The Brookings Institution released a report today examining and ranking the per capita carbon footprints of the 100 largest metro areas in the country. Do give it a read. A couple of key points:

1) The way a metro area generates its power is important, as is climate. The western part of the country performs very well in these rankings because their electricity generation is much cleaner than in the east and midwest, and because many western cities are in temperate climates that reduce the need to heat and cool homes.

2) Density and transit are critical. Metro areas in general are greener than non-Metro, because they’re denser. Cities with comprehensive rail transit systems have much cleaner transportation sectors.

3) The report’s recommendations are stellar. Price carbon, promote transportation alternatives to driving, incentivize density and better land-use, and so on. Wonderful stuff.

4) The Washington area, unfortunately, does not perform well in these rankings. Part of that is because our power sources are dirty. Much of that is because the dense, transit-friendly core of the metro area contains a pretty small portion of the metropolitan population. Of the 5+ million people who live here, most are in sprawling suburbs, with long automobile commutes.

If we want to do better as a metropolitan area, we need a metropolitan commitment to expand transit, to encourage development around transit, and to focus development when possible in the center. And it wouldn’t hurt to try and develop some non-coal power sources.

It’s a shame that a city with one of the best transit systems in the country is in a metro area that underperforms all its peers. We should do better.


  1. alli says:

    I find it very puzzling that their statistics for New Orleans are based on a “snapshot” of 2005.

    After 8/29, nobody was here! No wonder our carbon footprint decreased.

    Why wouldn’t they recognize this, and at least use numbers from the last full year before the storm? 2005 data on New Orleans is totally unusable except in recovery metrics.

  2. ryan says:

    That’s a good question. Maybe they figured that since the footprints were done in per capita terms, the fall in population cancelled out the fall in emissions. It still wouldn’t be accurate, though, since most economic activity came to a screeching halt.

  3. alli says:

    Yeah, it’s been a challenge measuring anything here since 2005. Population estimates have a +/- of about 100,000 people…

    I wish this information were useful, though, because the city/region has been dragging its feet on basic environmental issues, like landfills, recycling, etc. These numbers make us look like we’re doing better than we are, because apparently our per capita emissions are lower than Baton Rouge. Frankly, I don’t see how that’s possible.