By Tyler Falk
Posting in Cities
A new UN report shows that cities are major contributors to climate change. But are they also the solution?
Cities are places of great efficiency, innovation, and -- especially in dense cities -- energy savings. But cities shouldn't let all that get to their head. According to a new UN report, cities around the world are not doing enough in the fight against climate change.
The report, "Hot Cities: battle-ground for climate change" from the United Nations Human Settlement Program, or UN-HABITAT, shows that while the world's cities only cover 2 percent of global land area, they account for a staggering 70 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions.
"Cities are responsible for the majority of our harmful greenhouse gases. But they are also places where the greatest efficiencies can be made. This makes it imperative that we understand the form and content of urbanization so that we can reduce our footprint," said Joan Clos Executive Director of UN-HABITAT. "Understanding the contribution of cities to climate change will help us intervene at the local level. With better urban planning and greater citizen participation we can make our hot cities cool again."
It's a humbling report, but there's hope. Cities have the ability to make changes that can quickly affect millions of people. If you think about a city that's smart about public transportation, they have the ability to take millions of cars off the road. Here are some other factors, that the report cites, which influence CO2 emissions in urban areas:
- A city’s geographic situation — influencing the amount of energy required for heating, cooling and lighting;
- Demographics — the size of the population influences the demand for space and services;
- Urban form and density — sprawling cities tend to have higher per capita emissions than more compact ones;
- The urban economy — types of economic activities and whether these emit large quantities of greenhouse gases;
- The wealth and consumption patterns of urban residents.
Of course, cities don't have control over some of these factors. But when they recognize the factors they can control the impact can be profound.
Take New York City, for example. It's a wealthy city located in a wealthy country. However, because of high population density and a vast public transportation network, it's able to keep its annual CO2 emissions per capital down to 7.1 tonnes. Compare that with a less dense Washington D.C. which emits 19.7 tonnes of CO2 per capita each year. And while that's still lower than the average in the U.S. -- 23.9 tonnes -- the world will need more cities like New York if cities are going to have a positive impact on climate change.
Mar 30, 2011
Following your theory, if you expand the footprint of the New York City sample to equal that of Atlanta I would love to see how the average tree density works out when New Yorks surrounding suburbs are factored in.
By compacting itself and having fewer trees within it's borders it's spares the land around it for more environmental preservation. So fewer trees in a city means more trees around it. So while Atlanta may have more trees than New York, it makes for a less green planet (even if the city itself is more green). One needs to look at the whole picture.
P.S. - I calculated the annual growth of the 100 largest trees on my lot, and it equates to sequestering over 80 tonnes of CO2 per year. Who wants to pay me some carbon poffset credits?
Cities are where we keep the worlds' surplus people, just like an industrial chicken ranch. We let them out to see the real world for a couple of weeks vacation a year. Leave me with my trees and home food garden.
Whether you like it or not urbanization is happening. Half of the world's population and 80 percent of Americans live in cities. And while cities contribute 70 percent of greenhouse-gas emission, global GHG emissions would be much higher if the world's urban population sprawled out into non-urban land. Imagine how many trees would be chopped with all the new single-family homeowners, Hates Idiots. Just look at the numbers. New York City 7.1 tonnes of CO2 per capita each year vs. the average American's 23.9 tonnes. That's a huge disparity. I find this study particularly telling: http://www.smartplanet.com/people/blog/cities/housing-near-transit-uses-less-energy-than-suburban-green-homes/234/?tag=content;col1 "The underlying philosophy seems to be that we are to sacrifice all desires for a decent life for the sake of Mother Earth." People choose to live in cities. You might choose not to live in a city, that's fine. But for the billions who do, it only makes sense to make our cities smarter and more efficient. At the risk of frightening you even more, gid, it's not just "twenty-somethings" who recognize the importance of dense cities: http://www.aarp.org/home-garden/housing/info-03-2011/towns-cities-prepare-for-aging-populations.html
There's something about being a 20-something that convinces you that you've got the solution to everyone else's problems that is marvelously compatible with where your personal tastes and interests lie. I've got plenty of trees on my property. Where do I sign up to get these ultra-urbanites to pay carbon credits me not to cut them down? Another paradox: Have you noticed that some of these people who endlessly clamor that we need to be packed densely into cities also argue on behalf of subsidized high-speed broadband in the deprived rural hinterlands? One of the things keeping me from living from where I really want to is the lack of high-speed Internet required to run my business. It's great that these ultra- urbanites are willing to pay higher taxes so I can live even further away from them.
gid, The "Cult of Gaia" folk, I certainly am a member, believe that if you muck up the planet then we'll have no place to live. Sorta makes sense, doesn't it?
I love my farm and I will keep commuting 23 miles to work one way because I love the hands on nature of my job. You can keep the city. Do I conserve? Yes. I made modifications to my 12-year-old house that cut my heating bill by 30 percent this winter. My monthly electric bill is down 10 percent from last year and 30 percent over 4 years ago. Do I recycle? Yes and from what I see every week on my way to work I recycle far more than anyone who lives in the city. Most of the houses I pass put out 1 small bin for every 3 barrels of garbage. I put out 4 large bins for every bag of garbage. Do I use solar power on the farm? Yes, when possible. Do I use wind? No. Because the town will not let me put up a 60 foot tower to get above the tree line and I will not take down the trees. I would love to see what kind of good carbon offset I could write off from the hundreds of trees on my land. How many trees does that skyscraper have?
Does anyone else out there find this drumbeat for denser cities by several of these twenty-something SmartPlanet bloggers not only a little weird but somewhat frightening? The underlying philosophy seems to be that we are to sacrifice all desires for a decent life for the sake of Mother Earth. In other words, Earth first, people last. The cult of Gaia. Yes, we must strive to be more concienteous of our impact on the natural world and act accordingly. But I am extremely uncomfortable with the radical environmentalism that seems to stigmatize things such as suburbia and even the human race as enemies of our planet. To me, that's just another type of fundamentalism that I will resist with all my being.
Has anyone factored in atmospheric heat added by all that concrete in New Yorks urban heat island verses the lower heat signature of cities with fewer skyscrapers and larger numbers of trees per square mile? While a sprawling city like Atlanta may have a larger carbon foot print per capita because of added commuting distance than NY, I?ll bet Atlanta has triple the number of trees per square mile. Beyond retaining less heat than millions of tons of concrete, should those trees be considered a built in carbon offset? It is a complex calculation when you look at the big picture.