City dwellers produce as much CO2 as countryside people do: study

Via Good, Physorg reports on a recent paper: City dwellers produce as much CO2 as countryside people do: study:

“Most previous studies have indicated that people in cities have a smaller carbon footprint than people who live in the country. By using more complex methods of analysis than in the past, scientists at Aalto University in Finland have discovered that people’s carbon emissions are practically the same in the city and in the rural areas. More than anything else, CO2 emissions that cause climate change are dependent upon how much goods and services people consume, not where they live.”

Full article Jukka Heinonen and Seppo Junnila (2011) Implications of urban structure on carbon consumption in metropolitan areas Environ. Res. Lett. 6 (January-March 2011) 014018

If you buy Life-Cycle Analysis, this is one strike against sanctimonious urbanites in the GHG blame game.

5 thoughts on “City dwellers produce as much CO2 as countryside people do: study

  1. Although it is interesting to debate who produces more CO2 emissions, I think it is too broad a generalization to be helpful. I live in the country and this forces me to travel more by car, so I made sure to buy a fuel efficient vehicle. My children also bike several miles to visit their friends (weather permitting). My point is that I think individual choices and actions are more important than location. The important factor is to always strive for the most ecological option in each situation. There is no “best” place to live, only better ways to live. It does no good to play the “blame game” we must help educate people on how to reduce CO2 in the country, city, suburbs… everywhere!


  2. Yes, GHG emissions are mostly linked to consumption, or in other words, how rich you are. If you’re rich, you consume more. City dwellers (in many places) tend to be richer. However, when you reference “the blame game”, I think you mean urbanites (and scholars) looking at location decisions/planning policies in isolation. If we can plan our transportation/land use decisions on way versus another, which is better? Policies to limit consumption would probably be even less popular than our secret planner plots to put everyone into giant skyscrapers.


  3. Upon further examination, I have a lot of questions about how they can confidently back up their headline. This study uses national survey data for consumption on transportation fuels, which if it’s anything like US data, is an average expenditure on a certain good by household income category. There is no differentiation of location in the survey data as far as I can tell (I can’t read Finnish). For example, a person living in a city could buy X dollars worth of gasoline and a person of the same income level living in a “countryside” area could buy Y dollars worth. If they fell in the same income category, there expenditures would be averaged. If rural residents spent more on gas (created more emissions) there impact would likely be underestimated, and likewise urban residents impact overestimated.


  4. The article in ERL is not in Finnish. They say “In addition, smaller samples can be produced based on diverse variables, region being the one used in this study.” I assume they broke expenditures spatially for the study based on what they said they did. They’re Finnish, why would they lie.


  5. Ok, I was wrong, they do use local transportation fuels data, although I can’t figure out the source.
    Here’s a key quote relating to your quote in the post:
    “The rest of the carbon categories [besides transport and housing], the consumption of goods and services, reflect clearly the effect of income on the emissions. However, this part of the carbon consumption was not the focus of this study, and also cannot be analyzed in depth with the presented hybrid model. The model shows that traveling abroad and the use of services grow as earnings grow, as figure 1 shows, but regarding daily consumption, it is not possible to differentiate amount and quality.”


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