London is Greener

Financial Times' Weekend columnist and author of Undercover Economist, Tim Harford, confirms my earlier claim that urban planning with good transportation systems can provide better energy security, where security can also come in the form of being greener.

I wrote my note lamenting the lack of energy security and urban planning with adequte public transportation in California, one of the largest economies in the world and one of the poorest places when it comes to good public transportation, and yet one of the places that has the greatest ambition to have cities as green as its environ. The only trouble is that you cannot be green with so many cars and so many roads and so few efficient (and nonexistent) public transportation networks.

This is what Harford writes (FT, May 18, 2007): 

The Office for National Statistics reports that Londoners produce much less household waste than anywhere else in the UK. From the same source I learn that London’s households are the most likely to have no cars, and the least likely to have two or more cars. Even before the congestion charge came into force few Londoners commuted by car.

London’s Mayor’s office informs me that London emits 40 per cent less carbon dioxide a person than the national average - which would be less than half the rate of ”carbon neutral” Ashton Hayes. All this from a city that is hugely dynamic, innovative and, frankly, disgustingly rich.

It is true that these figures do not include the environmental cost of producing products elsewhere and shipping them to London. That would be a more telling omission if the rest of the country was growing its food in the back garden, but the truth is that most UK citizens fill their houses with products produced elsewhere. They just have bigger houses to fill.

London, like other big, dense cities, is good for the planet. That fact seems to surprise people. After all, cities are polluted places.

...London’s environmental performance comes naturally. My in-laws live in the Lake District in a house that is twice as large as mine with half as many occupants; they drive into town to pick up the morning paper. We travel around by bicycle or walk pushing our kids in a baby buggy because a car is impractical. We are enormously greener than they, but not because we’re more virtuous nor because we’re poorer. We’d like a bigger house, but that costs too much in London. A fancy car would be a waste of money because we’d rarely use it. Economic necessity, rather than deeply held principles, compels us to be green. 

Addendum: Tony Raven of Herts, UK, recently wrote a letter to Financial Times' editors, noting that "As London has demonstrated in recent years, if you get more cyclists on the roads, other road users will both expect them and learn to interact safely with them. The number of cyclists in London has grown by 83 per cent since 2000, according to Mayor Ken Livingstone, while the number of serious or fatal cycle accidents has fallen by 28 per cent in the same period." London is also known for its diversity.

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