Beyond Generalities: Buildings, Climate Change, And Policy Making

We often hear statistics on the relative significance of the US building sector to the overall carbon dioxide footprint of the nation. Focusing in a bit more, might there be a big difference between large- and small-cities? Might that difference correlate with density, or building designs, or both? A just-completed inventory of City of New York greenhouse gas emissions indicates the answer could be "yes". The New York Times reports, based on a just released city-run inventory study that, per capita, New Yorkers have a carbon footprint only a third of the national average. Yet, "In sharp contrast to the national average of about 32 percent, the city’s buildings are responsible for 79 percent of the greenhouse gases produced by the city..." This is something that makes intuitive sense just looking at the city skyline. An important policy point is made especially clear by this inventory. The one-size-fits-all, top down approach to goal-setting may not be appropriate. Thinking ahead, making thoughtful comparisons to create acceptable emission reduction policies will become important not just between cities, but also between cities, regions, and industry sectors. For an extreme example, consider whether an aluminum company, headquartered in the US, should become responsible for meeting US-set goals on its overseas operations; or does it instead respond to each nation where its operating sites are based? If so, that could plausibly lead to restriction free zones or, conversely, to impossible targets that would force closure. It cuts both ways, in other words. And, this could happen whether implementation is voluntary or mandatory.Will Executive and Legislative branches of the US Federal government micro-manage inventory analysis and goal setting; or, will they delegate to US-EPA? Let's hope EPA. In this the age of internet populism, we also hope citizens will have timely access to both the legislative and rule making processes, and possibly contribute to them via watching streaming videos of committee hearings; downloading draft bills and regs; and participating in blog-networked impact analysis. Imagine EPA blogging the rule making! If such options are not pursued, we are headed into that old back room again, with Think Tanks and high paid lobbyists primarily shaping the outcome. This time, the whole world really will be watching. We bet New York will have its eye on the ball.

Image credit:- Cornell University Cooperative NY

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