LA is the Low-Carbon Place to Be

Martin Schwoerer
by Martin Schwoerer
la is the low carbon place to be

Over here in Europe, some snobs diss-miss Los Angeles as a non-city: no real center, little public transport, consumerist, smoggy, auto-centric. I love LA for its architecture, food, fashion, music, culture, cars and general bat shit craziness. (I spent one of the most exciting/terrifying nights of my life there, when I got a lift in a shaggy-carpeted Econoline van driven by a pimp/drug dealer). And now, there's evidence that LA is the green place to be, too– provided you define "green" as a small carbon footprint. In a new study by the Brookings Institution, the City of Angels was found to generate less carbon per head than any other major city in continental America. It's counter-intuitive but true. LA enjoys a climate that reduces the need for heating buildings in winter, and air conditioning in the summer. LA's urban sprawl isn't as bad as it looks; population density and household occupancy are high, which lowers energy usage per head. So it's NOT all about cars and smog.

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  • Areitu Areitu on Jun 05, 2008

    I would have thought LA's population density is low compared to other cities and all the cars idling during congested traffic hours would add to everything. Maybe all those strict CARB rules, people switching to Priori, and the Mediterranean weather is paying off.

  • Phil Ressler Phil Ressler on Jun 05, 2008

    Los Angeles is widely misunderstood by people who don't live here. As an east coast transplant, I have the reference of cold & hot/humid weather cities and regions. L.A. has seemed remarkably efficient to me for its size, scope and complexity. It works way better than its reputation might have you believe if you've only visited or are informed by hearsay. Buildings are man's energy hogs, not our private wheeled transportation. I have between 2 and 3-1/2 months when I have *very* modest heating requirements, and 4 months of necessary A/C, but the lack of humidity during the hot weeks makes a higher temperature perfectly comfortable. 80 deg F is quite comfortable inside my house in the summer. 66 deg F is fine inside during our "winter". Daytime heating is seldom needed. We could be even greener if businesses would simply cease over-cooling their buildings in warm weather. Everything from most offices to any local Barnes & Noble is unnecessarily chilly. Women take sweaters to work when it's 105 deg F outside. We'd be greener still if the misguided greenies ceased being obstacles to road-building, instead becoming advocates for uncorking traffic flow. Mass transit has its place, but is a mirage as a panacea. Having extensive familiarity with metropolitan traffic in Boston, Hartford, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington DC, and Silicon Valley/San Francisco -- not to mention frequent travel exposure to commuter traffic in Dallas, Houston, Denver, Chicago, Phoenix, London, Paris, Munich, Milan, Rome, Brussels -- I marvel at how well Los Angeles works given its parameters. What is excluded from the figures cited is the carbon output of L.A./Long Beach's port ship traffic, which isn't generated by residents, and does accrue to demand from the entire US population. There are other estimates, roundings, guesses, etc. that also render all other cities' measures approximations. When I moved here in 1989 from the east coast, with a 4 cylinder car and a similar-distance commute, I found my total energy burn was lower than in the Boston area. We also have a mountain range running through the middle of a major city, which is densely forested. Most cities don't have that carbon sink directly slicing through their center. As for the smog, which is not a carbon issue, it dramatically improved throughout the 1980s as catalytic converters kicked in in a big way, and air quality has been pretty much a one-way street to greater clarity year-by-year since I arrived. Generally, each year is cleaner than any of the prior 40, despite a large increase in the count of both people and vehicles. With construction tapering down, I expect to see dust and particulates decline over the next few years. Moving old diesel out of fleets will help a lot. AQMD is finding less and less squeeze from cars, and is prioritizing consumer & industrial aerosols, evaporates, small 2 cycle engines, fireplaces and construction. Solvent evaporation from painting buildings alone in L.A. is a significantly measurable influencer of air quality. Phil

  • Seoultrain Seoultrain on Jun 06, 2008

    David, while New York City includes the 5 boroughs, only Manhattan is New York, NY. Other than the sports teams, any attention to the region is paid to Manhattan. This is from the perspective of someone who grew up in the area (Brooklyn, Northern NJ). The most impressive thing about Manhattan, though, is that it's on an island with millions commuting into the city every day, and the traffic is less of a pain than a number of cities I've experienced. (LA,DC,Seattle) Phil, while LA is pretty impressive in many respects, the lack of public transportation (unusable by most) and corresponding ridiculous level of traffic are inexcusable. They have taken care of the smog, though. And I agree about building over-heating and -cooling. Movie theaters are especially guilty. Simply ridiculous. However, I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy walking into a freezing cold store while it's burning outside. It's wrong, but it feels so good :)

  • Martin Schwoerer Martin Schwoerer on Jun 06, 2008

    Wow thanks Phil, for the insightful words.