In the week when tens of thousands marched in London to ‘encourage’ world leaders to decide not to condem us all to environmental collapse, poverty and death (why does anyone need encouraging about that?), I came across an article in the newly free Evening Standard, which now gets left on trains for the likes of me, about how London is one of the Greener Places on Earth, can it be so?
According to the article, research published in a new book called Green Metropolis, by David Owen says that city living is more ‘green’ than living in the countryside:
Owen’s book is mainly about the US and New York City, but the messages of his book apply in cities elsewhere. He says that we should use the land area that is already built over in high density living rather than spreading new settlement across valuable acres of carbon-rich countryside.
The prevailing image is of cities as ecological disaster areas, covered in concrete and tarmac, full of fume belching traffic and throbbing central heating. In contrast the image of the country dweller is of people living in a virtuous Hobbit-state of woodland cottages, digging potatoes, singing folksongs and cycling everywhere. This is fantasy…
Owen claims that it is cities that are the ecological paradise. The residents of Manhattan travel in their city with 10 times the energy efficiency of average Americans. When Owen and his wife moved (briefly) to the country, they found their electricity consumption went up eight times, they had to buy a car and drove 30,000 miles a year on ordinary household trips.
Londoners are much like New Yorkers. They use space intensively and energy efficiently, they mostly occupy long-constructed buildings, sharing walls, roofs, ceilings and heating systems with others. They also share transport, street lights and entertainment. They walk, cycle or use public transport (mostly electric) to get to work or play. Londoners crowd roads, shops, restaurants, theatres, pubs. They do not heat, light and cook in isolated homes, where almost every journey requires the carbon emissions of an internal combustion engine.