Imagine a Chapel Hill where we are no longer allowed to produce carbon gas waste. This means no burning oil, natural gas, wood, gasoline, diesel or coal. Every product of combustion, every bit of greenhouse gas, has to be sequestered. This is an expensive process that only happens at power plants.
It is now too expensive to use cars or most construction equipment. Some will say that electric cars will substitute, but it takes lots of energy to make and run these. Every town will only have a handful of vehicles for emergency use, and then for only the very wealthiest few. The private automobile becomes a relic of the past that is rarely used, if at all.
When this happens, if Chapel Hill has a sprawling infrastructure, no one will want to live here any more.
The rule of nature is always: adapt, or die. Will we adapt in time?
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Without the car, it suddenly becomes critically important for us to have destinations closer together. For most errands, we will walk or bicycle. Those building that are set back from the road, those long winding discontinuous roads, those large parking and wooded lots, they all become obstacles for efficient walking.
Frequent connectivity and continuity of pathways should vascularize the landscape at pedestrian-scale. Who wants to walk 40 minutes to get to the nearest marketplace or recreation? Who wants to bicycle for 60 minutes to get to work in RTP, then 60 minutes more to get home again? Would we walk to Durham to do our shopping? Would we ride our bikes to Raleigh to see a concert or participate in a dance?
Any electric vehicles will need low carbon power generation: solar, wind and nuclear. This area, with forests and hills will not be so good at using these non-carbon fuel technologies. Every building has to reach the tree canopy or be on top of a hill, to have solar or wind access. Electricity can’t be piped from the coastal wind farm more than 100 miles away. There has to be a non-carbon-fueled power supply nearby.
Some of you will read the above scenario and will say, “This can’t happen.” Unfortunately, this is happening right now.
Our country, per capita, is producing more CO2 than almost anywhere else. We can’t pretend that our sprawling living is not a significant part of this problem. According to the climate scientists, we should have stopped emitting surplus greenhouse gases 50 years ago. Ever since then, we have had a surplus warming the planet, at dangerous speed, to a dangerous level.
This disaster emergency is now. This climate disaster is no longer in slow motion. We are on this fast bound train with 7 billion cars of momentum on board, and we are speeding toward a major trainwreck.