Skyscrapers Are Green

Bringing down carbon emissions requires us to drive less, and Americans particularly so. A couple of economists studied the carbon footprint from living in different areas in the U.S. (see story here):

In almost every metropolitan area, we found the central city residents emitted less carbon than the suburban counterparts. In New York and San Francisco, the average urban family emits more than two tons less carbon annually because it drives less. In Nashville, the city-suburb carbon gap due to driving is more than three tons. After all, density is the defining characteristic of cities. All that closeness means that people need to travel shorter distances, and that shows up clearly in the data.

In an extended account of the study, Gleaser (the author) highlights some of the paradoxes in true environmentalism:

[…] if you want to be good to the environment, stay away from it. Move to high-rise apartments surrounded by plenty of concrete. Americans who settle in leafy, low-density suburbs will leave a significantly deeper carbon footprint, it turns out, than Americans who live cheek by jowl in urban towers. And a second paradox follows from the first. When environmentalists resist new construction in their dense but environmentally friendly cities, they inadvertently ensure that it will take place somewhere else—somewhere with higher carbon emissions. Much local environmentalism, in short, is bad for the environment.

It’s hardly surprising that living in cities requires less driving and less heating. It also seem plausible that constructing new houses, with all the wires and pipes that needs to be connected, should be easier and greener in densly populated areas than in the suburbs and in the country-side.

In the article, Gleaser claims that it is paradoxical that staying away from the environment is good for it. Can someone please explain to me the paradox in that? If a piece of environment is to be kept in a pristine or anything close to a natural state, of couse you have to stay away from it.

Hat-tip: Freakonomics


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