The California legislature is poised to pass a first-in-the-nation inhibition to sprawl.
While green-minded folks have long bemoaned sprawl for replacing forests and farmland with pavement and pesticide-treated patches of grass, it's concern over global warming that has the legislature moving.
Sprawling suburban and exurban development contributes to global warming by spreading people out, so that their homes are separated from their work, school and recreation by such great distances that cars are the only method available to get from here to there. All those cars add to pollution that contributes to climate change. It goes deeper, as land carved up for suburbia would absorb more carbon emissions if left alone, for instance, and because city dwellers living in multistory buildings use less energy for heating and other energy costs, per capita, but transportation is a key factor.
California isn't going to pass some Draconian law against building a home in the suburbs. The state will just stop playing enabler to our sprawl addiction. If the law passes, and Gov. Schwarzenegger signs it, it would simply prioritize spending on road-building with climate protection as a chief priority.
The end result will likely be the same: no state-built highway on-ramp, no new pricey new private subdivision.
There are alternatives to sprawl. It doesn't mean the end to quiet communities in the country, or that everyone must live in a big city. New urbanism (alternately known as "smart growth," "neo-traditionalism" and a half-dozen other terms) promotes small, sustainable communities built around public transportation hubs, where schools, work and shopping are within walking or biking distance of most homes.
California, of course, isn't the only state with a sprawl addiction enabled by state spending. But it is among the few to have taken global warming so seriously: It aims to dial back the clock on its carbon emissions, so that by 2020, it will be emitting only as much as it did in 1990.
The rest of the country could learn from California's example. Nine of the 10 fastest-growing counties are located in the South or West, with water-stressed areas like Phoenix, Atlanta and parts of Texas among the leaders.
If concern over the availability of water in these drought-ridden (or desert) areas doesn't inspire communities to rein in sprawl, concern over global warming should.
Enter your city or zip code to get your local temperature and air quality and find local green food and recycling resources near you.