Canceled carbon footprint savings

From the University of California – Berkeley

Suburban sprawl cancels carbon footprint savings of dense urban cores

Interactive maps of US metro areas shows striking differences between cities and suburbs

According to a new study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, population-dense cities contribute less greenhouse gas emissions per person than other areas of the country, but these cities’ extensive suburbs essentially wipe out the climate benefits.

Dominated by emissions from cars, trucks and other forms of transportation, suburbs account for about 50 percent of all household emissions – largely carbon dioxide – in United States.

The study, which has been accepted for publication in the journal Environmental Science & Technology (ES&T), uses local census, weather and other data – 37 variables in total – to approximate greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the energy, transportation, food, goods and services consumed by U.S. households, so-called household carbon footprints.

A CoolClimate Map of New York City’s carbon footprint by zipcode tabulation area shows a pattern typical of large metropolitan areas: a small footprint in the urban core but a large footprint in surrounding suburbs. Credit: Daniel Kammen and Christopher Jones, UC Berkeley

Interactive carbon footprint maps for more than 31,000 U.S. zip codes in all 50 states are available online at

“The goal of the project is to help cities better understand the primary drivers of household carbon footprints in each location,” said Daniel Kammen, Class of 1935 Distinguished Professor of Energy in the Energy and Resources Group and the Goldman School of Public Policy, and director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory. “We hope cities will use this information to begin to create highly tailored, community-scale climate action plans.”

A key finding of the UC Berkeley study is that suburbs account for half of all household greenhouse gas emissions, even though they account for less than half the population. The average carbon footprint of households living in the center of large, population-dense urban cities is about 50 percent below average, while households in distant suburbs are up to twice the average: a factor of four difference between lowest and highest locations.

“Metropolitan areas look like carbon footprint hurricanes, with dark green, low-carbon urban cores surrounded by red, high-carbon suburbs,” said Christopher Jones, a doctoral student working with Kammen in the Energy and Resources Group. “Unfortunately, while the most populous metropolitan areas tend to have the lowest carbon footprint centers, they also tend to have the most extensive high carbon footprint suburbs.”

Taking into account the impact of all urban and suburban residents, large metropolitan areas have a slightly higher average carbon footprint than smaller metro areas.

Developing sustainable cities

“A number of cities nationwide have developed exceptionally interesting and thoughtful sustainability plans, many of them very innovative,” Kammen said. “The challenge, however, is to reduce overall emissions. Chris and I wanted to determine analytically and present in a visually striking way the impacts and interactions of our energy, transportation, land use, shopping, and other choices. Cities are not islands: they exist in a complex landscape that we need to understand better both theoretically and empirically.”

The UC Berkeley researchers found that the primary drivers of carbon footprints are household income, vehicle ownership and home size, all of which are considerably higher in suburbs. Other important factors include population density, the carbon-intensity of electricity production, energy prices and weather.

“Cities need information on which actions have the highest potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in their communities,” explained Kammen. “There is no one-size-fits-all solution.”

Efforts to increase population density, for example, appear not to be a very effective strategy locally for reducing emissions. A 10-fold increase in population density in central cities yields only a 25% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

“That would require a really extraordinary transformation for very little benefit, and high carbon suburbanization would result as a side effect,” Jones said.

Increasing population density in suburbs appears to be an even a worse strategy, he said. Surprisingly, population dense suburbs have significantly higher carbon footprints than less dense suburbs.

“Population dense suburbs also tend to create their own suburbs, which is bad news for the climate,” explains Jones.

So if building more population-dense cities is not a viable solution for city planners, what is? The project website includes a tool that calculates carbon footprints for essentially every populated U.S. zip code, city, county and U.S. state (31,531 zip codes, 10,093 cities and towns, 3,124 counties, 276 metropolitan regions and 50 states) as well as an interactive online map allowing users to zoom in and out of different locations. Households and cities can calculate their own carbon footprints to see how they compare to their neighbors and create customized climate action plan from over 40 mitigation options.

In some locations, motor vehicles are the largest source of emissions, while in other locations it might be electricity, food, or goods and services. California, for example, has relatively low emissions associated with household electricity, but large emissions from transportation. The opposite is true in parts of the Midwest, where electricity is produced largely from coal.

Tailored emission lowering strategies

The real opportunity, say the authors, is tailoring climate solutions to demographically similar populations within locations.

“Suburbs are excellent candidates for a combination of solar photovoltaic systems, electric vehicles and energy-efficient technologies,” said Kammen. “When you package low carbon technologies together you find real financial savings and big social and environmental benefits.”

