The sabbatical is almost over. It is time for me to begin to emotionally disconnect from this haven up north and prepare my return to Baltimore this summer. Just out of curiosity, I decided to check out how these differing lifestyles - city/suburb, apartment/house - affect the level of my CO2 emissions. That is, how does my ecological footprint here in Cambridge compare to my ecological footprint at home in Baltimore?
I used one of the easier and quicker - if coarser - carbon footprint calculators, at nature.org.
Here is what I found: our comfortable, city apartment lifestyle gives off a modest 15 tons of CO2/year, well below the national household-of-two average of 53 and much more in line with the world household-of-two average of 11, while our spacious, suburban Baltimore single detached dwelling lifestyle contributes a whopping 57 tons of CO2 a year.
And that is with our hybrid car, our composting all our foods stuffs, recycling everything we can (we usually generate only one small bag of garbage a week), swapping out most of our incandescents for CFLs, using energy star appliances, putting in a wood-burning stove, etc etc.
So while the green movement appropriately continues to preach individual behavior change, and a recasting of our attitudes and the narratives we tell ourselves about our relationship with the earth so we can fundamentally affect our consumption patterns for the better, there is no doubt that the buildings and neighborhoods we live in have a far greater impact that our intentional daily behaviors alone.
The truth is, on a policy level, clustered living is good for the earth, and, when done right, good for the spirit.
We must, therefore, re-imagine what it takes to make livable, friendly cities which blend privacy and neighborhood, density and open spaces, efficiency and beauty, nesting and prospect, home and commons, presence and away.
Efforts such as Transition Town, co-housing, re-treeing urban environments, daylighting our urban streams that have been buried underground, re-creating a greater sense of the commons, and equitable access to the raw gifts of nature are all pulling together to get us there.
How we retrofit suburbia is a bit more challenging. But there are folks working on that too.
The hope is that by this time next century, the ways we live, and the world we live in, will all be healthier, happier places.