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Tuesday, February 14,2012

Why Energy Efficiency Isn't All It's Cracked Up to Be

When New Yorker writer David Owen moved his family from Manhattan to a small town in northwestern Connecticut in 1985, it seemed like a green decision. Their tree-shaded house had been built in the 1700s and sat across from a nature preserve. Deer, wild turkeys and even bears could be seen in their yard; woods surrounded their neighborhood. It was a bucolic country existence, something out of a nature poem.

Yet for the global environment, the move was a minidisaster. The Owens' electricity consumption went up more than sevenfold, and the lack of both public transportation and dense housing that's typical of Connecticut (and much of the rest of the U.S.) meant the family had to buy several cars. And those cars got driven — a lot. Owen notes that he and his wife now put some 30,000 miles a year on their odometers, burning carbon with every gallon. Access to trees and wildlife and cleaner air in Connecticut was great, but for the climate, it's dense and efficient Manhattan — where cars are optional and living space is much tighter — that does less damage per capita.

To Owen, the move was a lesson: what looks environmentally friendly isn't always the case.

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