The authors argue that cities need to step out of traditional roles in planning urban infrastructure and learn how to better understand the needs of residents in order to craft policies and programs that enable the adoption of energy and carbon-efficient technologies and practices.

One example of this is the CoolCalifornia Challenge, a statewide carbon footprint reduction competition to name the “Coolest California City.” The program, run by Jones and Kammen and sponsored by the California Air Resources Board and Energy Upgrade California, will be accepting applications for new cities in February. Each city creates their own, targeted strategies to reduce barriers and increase motivation to engage residents in climate action.

“People need to act within their own spheres of influence, where they feel they can make the most difference,” Jones said. “We hope the information provided in these tools will help individuals, organization and cities understand what makes the most impact locally and to enable more tailored climate strategies.


The research was funded by the National Science Foundation and the California Air Resources Board.


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Phillip Bratby

What a complete waste of taxpayers money. I wonder how much it cost.

Ken Hall

So this is the excuse they will use to pursue the Agenda21 aims of herding us all into massive “Judge Dredd” style mega cities is it? This country boy (living in the English Lake District) would rather die than submit to it!


I was about to say exactly the same thing as Phillip. Complete, total, utter waste. And completely obvious too. But apparently in the rarified world of climate alarmism, logic never did factor in very much.

M Courtney

Each city creates their own, targeted strategies to reduce barriers and increase motivation to engage residents in climate action.

Fair enough. But three thoughts:
1 Why only “climate action”? Why not crime reduction or community spirit or wealth creation or piety or…? How do you determine what the city is for?
2 What do you do with the heretic? Ostracism, exile or some more punitive measure?
3 On-going, who is in charge of the strategies and who watches them?


carbon footprint
‘Dr Fleming said the Antarctic Division would complete the annual resupply of Casey station which was interrupted when the Aurora Australis was tasked by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority to go to the assistance of the stricken vessel some 800 nautical miles away.
“This will include discharging the remaining cargo and loading material for return to Australia. It will unload about 500,000 litres of fuel and, if weather conditions permit, hopefully allow the completion of some programs interrupted when the ship was diverted on its rescue mission.’
500,000 litres of fuel in one station.

Kit Blanke

Models and more models
to be used for “sustainability” implementations.
I expect this to be quoted by members of the legislature in Sacramento as proof that we must not use our cars and must live in small apartments. “Bullet Train” anyone


“500,000 litres of fuel in one station.”
That is less than 1,400 litres per day for all purposes. Electricity, Vehicles, Boats, Aircraft and heating (and it’s cold in the Antarctic). I don’t know whether they have wind power at Casey (Mawson station has), but this part of Antarctica is one of the very few places on Earth where windpower is fairly reliable since it is usually windy even when it is very cold.

Peter Miller

Even by the low standards of climate science, this is really quite special. A complete and utter waste of time, money and resources.
Follow the argument through to its logical conclusion and we shall all have to live cheek by jowl in Stalinist box apartments. For those who have never seen one in Cuba or the former Soviet Union, this is a highly undesirable way to live.


M Courtney says:
January 7, 2014 at 2:00 am
“Fair enough. But three thoughts:
1 Why only “climate action”? Why not crime reduction or community spirit or wealth creation or piety or…? How do you determine what the city is for?”
Oh come on. Do you want us to believe you don’t know about Agenda 21 and ICLEI?


M Courtney says:
January 7, 2014 at 2:00 am
“2 What do you do with the heretic? Ostracism, exile or some more punitive measure?”
If juvenile: re-education camp.
If adult member of the autochthone population; not member of useful grievance group: economic destruction via fines, jail.

Gregory Adams

Agenda 21 showtime


Regardless of the motivations behind this GIS survey and the metrics used, it looks like it has produced results which would surprise many urban planners who advocate densification on spurious sustainability principles. I wish more planners would to do their own data digging and mapping. The tools are there.


The model says we should build Caves of Steel. Sounds like Berkeley. More government intervention is always the answer.


Regardless of the motivations and metrics used, a study with results that would surprise urban planners who advocate higher density living on spurious sustainability grounds. Would like to see a lot more planners do their own data digging, mapping and analysis. The tools are all there these days.
[Dupe? Mod]

Gregory Adams

Ask for their raw data and their methods, and see what happens. Rosa Koire has been fighting these UN progressives for years now.

