Michael R. Boswell, Adrienne I. Greve, and Tammy L. Seale
Island Press
Suite 300, 1718 Connecticut Avenue, NW,
Washington, DC 20009;
www.islandpress.com. 2012.
284 pages. Paperback: $37.50.

Local Climate Action Planning, a practical guide offering straight talk on how to navigate the sometimes foggy area of local planning for climate change, provides tested strategies and informative case studies for anyone concerned with reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and adapting to climate change effects such as rising sea levels.

Why would a reader want to learn about the techniques of planning for climate change? The answer is simple: some 300 mayors representing more than 49 million Americans in 44 states have signed the U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement. States are not far behind, with 30 having adopted climate action plans.

While Congress is locked into political arguments about whether climate change is real, state and local officials have no doubt about the reality and are moving decisively to respond. The effects on future development proposals will be profound.

The most important land use action to reduce GHG emissions is to discourage automobile-dependent, low-density development and promote complete communities with a mix of land uses, higher densities in core areas and transit nodes, affordable housing, compact form, smart growth, and bike- and pedestrian-friendly infrastructure. Implementation of climate action strategies can be measured with metrics such as the percentage of residents within a half mile of a transit stop and miles of bike lanes and sidewalks installed.

The authors know their subject, having worked on more than three dozen climate action plans (CAPs) from their California base. Michael Boswell and Adrienne Greve are members of the planning faculty at California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo; Tammy Seale is a sustainability and climate change services manager at the consulting firm PMC, based in Rancho Cordova, California.

The main audience for this book is those who have the job of preparing a climate action plan, including local government staff members, consultants, and community volunteers. They will find concise explanations of the CAP preparation and implementation processes. However, the book also should interest real estate developers, who will need to understand the basics of climate change science and how their proposals can be affected as more localities adopt climate action plans.

The book includes six case studies that document the actions of communities leading the way: Evanston, Illinois; Homer, Alaska; Miami–Dade County, Florida; Pittsburgh, Penn­­sylvania; Portland and Multnomah County, Oregon; and San Carlos, California. The lessons learned from these cases are valuable, and their results are impressive.

Portland’s 2009 plan sets emission targets for the city and county at 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, to be attained through dramatic improvement in energy efficiency and changes in energy sources and travel behavior. One goal is to create “20-minute neighborhoods” where residents can comfortably fulfill their daily needs within a short walk from home. Since the strategy was adopted in 1993, Portland’s transit ridership has increased by 75 percent, bicycling has quadrupled, the city saves $4.2 million annually through reduced energy use, and 35,000 housing units have been made more energy efficient through a partnership with utilities and the Energy Trust of Oregon.

The biggest and most expensive challenge in preparing a climate action plan is to quantify GHG emissions, first as a baseline estimate and then as a measure of progress toward emissions targets. There are, however, no standardized estimates for the emissions reductions that can be achieved through implementation of different strategies. One reason is that regional factors differ: in the Midwest, electricity is largely produced from high-emission coal, whereas in the West, energy comes from use of low-emission natural gas and hydropower. If a CAP is to have a regulatory role, the inventory of emissions must be accurate, well documented, and legally defensible.

Concurrent with producing an emissions inventory is preparation of an audit that identifies local policies that either support or conflict with GHG emissions goals. For example, energy and water efficiency programs may reduce GHG emissions while plans that allow low-density development may increase them. The emissions inventory and policy audit help suggest the types of strategies needed for a particular community.

Crafting sustainable places is the defining challenge of our time, and coping successfully with climate change is one of the drivers of sustainability. Local Climate Action Planning shows that the way ahead will require the changing of old mind-sets, but that the shared benefits are large. After all, no one can argue with the wisdom of saving money and conserving water and energy.