Long commutes to reach affordable housing blamed for hampering California’s ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

California has hit a speedbump in its efforts to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions under landmark environmental legislation enacted in 2006 to slow carbon dioxide emissions and their contribution to global warming, concludes a recent report issued by the San Francisco-based nonprofit organization Next 10. It found that while the state has made progress in reducing carbon dioxide emissions relative to economic growth, pollutants from motor vehicles have increased.

“In 2015, total transportation-related GHG emissions rose by 2.7 percent, largely due to an increase of 3.1 percent in emissions from on-road vehicles like cars, trucks and buses,” Next 10 stated in a news release. “This increase seems to be a result of a strong economy and lower gas prices resulting in more vehicles on the road, combined with a housing crisis that has led to longer commutes.”

California’s housing crisis has been building since the 1960s and is a longstanding problem in the Golden State, which has some of the highest housing costs in the United States. High housing costs force people into longer and longer commutes in search of affordable housing in communities increasingly distant from their workplaces since proximity to metro centers tends to positively correlate with higher home and rental prices. No environmental legislation can remedy this fundamental economic reality.

Instead, it requires a shift in thinking away from the Industrial Age model of where and how we live and work – reinforced by automobiles, cheap fuel and multi lane highways built in the latter half of the 20th century that drive GHG emissions – to a new mindset for the information-based socio-economy of the 21st century.

Why? Because many of those commuters are knowledge workers who thanks to advances in information and communications technology (ICT) over the past two decades no longer need to regularly work in a commute-in office located far from their residential communities. The electronic tools they need to do their jobs work just as well in a home office or a community-based satellite office or shared co-working center as they do in a centralized, commute in office. And there are lots of collaboration apps and tools to enable knowledge workers to stay in touch with colleagues and customers. Reducing unnecessary daily commute trips will go a long way toward helping California get back on the road toward meeting its GHG reduction goals.

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