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Suck it Portland: Los Angeles is More Green

June 1st, 2008 by Max Gladwell · No Comments

Brookings Institution report names Los Angeles as the least-carbon-intensive city in the continental U.S.

Forgive us for gloating, but this is something we’ve known all along. According to a recent study by the Bookings Institution, Los Angeles generated less carbon per person than any other metropolis in continental America.

We’ve known this because we see our energy bills every month. We’re fortunate to live in Santa Monica, where the ocean keeps things at a steady 70 degrees fahrenheit year round. We don’t have AC and rarely use heat during the winter. Plus, we reduce our exposure to indoor air pollution by having the windows and doors open all the time. Angelenos also live in pretty tight quarters. Sure, the suburbs of the Northeast, where we grew up, appear much more green but also require much more land per person. Traffic is the Achilles heel of LA, of course. We work in walking distance and bike or walk to the local markets. If we can get traffic emissions under control with electric cars from renewable sources, this will only push Los Angeles further ahead of cities like Portland and New York.

We gloat about this victory because LA gets such a bad wrap, and so many greenies look down their noses at our fine city. On the one hand, you’ve got the mountain green, who don’t know how one could live in such a polluted place. Meanwhile, most of the stuff they consume is shipped by truck after leaving LA Harbor. On the other, you’ve got the New Yorker greens, who get all high and mighty about their superb mass-transit system (yes, we do envy that). So it’s vindication for the city where choose to live, given the flexibility to choose any other. Yesterday was spent on the beach, and today we went for a mountain bike ride…yes, in real mountains on real dirt. And from Santa Monica, neither of these requires getting in a car, believe it or not.

So should you move here? We don’t recommend it. There’s too many people already.

From the Economist:

Brookings’s number-crunchers calculated carbon footprints mostly by studying highway traffic and household energy use. They excluded local traffic and industry because the statistics are bad. Top of their green list is Honolulu, in Hawaii, whose residents accounted for 1.36 tons of carbon each in 2005. Los Angeles, at 1.41 tons per person, narrowly beats Portland, Oregon, which is widely proclaimed as an über-green city. New York comes fourth. At the bottom of the table, spewing out more than twice as much carbon per person as Los Angeles, is Lexington, Kentucky.

Weather is one explanation. Six of the ten most virtuous metropolitan areas are on the west coast, where Pacific breezes lessen demand for heating and air-conditioning. The worst scores for energy use go to places like Cincinnati and Washington, which have appallingly humid summers and bitter winters. Urban areas in the Midwest receive black marks because so much of their electricity comes from coal. In Los Angeles just under half does, and that will drop steeply as new environmental laws come into effect.

Another reason is that Los Angeles sprawls less than it appears. It may be a low-rise city, but a surprising number of people pack into its “dingbat” houses and bungalows. As Robert Bruegmann, a Chicago urbanist and connoisseur of sprawl, points out, this is especially true of the city’s many immigrants. Almost one in four Latino households in the metropolis has more than one person to a room.

It is these suburbanites who are really virtuous. Places such as New York and Portland have pockets of abstemiousness—just 9% of Manhattanites drive to work alone, compared with 75% of Angelenos. Yet they are let down by their hinterlands, which sprawl much more extravagantly than do the outskirts of Los Angeles. Big houses on half-acre lots, common in New York’s commuter belt, are rare in southern California.

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Tags: Global Warming · Green Living