Cities Also To Blame In Warming

With many studies expounding on the urban 'heat island' effect, it seems that global climate change can be blamed on cities just as much as suburbs -- if not more so. Joel Kotkin and Ali Modarres explain, and propose a greener suburb for the future.

"With their multiplying McMansions and exploding Explorers, the burbs are the reason we're paying so much for gas and heating oil and spewing all those emissions that are heating up the atmosphere -- or so a host of urban proponents tells us. It's time to ditch the burbs and go back to the city."

"Here's one point that's generally relegated to academic journals and scientific magazines: Highly concentrated urban areas can contribute to overall warming that extends beyond their physical boundaries."

"Studies in cities around the world -- Beijing, Rome, London, Tokyo, Los Angeles and more -- have found that packed concentrations of concrete, asphalt, steel and glass can contribute to a phenomenon known as 'heat islands' far more than typically low-density, tree-shaded suburban landscapes. As an October 2006 article in the New Scientist highlighted, 'cities can be a couple of degrees warmer during the day and up to 6 degrees C [11 degrees Fahrenheit] warmer at night.'"

"Here's an Earth-to-greens message: Instead of demonizing the suburbs, why not build better, greener ones and green the ones we already have?"

"One approach might be to embrace what one writer, Wally Siembab, has dubbed 'smart sprawl.' Encouraging this sort of development will require a series of steps: reducing commuters' gas consumption with more fuel-efficient cars, dispersing work to centers close to where workers live and promoting continued growth in home-based work. We'll also have to protect open spaces by monitoring development and establishing land conservation based on public and private funding, the latter coming from developers who wish to work in suburbs."

Full Story: Hot World? Blame Cities.



Blameless Suburbs.

Stop me if you've heard this before: suburbs are just ducky in Kotkin's mind.



Facts used only to support suburbia

For sure. JK seems fond of pointing out the urban heat islands, or the extra AC used to cool houses. He doesn't point out the billions of gallons of water used on large lawns, or the governemnt subsidies of lumber used to build homes, the effect of the automobile slips his mind, as does the lost agricultural land. Nothing about mainly suburban runoff degrading waterways. Hey, if I went as far into it as JK did, I could point out the excess tar used to blacktop suburban parking lots. It seems to me that JK is less worried about the environment than he is about his unreasonable love for suburbia.

Humans have an inherent impact on their environment. It cannot be fully mitigated. However, urban cities allow that adverse impact to be confined to a few square miles. Mr. Kotlin, apparently, would rather divide that impact among a few hundred square miles.

Who is he arguing with?

I think this might be a new low. 'Cities make your world hotter. There's no real link to global warming (unlike, say, CO2 emissions) but i just thought i'd plant that seed in the public mind.'

Wow. 'People in cities use more air conditioning because it's warmer there.' Maybe they also use less heat because it's warmer there? Just off the top of my head. Also off the top of my head is that fact that urban dwellers take fewer square feet so there's less to cool. They also drive a lot less. Cooling a 1600 sf townhouse for 3 months of the year is still likely to use less energy than 4 fill-ups on an SUV. 1 gallon of gas = 37kWh. That, of course, is forgetting that suburbanites also use a/c and they air condition their cars as well. They've also put roofs over their shopping streets and air conditioned those as well.

but I'm not hearing anyone in the environmental camp saying it would be better for the environment if we bulldozed the suburbs and built new, urban housing for 100 million people. Just more of the same false dichotomy, live on the 27th floor of a high-rise tower in Vancouver or live in a bungalow on a 1/4 acre in a Rockwell painting. Just more strawmen to tear down.

Smart sprawl - rrrrich!

I pointed this out in a different thread, but single-fam detached wastes more energy than SFA or rowhouses, as the shared walls reduce heat loss. And of course suburbanites drive more miles.

I also note that Kotkin doesn't state what the total coverage of the big, bad UHI is. I wonder why. Other than shilling for something, of course.



A (in)convenient phrase

It's interesting to see Kotkin tie urban heat islands into the global warming debate as a way to inform (or in this case, mislead) the public. Unfortunately, he leaves out the fact that urban heat islands are discussed in the microclimatology section of any basic intro to climatology text book.

Urban heat islands have existed since humans have settled in large groups. This isn't news to anyone. Of course they contribute to global warming, but the context of the basic impacts of urban heat islands is most appropriately placed in a metropolitan context and outside of the global impacts (i.e. - global warming).

The phrase urban heat island may be convenient for Kotkin to use in an attempt to support his beliefs. However, he inappropriately applies it to this debate.

Hot air?

Our David Goldberg penned this response to the Washington Post that went unprinted, along with a flurry of other responses to the silly piece printed by the Post:

"Joel Kotkin is right that the urban heat island effect can increase local temperatures and thereby cause people to use more air conditioning. He is way off base, however, to blame cities for climate change and argue that spreading development over more of the planet is the solution.

The Nobel-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has stated that “urban heat island effects are real but local, and have a negligible influence” on global climate change. Some climate change deniers also have claimed that localized heat islands have tricked us into believing the planet is warming. This claim, too, has been refuted and rejected by the scientific community.

Recent market trends show that people are once again drawn to living in convenient, urban locations with jobs and activities nearby. If this demand can be met as the nation continues its rapid growth, it will help the planet, as noted in the new book Growing Cooler: The Evidence on Urban Development and Climate Change. Both transportation and buildings consume less energy in compact settings, where people have more options for getting around or avoiding travel.

In an age of rising gas prices, Kotkin’s bid to force people to live far from cities, in areas where they are dependent on cars, is no help either to individual Americans or the planet."

Our whole response is here, and you can read a plethora of other responses on this page.

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