There's a big dot over my present location, Washington, D.C., in this map by the Brookings Institution charting per capita carbon emissions from residential energy use.
Chances are, if you live in a mid-Atlantic or midwestern city, there's one over you as well, because of these states' use of nonrenewable energy sources, like coal, for electricity. Though Americans who live in cities often have much smaller carbon footprints than their suburban or rural compatriots, this recent study shows that the amount of carbon urbanites use varies widely across the country, with easterners accounting for the lion's share.
To help cities become leaders in lowering America's carbon usage, Brookings recommends the following policies:
• Promote more transportation choices to expand transit and compact development options
• Introduce more energy-efficient freight operations with regional freight planning
• Require home energy cost disclosure when selling [a house] and "on-bill" financing [which allows homeowners to pay the upfront costs of efficiency improvements in their monthly utility bills from the savings generated by the investment] to stimulate and scale up energy-efficient retrofitting of residential housing
• Use federal housing policy to create incentives for energy- and location-efficient decisions
• Issue a metropolitan challenge to develop innovative solutions that integrate multiple policy areas
Across the pond, one German city is taking a stricter approach to residential carbon use. The university town of Marburg has approved a law mandating solar panels on new or renovated houses beginning October 1. Those who do not comply could be fined as much as 1,000 euros (about $1,500), and now residents of the town are complaining that officials are presiding over a "green dictatorship."
It might sound harsh to some—especially considering that solar panel installation runs in the tens of thousands of dollars—but is dictating the amount of renewable energy a home uses much different from communities allowing houses to be painted only certain colors? The panels pay for themselves in saved energy costs over the years, German officials say, but the citizens of Marburg are still grousing. Will they change their mind when they see their wintertime bills?