On Monday, Streetsblog reviewed Heat: How to Stop the Planet from Burning by George Monbiot, a columnist at the UK newspaper Guardian. In it, Monbiot sets forth what Streetsblog calls a “215-page brisk and compelling case for why we should all be very worried.” The book posits that in order to prevent environmental degradation on a scale that we can’t fathom, industrialized nations must reduce their carbon dioxide emissions by ninety percent. Monbiot’s solutions include eliminating non-urban retail shopping by converting strip malls and big box stores into distribution centers and warehouses and building homes that are smaller and better insulated.
This latter point reminded me of a blogosphere debate that surfaced several months ago regarding whether a large house with green design features can nevertheless be considered sustainable (over at Jetson Green but I can’t seem to find the post I’m thinking of). It turns out that this very same argument is playing out in Colorado, where the Boulder County Planning Commission heard comments from residents on a proposal to require building permit applicants to buy development rights prior to constructing homes that would exceed a certain square footage threshold. Some residents voiced concerns that such a system would effectively prevent lower income families from settling in the county but still allow richer residents to build homes with impunity. The Commission informally recommended to the county that it incorporate development rights transfers, square footage restrictions, and green building standards into any amendments to the county’s land use code. The next public hearing on the Commission’s recommendations will take place on July 10.
Hybrid green building standard / square footage threshold amendments to local building codes could be one extremely effective approach at reining in the rampant energy consumption of the nation’s single-family homes. It’s encouraging that at least one municipality is considering such a scheme, but there are obviously other considerations that planners must contend with. Still, statistics about the increasing size of the typical American home are troubling from an environmental perspective- in 1993, the median square footage of new single-family homes was 1,945, but by 2006 that figure had risen to 2,248.
- Twenty-Three Years to Save the Planet (Streetsblog)
- How to Stop the Planet from Burning (Amazon)
- County Asked to Merge Green and Size Requirements (Times-Call)