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Density is good

When it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, we know this:

Households in denser neighborhoods close to city centers tend to be responsible for fewer planet-warming greenhouse gases, on average, than households in the rest of the country. Residents in these areas typically drive less because jobs and stores are nearby and they can more easily walk, bike or take public transit. And they’re more likely to live in smaller homes or apartments that require less energy to heat and cool.

We also know this:

Consider housing. For decades in the United States, the majority of new homes have been built in the suburbs and, increasingly, exurbs, where climate footprints are larger. As a result, for many people today, it is often easier and cheaper to find a home in a high-emissions community than a lower-emissions one.

An important caveat to these points is that if you use consumption-based carbon accounting — that is, you consider all of the goods and services that people tend to consume — then other things like income also play a major factor. Wealthy households, for example, tend to fly more frequently, and that is bad for emissions.

But even with this more accurate accounting, the two biggest contributors to a household’s carbon footprint still tend to be housing and driving. And that’s why when you look at emission maps, like these over here, the urban core still usually performs the best. Density, it turns out, is hard to beat.

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