Climate change experts always point to energy efficiency as a win-win strategy. Achieving the same ends with less energy reduces carbon emissions and puts money back into the hands of families and businesses. There is broad public agreement that America should develop more energy-efficient technologies and encourage their use.
But the development of new technologies is not the only way to increase energy efficiency. We can also do this by changing where and how we live and by creating greener cities.
Attracting more Americans to live in cities will save energy and reduce carbon emissions. One study found that residents of New York City generated 13,448 pounds less CO2 each year than residents of surrounding suburban areas.
These energy savings come from multiple sources. Most importantly, urban residents use less energy for transportation and live in smaller spaces that require less energy for heat and electricity.
A recent Bloomberg Businessweek.com survey on the most attractive cities in the country included “green space per capita” among its criteria, and ranked leafy Raleigh, North Carolina at the top of its list. Restoring riverfronts, creating parks, and improving non-motorized trails will attract more people to the energy-efficient lifestyle in cities.
But that’s only half the picture. The same “green infrastructure” that increases livability also makes cities more energy efficient.
- Creating paths and greenways for walking and biking reduces driving and other motorized transit
- Increasing natural land lessens the wasteful “heat island effect” that elevates urban air temperatures by as much as 22 degrees Fahrenheit
- Green spaces provide natural stormwater control, lessening energy needed for pumping and treatment
Green cities are like a living system-naturally regulating heat and precipitation.
Investing in urban green space is also good insurance against the impacts of climate change. As the nation witnessed with Hurricane Katrina, cities are vulnerable to the type of extreme weather that has been linked to climate change.
Conserving green spaces, especially wetlands, around low-lying cities makes them less vulnerable to flooding. An average acre of wetland can store a million gallons of water. The Trust for Public Land is helping New Orleans design new “water retention parks” to serve as urban green space in fair weather, and natural drainage during extreme weather events.
America’s cities are pushing forward on this win-win opportunity to mitigate climate change and ensure economic well being. Cities across America have included the conservation of green space as a major element in their climate action plans-New York did this as part of Mayor Bloomberg’s PlaNYC.
As public discourse continues over the need for new infrastructure in America, we should not overlook this “green infrastructure” in our cities as a priority investment that will benefit both the economy and the environment.
Editor’s Note: Jad Daley is the director of The Trust for Public Land’s Climate Conservation Program.