Dodgy Geezer

I could do a map like that.
I presume it’s done by modelling, rather than by getting any real data. Just pick a city – the people living inside won’t spend a lot getting to work while the people outside will. Pick an arbitrary boundary line.
Then just estimate average miles traveled, cash spent, or any other obvious variable, convert to CO2 using a simplistic guess, and mark on the map in two contrasting colours, light blue and fiery red…

DirkH. Douglas Adams had a solution for the useless members of society.


what about the huge amount of energy litterally build in the core cities ? It’s a huge capital, and this capital does what capital allows do : increse efficiency

From the article:
“The UC Berkeley researchers found that the primary drivers of carbon footprints are household income, vehicle ownership and home size, all of which are considerably higher in suburbs.”
Then the solution is obvious: Reduce people’s income, house size mobility. This is better known as poverty.

michael hart

“37 Variables”. Chuckle.
I’ll file that along with “97%”.


Really??? What a crock. When I saw UC Berkeley I should have stopped reading. It’s all about the “privileged class” that doesn’t conform to the city model that the elites believe the mass populous should conform to. Nothing more, nothing less. NO SCIENCE HERE, just social stereotyping.

Grey Lensman

Silly me, I thought the problem was Carbon Di-oxide.
If they cannot get that right, what else is left to believe in this “report”. Does the author qualify for the longest job title ever. Man he must be Important.

They will not be happy until ever man woman and child is locked away in a concentration camp.

Mike Mangan

phillipbratby says:
January 7, 2014 at 3:41 am
“DirkH. Douglas Adams had a solution for the useless members of society.”
I know. It’s difficult to tell whether the EU uses that story as its playbook or 1984.

Mike M

Several studies have been done measuring urban and suburban CO2 and confirm that CO2 is higher in the cities. I’m surrounded by trees here in suburbia, people in urban housing projects – not so much.
CO2 is a beneficial gas and the damn trees are robbing it from us! Therefore we need emergency government subsidies to create more CO2 for fatter back-yard crops in CO2 starved suburban gardens. Perhaps a coal fired power plant or two would help?

Paul Hanlon

What’s the betting that once they get away with this idea that carbon is pollution, that they will use this as a way of applying taxes to individual people, much like insurance companies rate clients based on their postcode. In that context, it isn’t at all a waste of time. It is a nasty and insidious piece of work.
And it won’t stop there. They will look at a postcode’s carbon footprint and make decisions as to whether a certain business can locate there, and other aspects of how other people in that postcode conduct their life. It is yet another piece of the thin end of a very long wedge.

“Surprisingly, population dense suburbs have significantly higher carbon footprints than less dense suburbs.”
Not so surprising. Some of us have been pointing out for years that the urban planners’ enthusiasm for “urban consolidation” was a shibboleth (eg what the in-crowd believe in but the rest of use know is bunk). It ignores a whole range of issues such as cost of retro-fit, UHI, and other costs of urban concentration. So – they try to re-work the “figures” using the dubious currency of “carbon footprint” ?
“Each city creates their own, targeted strategies to reduce barriers and increase motivation to engage residents in climate action.” Pretty much straight out of the ICLEI handbook.


So if the electricity used in the inner city is produced by a power plant out in the sticks, it’s the zip code with the power plant that is blamed for the “carbon footprint” ?

Ken Hall says: January 7, 2014 at 1:36 am “This country boy (living in the English Lake District) would rather die than submit to it!” Well said!
We Westerners must learn the lessons of the Buddhist monks self-immolation. I have resolved to not survive the encounter with government agents trying to disarm me or relocate me from my Lake Michigan Island home. MOLON LABE (sometimes having come, take, sometimes, in modern American English, “From my cold dead hands!”) when uttered by King Leonidas at Thermoplyae, did not refer to his arms, but to his army’s lives, and to ours.

R. de Haan

Right, the gang of Green is now targeting ZIP codes to define the non problem?
Now here is what is going to happen:
1. they take your guns and fleece you to the bone.
2. one night they start marching.
3. they surround your ZIP code area,
4. they kick in your door,
5. arrest you and your family
6. the Carbon Court informs you about the carbon crimes you have committed.
7. After a swift trial you are convicted of crimes against Gaia and send to a sustainability camp
We’re all Jews now.
It’s them or us, no doubt about it.


