America's Hottest Cities May Be Its Most Sustainable

Everything you've thought about climate control may be wrong. And for that realization, you've got Michael Sivak to thank.

1 minute read

March 29, 2013, 9:00 AM PDT

By Jonathan Nettler @nettsj


A new study published in Environmental Research Letters has reached a counter-intuitive conclusion; the cities that require endless amounts of air conditioning to make them hospitable may be less energy intensive than the coldest locales.

As Emily Badger explains, "Michael Sivak, a research professor at the University of Michigan, compared Minnesota's largest city (and the coldest major metro in the U.S.) with Miami (our warmest metro on average), looking at the energy it takes for the two just to keep themselves at livable temperatures."

"Minneapolis just talking here about heating and cooling is three-and-a-half times as energy demanding as Miami, a finding that will likely shock people there (or in Milwaukee or Buffalo) who've long prided themselves on life without A/C."

"The main story is counter-intuitive to me as well because we hear all the time about how unsustainable it is to live in the desert," Sivak says. "This doesn’t actually argue that that's not the case. It just says look, there's another side of the coin as well, and we should pay attention to the other extreme."

"Sivak freely admits that he's looking here at only one small piece of the sustainability picture....But this does suggest that colder places aren't more sustainable simply by virtue of not being warm," says Badger.

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