LIVING ON EARTH
Development’s Carbon Cost
Air Date: Week of October 19, 2007
Some states and local governments are calling on developers to
calculate the climate impact of their development projects. As Living
on Earth’s Ashley Ahearn reports, measuring the greenhouse gas
emissions from the loss of trees or new construction may be the first
step to limiting the emissions.
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CURWOOD: Converting land to new housing or commercial buildings can
aggravate global warming. How much depends on what you measure. There
are the emissions from heating and cooling of course, but some people
also count the loss of trees, or even new, longer commutes. Now some
states and local governments are starting to pressure developers to
calculate the climate impact of their projects. At the head of the
pack is Massachusetts. Living on Earth’s Ashley Ahearn has our story,
and she begins with a look at a major expansion at Harvard University.
AHEARN: Chris Gordon is standing on a bridge over the Charles River.
He’s pointing across the water to where Harvard University’s about to
break ground on a new 200-acre development that will include academic
buildings, housing, and community centers.
GORDON: On the right you can see the beginning of the Allston campus,
which is primarily the business school now, and then beyond that is
where the rest of the new Allston campus will be developed.
AHEARN: Gordon is chief operating officer for the new development.
All of the buildings will adhere to top green building standards-
solar panels, geothermal heat from the earth, energy efficiency. But
one-the new science center-is taking the concept further.
After being approached by the state government, Harvard agreed the
science center would take the building industry standard for
emissions, and cut that in half.
Chris Gordon is overseeing the new Allston development
for Harvard University. (Photo: Ashley Ahearn) AHEARN: What was
your reaction, I guess, when this kind of came on to the table-the
green house gas issue specifically and green building?
GORDON: Fear (laughs). No, I mean the debate was of course-can you
do it? I mean we wanted to do it and we felt we could but we really
wanted to do our homework to make sure we could do it.
AHEARN: Managers of all large developments in Massachusetts will be
facing similar challenges under a new state policy. Ian Bowles is the
secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs for the commonwealth.
BOWLES: What we did this year was we included for the first time,
greenhouse gases in the types of things we’re going to require people
AHEARN: Bowles says the new policy asks developers to ask themselves
a few questions:
BOWLES: What impacts are you going to have? How much are your
emissions going to be, and what are the steps you could take to
avoid, minimize or mitigate the damage you may do to the environment?
AHEARN: Major state projects, like the Big Dig for example, will have
to go further. They’ll have to account for what are called the
lifecycle emissions of the project. These are the emissions from
construction, operation of the structure, and transportation to and
from the site once it’s up.
That might seem like a pretty comprehensive assessment-and in the
urban world, it is. But Dan Sosland, head of the nonprofit
Environment Northeast, says that if you head to the wilder parts of
the country, the greenhouse gas picture isn’t complete without
factoring in how the landscape will be changed.
SOSLAND: If we don’t pay attention to the loss of forests, the steps
that we’re taking to reduce emissions in other areas are going to be
neutralized, in effect, by increased emissions from these developments.
AHEARN: The Plum Creek Timber Company, the largest private landholder
in the country, has plans for an over 20,000-acre development along
Moosehead Lake in Maine’s north woods. Sosland and Environment
Northeast decided to assess the greenhouse gas emissions of the
proposed development and produced a report.
Dan Sosland is the head of Environment Northeast
(Courtesy of Environment Northeast)
SOSLAND: This one proposal, if our numbers are right, will increase
Maine’s emissions by one percent. If Maine is looking at goals to
reduce emissions by ten percent by 2010, these are significant.
AHEARN: Luke Muzzy is a spokesperson for Plum Creek Timber.
MUZZY: This has never been discussed before as part of the permitting
process. I don’t believe it has been in any development in the state
of Maine. Global warming is a serious concern for everybody. I mean
it is for me personally, but I also realize that areas like mine have
got to grow and there is going to be development.
AHEARN: Other builders and developers are just beginning to address
this trend. The National Association of Home Builders says it’s
studying the issue.
Judi Greenwald, a policy analyst at the Pew Center on Global Climate
Change, says the carbon cost of development is beginning to register
with policymakers around the country.
Building standards, state by state.
(Courtesy of Pew Center on Global Climate Change)
GREENWALD: As we’re all starting to sit up and pay attention to how
to reduce greenhouse gas emissions people are using whatever tools
they can find.
AHEARN: In California, Attorney General Jerry Brown ignited a
firestorm this summer, when he tried to force local governments to
count greenhouse gases when they make growth decisions that are going
to create new longer commutes. Republicans in the legislature were so
angry it led to a budget stalemate for two months.
King County, Washington has added greenhouse gas pollution to its
project review and the state of Washington plans to follow suit. The
District of Columbia also plans to require developers to calculate
greenhouse gas emissions.
GREENWALD: This is another example of states and localities filling
this federal vacuum that we have, and they’re also playing an
interesting role as laboratories, which they often do on a lot of
policy arenas in the United States.
AHEARN: Lab rats or not, the sudden attention to climate change is
inspiring ideas that would have seemed far fetched just a few years
ago. Counting tons of CO2 from developments, some say, could be the
first step towards limiting them.
For Living on Earth, I’m Ashley Ahearn.