As a community, we are often guided by the maxim that we should think globally and act locally. In the fight against global climate change, that has certainly been true.

Santa Monica has been a leader in this fight. As a city, we have been striving for a 15 percent reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions — the primary cause of global climate change – by 2015 compared to 1990 levels.

We’ll find out later this year if we’ve hit the target, but it’s clear that, even if we have, the harder work lies ahead.

Gov.Jerry Brown’s latest executive order, calling for a statewide reduction of GHG emissions to 40 percent of 1990 levels by 2030, only drives home the urgency for action now.

Brown’s order was meant to get us to the ambitious goal of a statewide 80 percent reduction in GHG emissions compared to 1990 levels by 2050. That’s the goal mandated by State Senator Fran Pavley’s 2006 Global Warming Solutions Bill (AB 32).

To get there, we will need a full toolkit. The single largest source of GHG emissions in our city — and the state — is transportation. More than a third of GHG emissions comes from personal vehicle travel.

If we are serious about meeting these goals — and we should be considering how dire the situation is — we need to act locally to invite people out of their cars by creating a city that is safe and comfortable for walking, riding bikes, and using public transportation.

Not only are people healthier when they are able to walk, bike, and take transit to the grocery store, to work, and to accomplish other day-to-day tasks, creating an environment in which they want to leave their cars at home is essential to combating the root causes of global climate change.

The Exposition Light Rail will be a huge boon in this fight to reduce our regional reliance on GHG producing single-occupancy vehicles, but Expo isn’t going to significantly change commuter patterns in the region alone.

The locations of new buildings — the places people call home, go to work, do their shopping, and otherwise live out their daily lives — and the mix of uses we allow in them determines how far people will have to travel and how they will travel there. Smart planning allows more trips by zero-emissions bikes, feet, and renewably-powered electric rail, bus, or cars.

The so-called business-as-usual model of planning has forced homes to be built farther and farther away from the places people work, like Santa Monica and the Westside, forcing longer commutes and a reliance on cars by those who work here. We in Santa Monica experience the crushing traffic almost daily, nearly half of which is made up of commuters who can’t live here. Estimates suggest that our population doubles daily as people commute here; if those people had the option to live closer to their jobs, they would have more sustainable choices for commuting, taking cars off the road, especially during peak travel times.

Transit-oriented development (TOD) along the Expo line produces 33 percent less GHG emissions over its lifetime than non-TOD away from Expo. That reflects the fact that people living and working at these new buildings are driving less. Considering the aggressive state goals for GHG emission reductions, we need to jump at opportunities to meet them.

In the accompanying graphicyou can see a visual comparison on the impact of TOD versus so-called business as usual (BAU) development on GHG emissions and energy consumption. The chart is from an upcoming article in the National Academies Journal Transportation Research Record.

Our GHG reduction goals are statewide, which makes sense considering that GHG emissions are a global pollutant. But, the state is made up of hundreds of communities like Santa Monica. If we don’t do our part, it only makes it harder for the state to reach its goals.

Cars get upgraded every decade or two. Electricity gets cleaner when the state mandates that utilities use more renewable power and when municipalities champion programs like Solar Santa Monica. However, when we make planning decisions about land use, we lock in future transportation GHG emissions because much of what we build today will likely be with us for a century or longer.

The buildings we planned and built yesterday will still have an impact on GHG emissions in 2050. Do we really want to plan for the buildings of tomorrow to make it harder for the state to reach its GHG goals?

—Submitted by Scott Schonfeld on behalf of Santa Monica Forward

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