I will have to read this, but my first impressions is “Here comes agenda 21” with it’s urban prisons. I think the researcher has likely ignored sinks and of course “Quality of Life” is nowhere to be seen… cities have lots of emissions but no sinks, decentralisation puts the emissions where the sinks are which results in lower Nett emission – For example on my rural hectare property I sink about 3 times what I emit. I doubt that’s accounted at all. I wonder if the researcher ever saw “Escape from New York” to understand what an unhealthy world he is committed to building. Not to mention that Agenda 21’s urban prisons would create a complete disconnect between the population and the real world, a completely artificial environment, Humanity in a bubble, I can’t think of a worse punishment – just hang me instead
Like Ken Hall, if they decide they want me to inhabit a 10m square box in the city, then they’ll be wheeling me out of here in a considerably smaller wooden box before they’ll get me to leave.

R. de Haan

And here we have a zealot named Al Sharpton wearing a white coat to counter the Antarctic Debacle and attack the Right for climate denial while outside a white out takes place.
Warning this article and the video is hilarious and gives you the cramps from laughing but…
so did the NAZI’s when they started marching.

Anthony Hopkins did a wonderful 2007 indie-movie, Slipstream, in which he played a character named Felix Bonhoeffer. In the middle of the film’s run-time I noticed a book, prominently displayed in the background, that featured the book author’s name BONHOEFFER. Thus I discovered Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Niemöller’s Confessing Church and its legacy.
Pastor Niemöller is better known, particularly in US RKABA circles, as author of “First They Came …” Yes, all freemen are now dhimmi, branded for our resistance with Stern der Ehrenbürger in red, white and blue.

What in the world of rhetoric flagged that for moderation?

geography lady

This study looks like the justification for “Smart Growth”. Stick everyone in a central city, in a high rise building, with no cars, use only public transportation, and oh yeh! keep the income level down by taxing and redistribution of wealth. This must have been done in the geography dept at Berkley.
It is just another generalized model with generalized parameters. It doesn’t consider those people who do try to conserve energy.
Our electric power company generalizes power use by households and zip code. This does not consider the side of the house, the source for A/C nor heat. I live in a farm community where most of the houses are small, old leaky wooden farm houses w/o A/C and the heat source is either oil or wood stove. The houses are heated to 62F at best. Our house is one of the larger houses (there are others much larger & new too), but very energy efficient. I like 70F in the summer & winter (this is MD where it is hot in the summer and right now at 1F–very unusually cold). We are compared to other houses in the zip as being in the middle of the energy use. But the reality is we use very very little power consumption. Models are for playing with in my opinion. They are not reality. But they do create jobs for academics. 😉


There is an increasing political edge to many posts on this and the tamiflu thread that I believe can damage climate skepticism. In my opinion to the extent that we lose focus on the prime issue of climate, we lose the climate debate and what ever social capital we accumulate when we are focused on climate. If we stick to the failure of AGW to prove its claims of a highly sensitive climate response to CO2 we win, If we continue to document the failure of AGW inspired policies such as ethanol, wind, solar, carbon tax, and climate treaties, we win. If we focus on bizarre rent seeking scams like Turney’s Antarctic frolic, or the debacle in Britain over their energy policy or how the EPA and DoE have wasted billions and destroyed jobs pursuing bad policies and idiocratic ‘investments’ of tax payer dollars, we win. If we descend into Agenda 21 and other global conspiracies, we lose. If we start critiquing other science issues that we have expressed no prior interest in, we lose. Let the climate kooks be seen clearly as the conspiratorial wack jobs they are. Let’s not try to occupy that space they dominate so well. Let them beclown themselves with polar vortices from a grade C sci fi movie. Let them justify Turney’s bogus quest to Antarctica. Let them tell Americans freezing in deep winter that global warming is worse than ever.
We just need to keep pointing out their failures. That is the role of the skeptic. And on climate we are good and, to judge from the increasingly rabid actions of the climate opinion makers, we are pretty good at it.

R. de Haan

You can’t make this up:
Time Magazine goes both ways on Polar Vortex:


This study is so outrageously flawed, it’s disgusting.
1. So what if cities produce more CO2, it’s the suburbs, w/ trees, lawns, gardens, etc, that take in that CO2. The only useful number would be net CO2.
2. Suburbs were EXPLICITLY created as a result of removing manufacturing and other “dirty” processes from cities, b/c the high concentration of pollutants that were seen in cities. So, they sent companies and their employees out of the cities to reduce the concentration of exhausts, and now this study is supposed to demonstrate that happened. No duh!
Yet now this new situation is supposed to be a problem.

