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The climate idol of the unimaginative

Here’s some food for thought around electrical vehicles. In this recent article in The American Conservative, Jordan McGillis argues that, “the electric vehicle is the climate idol of the unimaginative.”

Rather than simply changing what’s under the hood of our cars, we should be reexamining the broader impacts that the car has had on the urban landscape. Here’s an excerpt that speaks to this:

All of the effort directed towards EV adoption would be better expended on improving our development patterns, bringing them to human-scale and reducing the necessity of the automobile. The obvious reform candidate is zoning. According to the New York Times, it is illegal to build anything other than a single-family home on 75 percent of land zoned for residential use in the United States. Zoning exclusively for single-family homes artificially flattens our cities, necessitates daily automobile commutes, and increases our greenhouse gas emissions. As Istvan Bart has documented for the Climate Strategy Institute, suburban sprawl bears more responsibility for increased emissions from transportation than either population or GDP.

There is no question that electric vehicles are helpful to addressing climate change. But Jordan is also not wrong. We can’t ignore that built form is crucial to this discussion, and likely even more important.


  1. dermot sweeny

    In the greater scheme of things Electric vehicles may be a very small part of the solution (Jury’s out on what is the full negative impact). We need however much larger and more fundamental solution. Not dissimilar to Toronto allowing Laneway housing and more apartments in single family homes. Band-aid solutions to deflect or hush real discussion about the fundamental changes we need in cities such as much more good density in our Neighbourhoods, a network of rapid transit rather than extending the length of our dead end Commuter Train like subways which are actually detrimental to the environment by promoting and supporting sprawl! The electric car, the Lane way house and many other so called solutions will clearly promote sprawl, destroy our ability to produce food, escalate the need for investment in bad or ineffective infrastructure etc. etc.


  2. Another thing that contributes greatly to sprawl is our two-factor property tax. By taxing buildings as well as land, it discourages building and encourages land hoarding and speculation, which creates large swaths of land where nothing can be built at all, until the owner decides the price is right and sells or builds. He may not justify building until he can get more out of the building than the extra building tax penalizes him for doing so.
    The property tax should be shifted to only on Land, in a revenue-neutral way. This Land Value Tax would then drive down the cost of Land by more heavily taxing it, and drive up the value of buildings, promoting their highest and best use. It’s a Henry George idea that was true for centuries and still is.


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