather, think again.  Housing development has always been in the gun sites of campaign enthusiasts and it continues to be.  

Disguised as climate-change activists, radical environmentalists are spewing the same rhetoric and advocating the same “enlightened” land-use concepts they’ve been spewing for decades.  With new-found vigor they say housing is sprawling into the countryside, eating up precious, irreplaceable farmland and causing greater dependence on automobiles to get residents to and from their jobs.  

Indeed, the new life that’s been breathed into radical environmental activism was inspired by a failed presidential candidate, advanced in California by a muscular, pseudo-actor-turned-nouveau-governor and inflated by a career politician who made “global warming” a life cause.  Since retiring, Al Gore got rich selling a television network, Arnold Schwarzenegger returned to the wealth and glamour of Hollywood and two-time governor Jerry Brown moved to occupy 2,400 acres of farmland in Colusa County – just a short, 75-minute drive (by SUV) from Sacramento – where he traverses his sprawling ranch there in a gas-powered all-terrain vehicle.  (It should be noted that both Vice President Gore and Governor Schwarzenegger travel – at least for now – by fossil-fueled private jets.)

Gore set the stage by proclaiming the ice at the North Pole would disappear by 2010.  It didn’t. Then, in the name of combating global warming, Schwarzenegger shepherded AB 32 – legislation to ascribe to California the world’s most ambitious, and ultimately the most onerous environmental requirements – through to its enactment.  After that, then-Attorney General Jerry Brown, using the new statute as leverage, began to sue local governments for failing to adequately address global warming – aka suburban housing growth. 

Environmentalists have always been against urban sprawl.  They have long-condemned the building of single-family homes – the choice of 88 percent of all house-hunters – and believe all of the state’s population-driven housing needs can be met by infill development.  Next to transit hubs. Early on they promoted no-growth, by state and local referenda. When those efforts largely failed, they turned to establishing urban limit lines – concentric circles drawn around urban areas outside of which there would only be voter-approved development.  After those efforts died, they tried “smart growth” initiatives. But, no one could decide what smart growth was so that endeavor was set aside, as well.   

Now their pie-in-the-sky admonitions for more infill housing are wrapped in a warning about the impending doom of the planet.  Perhaps believing that fear is the great motivator environmentalists now claim that unless we build everything downtown polar ice caps will melt, the sea levels will rise and the planet will overheat.  Say the most aggressive and vocal advocates of change in our social and economic lives, “the planet is destined to die in less than 12 years.”   

Kicking off the United Nations-proclaimed Climate Week, one of several stories appearing newspapers worldwide is a so-called “analysis” piece from the San Francisco Chronicle which details what can only be explained as inevitable – the outmigration of Bay Area workers to places in the Central Valley like Tracy.  Entitled “Despite climate crisis, California continues to embrace exurban sprawl”, the article says builders are ignoring the healthy-environment policies of the state and “gobbling up thousands of acres of farmland” while subjecting new homebuyers to long commutes in single-occupancy automobiles.  

It had to happen.  Housing in the high job-growth Bay Area – including the prolific Silicon Valley – is far from affordable for the typical family there.  With the median home price exceeding $800,000 few new households can buy. Naturally, they looked to the Central Valley to reside – at a cost, however.

“Some 80,000 commuters now drive between the northern end of San Joaquin County and the Bay Area, 75 percent of them alone in a car over Altamont Pass to jobs in places like San Jose, Fremont or Pleasanton” the story reports.  “Long commutes in single-occupancy vehicles means more greenhouse gas emissions.”

The last clause in that sentence is key:  “more greenhouse gas emissions.” Because the sprawl-induced metric used by environmentalists to explain the emission consequences of single-family development is called vehicle miles traveled (VMT).  Now, subdivisions all over the state are being judged not by their meeting a certain housing need but by how much in VMTs they generate.     

That, and the energy being used by each home, is the project’s carbon footprint – a bad thing for the survival of the planet.

(And, if you thought that light rail or other public transit – no matter how deeply subsidized – could mitigate the new housing’s environmental impact, forget about it.  According to the Bay Area Economic Institute, few if any (2.5 percent) of Central Valley commuters travel that way. It’s all VMTs.) 

So, concludes the newspaper story, housing is a threat.  In fact, some attending the U.N.’s Climate Action Summit assert that underlying economic growth leads to housing demand is to blame and needs to be curtailed if the planet is to survive.  Said 16-year-old Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg to an approving audience at the U.N. climate event, where she appeared on stage:

People are suffering.  People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing.  We are in the beginning of mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth.  How dare you?

Whether those politics, which already tilt in that direction here in California, take hold or not remains a question.

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