Leave it to one of California’s “citidels of higher learning” to spend lots of money and time and effort trying to solve a problem that exists largely in the minds of these Brainless souls, pointing out things that everyone who has ever paid an electric bill or gas station bill already knows – cram people into highrise condos and those people will require less energy for HVAC, the largest household energy consumer. We also already know that houses in places like California don’t
require as much energy as those in International Falls Minnesota.
A pointless study, by idiots, for idiots.
Rather than attempt to control peoples lives and reduce their freedom and choices, these arrogant SOBs should be suggesting the obvious – if you want to reduce carbon, build nuclear.
Gas powered cars are poised to become obsolete at the first appearance of a practical battery,
which won’t be that long in coming, so stop wasting your time planning for a tansportation future that won’t even exist. And these morons are equating carbon-free with “renewable” which is total ignorance, since the largest amounts of carbon free energy we use comes from nuclear, which due to ignorance, is claimed to be an exhaustible energy source, which it clearly is not : nuclear fuel will be around as long as our sun is still shining. Other than that ….

Owen in GA

I note that they completely ignore the sociological cost of dense cities – crime rates and violence are higher because of the dense population. Humans are only able to handle so many interactions before they need some alone time. In dense cities they get this alone time by dehumanizing the people around them and slowly tuning out of their true humanity, thus the violence. So we can all be herded into a violence time bomb or we can emit a little more nondangerous CO2. As with everything else pushed by environmental activists (not the real scientist who study real biosystems mind you), we have to chose between a non-problem and full on state control of everyone’s lives “for our own good.”

Owen in GA

Col Mosby says:
January 7, 2014 at 5:49 am
…Gas powered cars are poised to become obsolete at the first appearance of a practical battery,
which won’t be that long in coming…

They’ve been “not that long in coming” since the days when Edison’s lab discovered 30+ ways to not make a better battery. The engineering hurdles in battery technology have come a long way, but mostly in improving the efficiency of existing technology. The problem really comes down to a couple of factors: holding the energy density required without becoming explosively unstable, and charge cycle efficiency (doesn’t do much good if it can only be charged a few times before it needs replacing). I am not holding my breath that they are coming any time soon.


StefanL says:
January 7, 2014 at 4:51 am
Actually, no, it gets assigned to where the electricity is used.

Ed Caryl

Now we know how large the urban heat islands are..


Y’all need to pay attention to this part:

The UC Berkeley researchers found that the primary drivers of carbon footprints are household income, vehicle ownership and home size, all of which are considerably higher in suburbs.

They have identified the “problems” in need of “fixing.”
There has never been a more concise statement of the true focus of the ‘global warming’ campaign.

Steve from Rockwood

Still waiting for a few studies:
1. Carbon footprint of the IPCC;
2. Carbon footprint of universities;
3. Effect of using newspaper for newspapers in a digital world;
4. Carbon footprint of the annual climate conferences (especially the limos);
5. The effect of eliminating printed junk mail;
6. Pollution / carbon footprint of scientific research in the Antarctic.


This study underscores the need for common sense measures to save the planet. If we could save but one child, surely it would be worth it. We should relocate the population from antiquaded rural areas to our modern cities. The Chinese have demonstrated that this can be done with a minimum impact to the environment. Then we should require that citizens obtain travel permits if they wish to travel outside of the cities. Some might argue that this would lead to over population in our cities. But this could be easily managed by limiting parents to having only one child. Fairness requires everyone to do their part. If you don’t agree with this, then you are an uneducated anti-science denier who is trying to kill children for your own greedy enrichment. But, since we are tolerant and non-judgemental, even when faced with baby-killing denialist, we will provide re-education for those who disagree with us.

Jeff L

Give me a break !
This is just another far left wing fantasy of packing us all into urban centers like Sardines in a can & trying to figure some sort of data to justify it. Sorry, we are not falling for it.

Steve Keohane

It was painful navigating their site, perhaps slow due to WUWTers mobbing their server. The US map is a joke of course. Did anyone else notice it is not more carbon intensive to live in the north as opposed to the more middle sections of the US. I guess needing more heat in the winter doesn’t cause CO2, per their map.


Not surprising, another leftist typical attack against suburbs…aka freedom.
JJ said everything we need to know:
JJ says:
January 7, 2014 at 6:46 am
Y’all need to pay attention to this part:
The UC Berkeley researchers found that the primary drivers of carbon footprints are household income, vehicle ownership and home size, all of which are considerably higher in suburbs.
They have identified the “problems” in need of “fixing.”
Nothing like a grey cement tiny building of Soviet era…