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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Too Much Riding on Climate Change?


Over the last decade and a half, climate change and its impacts have become increasingly important to local, regional, national and international public policy debates. Since settlement patterns, built form, and transportation contribute significantly to climate-changing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, urban planners are taking a lead in promoting compact, transit, and walk friendly urban development to lower carbon dioxide and other GHG emissions. This paper argues that focusing on climate change as the catalyst for a Kuhnsian paradigm shift in how we think about transportation, rather than as a complex and elusive public policy problem, has a number of risks. Specifically, an overemphasis on reducing the carbon impacts of transportation projects may lead to weak coalitions for transportation projects, bad decision-making processes, and even some poor planning decisions. Although transportation planning and policy will likely continue to play an important role in efforts to stem the effects of climate change, an excessive focus on GHG emissions may lead to mistakes along the way.

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