The greenest city in America
I’m not sure what link trail led me to this five-year-old New Yorker piece on the greenest city in America, but it holds up quite well. According to New Yorker magazine, the greenest city in America is: New York.
> The average Manhattanite consumes gasoline at a rate that the country as a whole hasn’t matched since the mid-nineteen-twenties, when the most widely owned car in the United States was the Ford Model T. Eighty-two per cent of Manhattan residents travel to work by public transit, by bicycle, or on foot. That’s ten times the rate for Americans in general, and eight times the rate for residents of Los Angeles County. New York City is more populous than all but eleven states; if it were granted statehood, it would rank fifty-first in per-capita energy use.
The author makes a strong case, although he also makes one big goof: the per capita carbon footprint of New Yorkers is about the same as that of Los Angelenos, and both cities are radically greener than most of the rest of America. Los Angelenos have their cars, but they also have their wonderful climate. New Yorkers are astoundingly energy efficient, but the need for summer air conditioning and winter heating takes a toll. One thing seems certain: if you crossed New York’s density with LA’s weather, you’d have the greenest city in the world, by far.
One of the foundational ideas of modern environmentalism is that environmentally damaging activities should carry a price. Polluters should have to bear the cost of environmental destruction, rather than pushing that cost onto society. Gas should be more expensive. Electricity — at least electricity that comes from coal and natural gas — should be more expensive. And so forth.
The New Yorker piece makes the counterintuitive claim that electricity prices in cities should be reduced, to lure more people to live in dense, energy-efficient settlements:
> People who live in cities use only about half as much electricity as people who don’t, and people who live in New York City generally use less than the urban average. A truly enlightened energy policy would reward city dwellers and encourage others to follow their good example.
I think this suggestion is probably wrong, but it does get at a more general and important idea: a tax code and infrastructure plan that took the environment into account would as a natural consequence make cities cheaper to live in and suburbs more expensive. They would have to, because cities are just so much better for the planet.