Handy Map Shows In Cleveland, as Elsewhere, Suburbs and Exurbs are Driving Carbon Emissions

Bigger houses, longer commutes and sprawl are, it turns out, bad for the environment

click to enlarge Emissions Footprint of the Average Household - The New York Times
The New York Times
Emissions Footprint of the Average Household

Two-thirds of Cuyahoga County residents are worried about climate change and nearly half believe it will affect them personally, according to a recent study conducted by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.

These residents should see how drastically carbon emissions differ by area.

Using data from CoolClimate, the New York Times this week mapped carbon emissions by neighborhood across the country. The maps show, unsurprisingly, that the suburbs and exurbs produce far more greenhouse gas emissions than dense cities.

Because residences, businesses and services in cities are geographically closer, residents tend to drive less in their daily lives. As such, dense cities generate less carbon emissions than sprawling suburbs, where residents log long commutes to work and anywhere else. City dwellings are also usually smaller than their suburban counterparts, which means they require less energy for heating and cooling. Outside of cities, this trend reverses.

Density and wealth are the two biggest determinants, which is why there's such a dramatic difference between, as an example, 44040 (Gates Mills), which has the highest average household carbon footprint in the county at 85.6 tons, and 44115, which has an average household carbon footprint of 16.5 tons.

click to enlarge Average U.S. Household Carbon Footprint by Zip Code - CoolClimate Network
CoolClimate Network
Average U.S. Household Carbon Footprint by Zip Code

Travel, by either car or airplane, is a big contributor to emissions—as is shopping. Because both travel and shopping typically increase with income, richer people usually produce more greenhouse gasses.

But while measures like avoiding fast fashion and limiting meat consumption can help reduce emissions, they are drops in the bucket compared to the biggest thing Americans can focus on.

“Anyone who cares about climate policy really needs to pay a lot more attention to housing,” said RMI Urban Transformation program senior associate Zack Subin.

Amid a national housing shortage, affordability and availability are often easier to find in communities with higher emissions. Building population-dense, multifamily dwellings, especially with close access to public transit, is one way to effectively lower community emissions.

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