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Carbon Footprint of American Cities

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In May, 2008, the Brookings Institution released a report entitled Shrinking the Carbon Footprint of Metropolitan America. This report PDF presents the results of a study of the carbon footprint of the largest metropolitan areas in the United States, finding that large metropolitan areas have greater energy and Template:Carbon efficiency than non-metropolitan areas, and that metro areas have show more promise for reducing carbon emissions.

About the Brookings InstitutionEdit

The Brookings Institution is a nonprofit public policy organization based in Washington, DC. Its mission is to conduct high-quality, independent research and, based on that research, to provide innovative, practical recommendations that advance three broad goals:

  • Strengthen American democracy;
  • Foster the economic and social welfare, security and opportunity of all Americans and
  • Secure a more open, safe, prosperous and cooperative international system.

Major Report FindingsEdit

Large metropolitan areas offer greater energy and carbon efficiency than non metropolitan areas. The 100 largest metro areas in the United States emitted 56% of U.S. carbon emissions from highway transportation and residential buildings in 2005. Metropolitan residents had a smaller carbon footprint than the average American (2.24 metric tons versus 2.60 metric tons). This is due primarily because metro dwellers travel less by car and use less electricity.

Carbon emissions from highway transportation and residential use increased more slowly in metropolitan America than in the rest of the country between 2000 and 2005. Nationally, carbon emissions increased 9.1% between 2000 and 2005. In contrast, emissions in major metro areas increased 7.5% over this same period. The population of the 100 major metropolitan areas grew by 6.3% over this period, with the result that the average per capita footprint of people in these areas grew only 1.1% while the U.S. partial carbon footprint grew twice as rapidly during this same timeframe.

Per capita emissions vary substantially by metro area. For example, the highest emissions were from Lexington, Kentucky (3.46 metric tons) and the lowest were from Honolulu, Hawaii (1.36 metric tons). A metropolitan area's gross metropolitan product (GMP) also emerged as an indicator of carbon intensity. For example, Youngstown, Ohio had the highest of 97.6 metric tons of carbon per million dollars, compared to San Jose, California, which had the lowest with 22.5 metric tons per million dollars.

Location also played a role: In 2005, all but one of the 10 largest per capita emitters was located east of the Mississippi River, and all but one of the ten lowest emitters (New York) was located west of the Mississippi River. From north to south, all of the highest per capita emitters were located south of Lake Erie. Regionally, the Midwest, Northeast, and South all increased their per capita carbon emissions and the West had a slight decline in its partial carbon footprint between 2000 and 2005.


Development patterns and rail transit play an important role in determining carbon emissions. Areas with small per capita footprints tend to have higher density, concentration of development, and rail transportation. New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco have the smallest transportation and residential footprints.

Other factors are important, such as the fuels used to generate electricity, electricity prices, and weather. Areas that use coal power, such as the Ohio Valley and the Appalachian regions, have higher footprints than areas like Seattle, which is hydro-reliant. Areas with the lowest per capita electricity footprints are from states with with higher than average electricity prices.


Based on its findings, the Brookings Institution suggests the following five policies to the country shrink its carbon footprint further:

  • 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 and “on-bill” financing 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

Per capita carbon emissions from transportation and residential energy use in 2005Edit

