Thursday, 30 December 2010

Many ways to go green

From yesterday's New York Times:
Massachusetts officials on Wednesday announced a plan to curb heat-trapping gases emitted by homes, cars and businesses in the state by 25 percent below 1990 levels over the next decade.

The targets set by the plan are the highest allowed under climate legislation passed by the state in 2008 and among the most stringent in the nation, placing Massachusetts in the company of California, New Mexico and other states that have taken strong action to address global warming.

Unlike California’s plan, however, which sets industry-by-industry regulations to achieve its mandated cutbacks, the Massachusetts plan relies largely on existing programs, like renewable-energy mandates, energy-efficiency standards for building construction and curbs in the electricity sector that are already in place under a multistate agreement known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

There's plenty to like here, in terms of improving home energy efficiency, cap-and-trade for utility firm emissions, and introducing pay-as-you-drive car insurance. But I have a nagging concern about state-level initiatives of this kind, because of the potential perverse incentive to reduce carbon emissions simply by holding down population growth. And indeed, population growth in Massachusetts, at 3.9% between 2000 and 2009, is well below the national average of 9.1% (data). On the basis of the very simple comparison of CO2 emissions in selected states in the chart below Massachusetts looks very good, but most of the difference is down to very different population growth trends.

The policies being proposed by the Massachusetts state government sound like they should reduce per capita emissions, and that's great. But a more cynical state government could take a different approach. In general, climate change mitigation is one of those things best done at as high a level as possible, precisely because of the kind of perverse incentives that could arise in state-level approaches. Besides which, we really don't need to give places like Massachusetts any extra incentive to restrict housing supply.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

New US data shows falling segregation and the suburbanisation of poverty

The US Census Bureau has released data from its American Community Survey, which over the last five years surveyed an incredible 10 million addresses resulting a dataset that is both granular and richly informative. But more importantly, the New York Times has used the data to produce some cool maps which attracted a lot of attention over the past few days. You can explore the data here as you can see, they have adopted for their ethnicity maps a style quite similar to the Bill Rankin/Eric Fisher maps I copied for my own map of London.

While the data seems to show that the long trend of falling segregation has continued and perhaps even accelerated, there are still some remarkably segregated major cities in America, such as Detroit and Philadelphia. I was particularly struck by the ethnic distributions in Los Angeles, where the coastal areas seem to be dominated by white people, while there are huge swathes of predominantly Hispanic areas further inland. Probably not surprising to your average American, but it was news to me.

The new data also includes information on income and housing costs, and over at Discovering Urbanism they have been looking at income changes in inner cities as compared to suburbs. Do go read the full post, but the basic message is that incomes seem to be rising in city centres and falling in many suburbs. This is consistent with what has been called (using the US spelling) the 'suburbanization of poverty', and with research suggesting that people increasingly value the lifestyles offered by inner cities now that crime has fallen and deindustrialisation has cleaned up their environments. This urban renaissance is of course a double-edged sword, in that there is a risk of these newly gentrifying city centre areas becoming unaffordable for the poor and hostile to new housing supply, while poverty rises in suburbs arguably less well-equipped to cope with it.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

People think cycling is dangerous

The UK Department for Transport have published the results of a very large and detailed survey into people's attitudes towards climate change and transport choices. There is a vast amount of information in the report and accompanying tables but I have just picked out some of the more interesting findings (for me anyway) on attitudes to cycling, particularly in London:

  • 60% of people who can ride a bike think the roads are too dangerous, including 71% of women and 66% of Londoners.

  • 63% of Londoners who can ride a bike would cycle more if there were dedicated cycle paths.

  • 90% of Londoners say cycling is the least safe form of transport.

  • 33% of Londoners don't cycle because they think there is too much traffic or the roads are too dangerous, compared to 22% in UK as a whole.

  • 62% of UK people 'haven't really thought about' cycling to work. 24% thought about it but decided not to.