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.