Metropolitan Area Rank Per Capita Carbon Footprint in Metric Tons
Honolulu, HI 0 1.36
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, CA 2 1.41
Portland-Vancouver-Beaverton, OR-WA 3 1.45
New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, NY-NJ-PA 4 1.50
Boise City-Nampa, ID 5 1.51
Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA 6 1.56
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA 7 1.57
San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, CA 8 1.59
El Paso, TX 9 1.61
San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos, CA 10 1.63
Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, CA 11 1.75
Sacramento—Arden-Arcade—Roseville, CA 12 1.77
Greenville, SC 13 1.86
Rochester, NY 14 1.91
Chicago-Naperville-Joliet, IL-IN-WI 15 1.97
Buffallo-Niagara Falls, NY 16 2.00
Tucson, AZ 17 2.00
Las Vegas-Paradise, NV 18 2.01
Stockton, CA 19 2.02
Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, MA-NH 20 2.02
Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ 21 2.07
Fresno, CA 22 2.08
Lancaster, PA 23 2.09
New Haven-Milford, CT 24 2.10
Poughkeepsie-Newburgh-Middletown, NY 25 2.13
Colorado Springs, CO 26 2.13
Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD 27 2.14
Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Miami Beach, FL 28 2.16
New Orleans-Metairie-Kenner, LA 29 2.16
Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, CT 30 2.18
Cleveland-Elyria-Mentor, OH 31 2.24
Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA 32 2.26
San Antonio, TX 33 2.27
Pittsburgh, PA 34 2.28
Houston-Baytown-Sugar Land, TX 35 2.29
Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA-NC 36 2.34
Detroit-Warren-Livonia, MI 37 2.35
Albuquerque, NM 38 2.36
Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton, PA-NJ 39 2.36
Providence-New Bedford-Fall River, RI-MA 40 2.37
Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, CT 41 2.38
Denver-Aurora, CO 42 2.39
Charleston-North Charleston, SC 43 2.43
Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, WI 44 2.44
Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI 45 2.44
Springfield, MA 46 2.45
Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL 47 2.50
Baton Rouge, LA 48 2.51
Worcester, MA 49 2.52
Salt Lake City, UT 50 2.52
Albany-Schenectady-Troy, NY 51 2.52
Columbia, SC 52 2.53
Bakersfield, CA 53 2.54
Orlando, FL 54 2.55
Austin-Round Rock, TX 55 2.57
Greensboro-High Point, NC 56 2.58
Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX 57 2.58
Portland-South Portland-Biddeford, ME 58 2.60
Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville, FL 59 2.60
Grand Rapids-Wyoming, MI 60 2.61
Durham, NC 61 2.61
Akron, OH 62 2.64
Scranton—Wilkes-Barre, PA 63 2.66
Trenton-Ewing, NJ 63 2.66
Omaha-Council Bluffs, NE-IA 65 2.68
Wichita, KS 66 2.68
Syracuse, NY 67 2.68
Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta, GA 67 2.68
Baltimore-Towson, MD 69 2.71
Cape Coral-Fort Myers, FL 70 2.74
Lansing-East Lansing, MI 71 2.75
Charlotte-Gastonia-Concord, NC-SC 72 2.76
Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, OH-PA 73 2.76
Des Moines, IA 74 2.77
Dayton, OH 75 2.77
Raleigh-Cary, NC 76 2.80
Memphis, TN-MS-AR 77 2.87
Augusta-Richmond County, GA-SC 78 2.89
Birmingham-Hoover, AL 79 2.90
Jacksonville, FL 80 2.91
Madison, WI 81 2.91
Sarasota-Bradenton-Venice, FL 81 2.91
Columbus, OH 83 2.95
Kansas City, MO-KS 84 2.97
Little Rock-North Little Rock, AR 85 3.01
Richmond, VA 86 3.04
Jackson, MS 87 3.06
Chattanooga, TN-GA 88 3.11
Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV 89 3.12
Tulsa, OK 90 3.12
Knoxville, TN 91 3.15
Harrisburg-Carlisle, PA 92 3.19
Oklahoma City, OK 93 3.20
St. Louis, MO-IL 94 3.22
Nashville-Davidson—Murfreesboro, TN 95 3.22
Louisville, KY-IN 96 3.23
Toledo, OH 97 3.24
Cincinnati-Middletown, OH-KY-IN 98 3.28
Indianapolis, IN 99 3.36
Lexington-Fayette, KY 100 3.46
Average Footprint for 100 Largest Metros 2.24


Blueprint for American Prosperity: Unleashing the Potential of a Metropolitan Nation. "Shrinking the Carbon Footprint of Metropolitan America" by Marilyn A. Brown, Frank Southwort, and Andrea Sarzynski. The Brookings Institute. May, 2008 Template:Carbon footprint

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