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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