GHG Emissions by Type of Geography

The suburbs, generally a haven for luxury SUVs, regimented lawn sprinkling, and keep-up-with-the-Jones purchases, are not often considered the front-runner in environmentally friendly living.

However, the Australian Conservation Foundation’s 2007 Consumption Atlas published controversial research that suggested that “dense inner-city zones unleash more greenhouse emissions than car-loving fringe suburbs.” Suddenly, car use is not the prime factor in measuring efficient living, nor can incomes tell the whole story. ()

While it has been generally accepted that high human consumption is worse for the planet than lower consumption, the study’s main controversy is the fact that the ACF gave the problem a specific geography.

The quote:

Rural and regional areas tend to have noticeably lower levels of consumption . . . Higher incomes in the inner cities are associated with higher levels of consumption across the board.

The ACF has not only pointed their finger at their main supporters (inner-city professionals) but have also invited comments from a variety of sources. The Australian study questions the data used in the past to measure where the worst violators are located.

American consultant Wendell Cox—long an advocate of suburban development—found that the data suggested that “lower GHG emissions were associated with long distance from the (urban) core, detached housing, more automobile use and lower population density.”

A team from Queensland’s Griffith University Urban Research Program drew an altogether different conclusion that put simply is, “correlation does not establish causality.”

GHG emissions are a function of overall consumption and consumption based on low-density housing “doesn’t figure prominently in the composition of aggregate consumption.”

Urban sprawl cannot be used as an argument or attempt to point fingers at the Hummer drivers. Lowering greenhouse gas emissions will require a commitment by city dwellers and suburbanites alike if we are to alter our future carbon footprint.

While the study itself has prompted much discussion and debate, if the object is to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions, singling out suburbia might not be the first order of business. Spurious data and indeterminate causality make for an argument destined to fail for the lack of a supportable conclusion – unless we wish to overturn logic entirely, which some seem determined to do in furtherance of their long-held anti-suburban agenda.