Are the suburbs anti-green?

11 Feb

The predictions of Jim Kunstler are now being echoed (albeit in subtler tones) about the impending impact of peak oil.  Earlier this year Shell Oil predicted that we will hit peak oil in 7 years.  According to Kuntler this is going to radically change the way North Americans live, particularly those who depend on cheap easy motoring and suburban comfort.  Now the NY Times is sounding the alarm about the pseudo greenness of the grassy suburbs.

But the problem with suburbs, many environmentalists say, is not an issue of light bulbs. In the end, the very things that make suburban life attractive — the lush lawns, spacious houses and three-car garages — also disproportionally contribute to global warming. Suburban life, these environmentalists argue, is simply not sustainable.

“The very essence of the post-Second World War America suburb militates against ‘greening,’ ” said Thomas J. Sugrue, a professor of history and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. “Given the almost complete dependency of suburbanites on the car, it’s an uphill battle.”

Cities, for their part, have been trumpeting their green credentials. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York has made much of his plan to reduce carbon emissions 30 percent by 2030. (Already, the average denizen of New York City produces 7.1 metric tons of greenhouse gases each year, according to statistics compiled for the city government, compared with 24.5 metric tons for the average American.)

Longtime suburban residents might wonder how they suddenly became environmentally incorrect. People who moved to the suburbs in the ’50’s and ’60’s thought they were being green just by doing so, said Robert Beauregard, a professor of urban planning at Columbia University.

Then, green “just meant open space and privacy,” Professor Beauregard said. “Those Levittowns were ‘green’ because they had lawns.”

The bar is considerably higher now.

Chevron Station

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