Green Metropolis by David Owen

Why Living Smaller, Living Closer, and Driving Less are the Keys to Sustainability.  That one sentence says it all.

In 2004, David Owen wrote an article for The New Yorker called “Green Manhattan”.  His 2009 book, The Green Metropolis expands on that idea and shows how cities like New York with high population densities and low car ownership rates are consuming and polluting less per average citizen than their counterparts in suburbs, small towns and even on farms.  So the writer claims living in New York is greener than living on a farm and growing your own food.

Owen points out that city dwellers walk or use public transit  instead of driving, share large public infrastructures with higher efficiency, and use less energy to heat their homes due to shared walls and high-rise living. As a result people living in large cities, such as New York use half as much energy, and produce 30% less green house gasses as people who don’t live in cities.

According to Owen, we live in a Liquid Civilization. The incredible growth of industry and associated increase in wealth of the past century can directly be attributed to the discovery and use of oil.  While the use of oil has contributed to the greatest expansion of industry around the world it has also deteriorated our environment.  Approximately two-thirds of the oil we consume in North America is used for transportation, mainly automobile use and the resulting greenhouse gasses are one of the major causes of high carbon emission rates in North America.

Owen believes that to make any significant reduction in our carbon foot print we have to drastically reduce the consumption of fossil fuels.  That can only be achieved by curtailing the use of automobile. The author points out that the best way to do that is to live closer to each other as in cities, maintain a simple life style i.e. smaller residences, and avoid unnecessary driving by using mass transit.  This can only be possible by living in large metropolitan cities, like New York, London and Tokyo.  Essentially city living is greener than suburban living in every sense of the word.

Owen thinks that the traditional bias against cities in American history and the environmentalist’s love of nature and open spaces has encouraged urban sprawl.   He also points out that the Green Building movement has distracted us from making hard decisions, and that no matter how much we focus on making an individual building sustainable, living in large cities and driving less is the only viable solution to significantly reduce our carbon footprint.


For additional book reviews see the following:

Catherine Tumber book review for FDL Book salon is excellent, especially read the comments where David Owen  defends his positions by answering directly to the questions raised by readers.


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2 Comments on “Green Metropolis by David Owen”

  1. alexsommer September 27, 2012 at 10:18 am #

    So I am doing research on greenhouse gas emissions and the relationship between transport and industry, etc. etc…

    Of course, I went to the EPA to figure out some data. They sent me to an IPCC report on GHG shares by emitters. Transportation is second only to electricity production with regard to GHG emissions. But what kind of transportation?

    Light-duty vehicles = 44.5%
    Heavy freight trucks = 16.2%
    Air = 11.6%
    Shipping = 9.5%
    Medium freight trucks = 8.8%
    Buses = 6.2%
    2-wheelers = 1.6%
    Rail = 1.5%

    So, what are light-duty vehicles?
    They are cars, minivans, SUV’s, and light trucks

    Did you know light trucks are protected by a US 25% tariff called the Chicken Tax?
    Yes, light trucks = chicken tax

    Imposed in 1963 on France and West Germany by President Johnson. Apparantly, cold-war Europe was trying to protect its chickens by adding a tariff to US chicks (they also didn’t like that we added arsenic, hormones, and other things to our factory-chickens), so we imposed a tariff on potato starch, dextrin, brandy, and light trucks.

    Eventually the US tariff on food stuffs was dropped, but the light truck tariff remained, and is still protected today by the Chicken Tax.

    This has killed all light-truck foreign competition and really hurt any chances of bringing those European or Japanese fuel-efficient light duty vehicles to the US and forced our trucks to respond to the competition. Although apparently there are loopholes for Ford, who manufactures a light truck in Turkey, then removes the interior in Baltimore, and it no longer becomes an import. Some Asian companies are also able to get around it by reducing the truck bed size and adding a cab, therefore removing it from the light-truck category.

    Where does that leave us? France and Germany have healthier, locally produced chickens at a higher cost, and the US has zero impetus to improve design and CAFE standards of its light-truck fleets.


    • Syed S. Ahmed September 27, 2012 at 10:40 am #

      I always wondered why European light trucks were much smaller and probably more fuel efficient than ours, because we have no competition. The more I read about the enormity of GHG and carbon foot print global chalanges the more I realize that nothing will happen until we will be forced to make life style changes either by the high price of oil or by natural disasters. I guess on that day green technologies and cap and trade would come in handy for industrialized nations, while the poor nations would just suffer and pay the price in terms of lost economic growth and lives.



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