City to suburbs: You're killing us, here

As if you needed another reason to put down suburbanites (like me...fire away), we're killing the environment, especially in the age of manmade global warming. You've probably read before that suburban sprawl is an environmental abomination, but the twist is that this article is from a conservative publication, City Journal:

On a pleasant April day in 1844, Henry David Thoreau—the patron saint of American environmentalism—went for a walk along the Concord River in Massachusetts. With a friend, he built a fire in a pine stump near Fair Haven Pond, apparently to cook a chowder. Unfortunately, there hadn’t been much rain lately, the fire soon spread to the surrounding grass, and in the end, over 300 acres of prime woodland burned. Thoreau steadily denied any wrongdoing. “I have set fire to the forest, but I have done no wrong therein, and now it is as if the lightning had done it,” he later wrote. The other residents of Concord were less forgiving, taking a reasonably dim view of even inadvertent arson. “It is to be hoped that this unfortunate result of sheer carelessness, will be borne in mind by those who may visit the woods in future for recreation,” the Concord Freeman opined.

Thoreau’s accident illustrates a point that is both paradoxical and generally true: if you want to be good to the environment, stay away from it. Move to high-rise apartments surrounded by plenty of concrete. Americans who settle in leafy, low-density suburbs will leave a significantly deeper carbon footprint, it turns out, than Americans who live cheek by jowl in urban towers. And a second paradox follows from the first. When environmentalists resist new construction in their dense but environmentally friendly cities, they inadvertently ensure that it will take place somewhere else—somewhere with higher carbon emissions. Much local environmentalism, in short, is bad for the environment.

The whole story's a good read -- it finds that Philadelphia is one of the cities with a huge variation between its relatively green central city and its brown suburbs, in part because Philadelphia is a walkable city with one of the more developed (if not so efficiently run) mass transit systems in the country. In terms of current events, I think this is why the stimulus plan was good but could have been better -- there should have been even more dollars for transit and high-speed rail projects (yes, even if one of them might goes through Harry Reid's state...the horror) and an effort to spend road and bridge money on fixing the existing ones, not creating more sprawl.