Why Anti-Growth Activism Does Not Help the Environment.

Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI) is closing down an El Dorado county sawmill that has been around since 1889. SPI will also close another sawmill and electric power plant in Tuolome county. Two more SPI mills in Plumas and Humbolt counties will also close, leaving hundreds of workers without jobs.

One reason for the closings is the drop in new-home construction. Anti-growth activists will be happy about the shutdowns, part of their stance known as BANANA – Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone.

Drexel University, for example, wants to build a campus on donated land near Roseville already approved for development. The Sierra Club opposes the new campus, which they fear will lead to other growth, such as homes. This anti-growth stance, however, will hinder rather than help the environment.

“California environmentalists are tireless in their efforts to stop new development, but for the good of the planet, maybe they should lighten up,” explains Edward Glaeser, professor of economics and director of the Taubman Center for State and Local Government at Harvard University, in the March 4 Los Angeles Times.

“Stopping new development may seem green, but it isn’t,” professor Glaeser wrote. “When new homes aren’t built in California, they are built in other places that are far less environmentally friendly.”

California’s weather is better than other regions of the country, which require more energy for heating and cooling. Professor Glaeser also explains that California has plenty of land and “there is plenty of room to build.” Santa Clara county, for example, home of Silicon Valley, has a population density of about 2.2 people per acre. The state’s water problems, he adds, are not an argument against growth but for conservation, efficiency, and new technologies.

“California’s growth has slowed because the state has made it increasingly difficult to build new homes,” professor Glaeser writes. “There is an almost perfect correlation between the growth of an area and the amount of housing that is permitted in that area. California has some of the toughest land-use regulations in the country, which are often justified as environmental measures. When high housing demand is met with restrictions – not construction – California homes become unaffordable and new construction goes somewhere else.”

That also happens because “local anti-growth activists don’t have the ability to stop new construction in the U.S. as a whole.” When California won’t build, “people go to less-restrictive places, such as Atlanta, Houston or Phoenix, which happily erect new housing. The pro-development policies in these places promote affordability, but they do so at an environmental cost. Carbon emissions are much higher in these growing areas than they are in California.”

What professor Glaeser would like to see is a full environmental review that would ask about the effects on the environment if a development is pushed to places like the desert outside Las Vegas. Such a full environmental review should show “the costs of both building and not building.”

The BANANA outlook is like watermelon environmentalism – green outside, red inside – in that it too ignores consequences. Wanting to help the environment, talking endlessly about it, and filing lawsuits, is not the same as actually helping the environment.

“The best way for Californians to save the planet,” writes professor Glaeser, “is to tear down the barriers that stop new development and encourage more people to live in a state where nature, not artificial energy, makes living pleasant year-round.”

New development would also help the state’s economy, currently in terrible condition and now worse off with the closing of sawmills in El Dorado, Tuolome, Plumas, and Humbolt counties.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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