The old mantra “think globally, act locally,” is pretty silly. Local environmentalism is often bad environmentalism, because keeping one’s backyard pristine can make the planet worse off. Preventing wind farms leaves Cape Cod’s views untouched, but increases carbon emissions.
In my own field of housing, a similar phenomenon occurs when some environmental groups put their own local interests ahead of global warming.
Homes in coastal California use much less energy than homes in most other places in the country. New building in California, as opposed to Texas, reduces America’s carbon emissions. Yet, instead of fighting to make it easier to build in California, environmentalists have played a significant role in stemming the growth of America’s greenest cities.
In a previous post on the Lorax, I discussed the work that I had done with Matthew Kahn on carbon emissions across the United States. We used data on energy expenditures and driving patterns to estimate the emissions associated with a new house in different parts of the country. We controlled for family size and income and focused only on newer homes. My previous post emphasized the lower carbon emissions of city residents, but the differences across metropolitan areas are even more extreme than the differences between cities and suburbs.
San Francisco is the greenest metropolitan area in the country. An average new home there emits about 38,000 pounds of carbon dioxide each year. Houston is the brownest area in the country. An average new home there emits about 68,000 pounds of carbon dioxide each year. California owns our top five list of greenest metropolitan areas in our sample, which includes San Jose, San Diego, Los Angeles and Sacramento.
Why are these California areas so green?
The primary reason is climate. January temperature does a terrific job of explaining carbon emissions from home heating and July temperature does almost as well at explaining electricity usage. California has the most temperate climate in the country and as a result, homes use less heat in the winter and less electricity in the summer. In hot, humid Houston or frigid Minneapolis, people use plenty of energy to artificially recreate what California has naturally.
Environmentalists should, presumably, be out there lobbying for more homes in coastal California, but instead, for more than four decades, California environmental groups, such as Save the Bay, have fought new construction in the most temperate, lowest carbon-emission area of the country.
This anti-growth movement has achieved enormous successes, and the growth rate of California has plummeted. ...
I generally agree - the environmental movement does often miss the forest for the trees. That said, note that Glaeser is a fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank.