Thursday, May 21, 2009

Unsustainability in the Desert Suburbs

Unsustainability in the Desert Suburbs

The United States is Not Carbon Flat, Kos writer devilstower argued last weekend while looking at different methods of electrical generation by state.

That's one interesting way to look at it, and something that can change without fundamental lifestyle changes (except perhaps fr people working in the coal industry). But some of the changes people need to look at run deeper.

Simple physics dictates that energy is used when you move matter--to heat or cool things, transport things, or push electrons into the grid.

One of the biggest piles of matter we move is people, and at MyDD Charles Lemos writes:
Suburbia is proving the greatest misappropriation of economic resources in human history. They are simply unsustainable and America's future is an urban and denser one. While urban sprawl is a worldwide problem, American cities have been built primarily for the ease of vehicular traffic with livability for humans seemingly an afterthought. As James Howard Kunstler notes the United States has invested all of its post-World War II wealth in an infrastructure for daily life that has no future. It is the Secretary LaHood's credit that he sees that the writing is on the wall.

Heating and cooling are also a big factor, and this handy-dandy calculator tells me what my northern biases have suspected all along: cooling off in Arizona is way more pricey than keeping warm in Wisconsin. About twice as expensive, in fact.

This is the third rail of the future that no one wants to touch: we simply can't keep living in deserts and tropical swamps that are 50 miles away from work. We need to move to town and get on the subway. In a real interesting numbers piece, Steven Strogatz notes:
Bigger cities have more gas stations than smaller ones (of course), but not nearly in direct proportion to their size. The number of gas stations grows only in proportion to the 0.77 power of population.

The same pattern holds for other measures of infrastructure. Whether you measure miles of roadway or length of electrical cables, you find that all of these also decrease, per person, as city size increases. And all show an exponent between 0.7 and 0.9.

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