The idea that city dwellers have less impact on water, air, and land has become an accepted norm. Is it really true? Logic would dictate that denser areas, cities and even suburbs, are more efficient because of the way they can cluster people and have more logical land use patterns.
What seems to be left out of the equation is that cities dwellers produce very little. Take NYC as an example. They import pretty much all their food, products for consumption, and still have 1.6 million cars entering Manhattan daily (this does not include buses and trucks). In addition, all the garbage produced in the 5 boroughs is then shipped to PA via truck. Is the carbon footprint really that small, or are we just imposing our lifestyles and creating environmental hazards in other communities that supply the things we need to live our lives?
The New Scientist article starts to scratch the surface of this issue:
Jim Hall at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in the UK says that, although dense cities may reduce transport emissions and act as "hugely beneficial" hubs of innovation, their total effect on the climate also depends on measures that were not captured by the current analysis.
"Cities where the service sector dominates have outsourced carbon intensive industries to developing countries, yet are still voracious consumers of industrial products," Hall says. "There is a large discrepancy between production-based and consumptions-based metrics of emissions." Dodman agrees.
"The emissions for a pair of shoes made in China and sold in the UK are currently allocated to China, not to [the UK], so it is fair to ask whether we should count emissions according to the location of production or the location that is driving the consumption."
Dodman also stresses that despite comparing well to their nations' average carbon footprint, western cities have room for plenty of improvement. In the list of top climate offenders, their emissions still dwarf those from cities in developing nations.
This begs the question, should we be measuring how we act locally, especially consumption habits, and what impacts we are having globally?