So Much for the Environmental Benefits of Urban Density

For urbanists who have reduced their carbon footprints by driving less and living more densely in smaller homes, researchers from UC Berkeley have some bad news. Your reduced emissions are canceled out by those in the suburbs ringing your city.

1 minute read

January 16, 2014, 6:00 AM PST

By Irvin Dawid


"People in the densely populated cores of big cities are responsible for less greenhouse gas emissions, but the more carbon-intensive lifestyle of their far-flung suburbs cancels out any of the benefits, researchers at UC Berkeley found," writes Tony Barboza.

“The affluent suburbanites that commute long distances more than make up for the low-transportation footprint of urban dwellers,” said Daniel Kammen, a professor of energy at UC Berkeley [and co-author of the study "funded by the National Science Foundation and the California Air Resources Board; published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology."]

That is not to discount the lesser impact of city-dwellers who can have "a 50% smaller carbon footprint than a similar-sized family in a distant suburb," writes Barboza. 

Stephanie M. Lee of the San Francisco Chronicle also writes about the study, providing examples from San Francisco neighborhoods and its Bay Area suburbs.

Increasing population density in cities reduces emissions - but only to a point before the savings aren't that substantial and quality of life begins to suffer, said Kammen, who worked on the study with doctoral candidate Christopher Jones.

Check out your carbon footprint by zip code with these interactive maps.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014 in Los Angeles Times - Science Now

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