My love of cities began in a purely academic and abstract manner; it was an environmental studies class that showed me the impact of our human settlement patterns on our planet.

My complaint against suburban sprawl- and subsequent appreciation for less-developed rural areas and densely developed urban areas- was initially based solely on environmental grounds. Sprawl creates dependence on private automobiles and makes walking to necessary destinations impossible, public transit infeasible, and massively increases the amount of pavement and unproductive land per capita.

I have since come to love cities for other, non-environmental reasons. Cultural diversity. Significant architecture. History.

But I still advocate that living in cities can help improve our environment in many ways; one primary way is by making possible decreased driving -through living closer to where we work and shop and through offering increased transportation options.

The United States produces enormous amounts of greenhouse gases, a high percentage of which is due to our auto-dependence. Approximately 1/3 of CO2 emissions in the US come from automobiles. In fact, according to a recent study, the US emits nearly 50% of automobile-caused greenhouse gases in the world, though we only comprise 5% of the world’s population.

American cars and pickup trucks are responsible for nearly half of the greenhouse gases emitted by automobiles globally, even though the nation’s vehicles make up just 30% of the nearly 700 million cars in use, according to a new report by Environmental Defense.

Cars in the U.S. are driven more miles, face lower fuel economy standards and use fuel with more carbon than many of those driven in other countries, the authors found. According to the report by the environmental group, due out today, U.S. cars and light trucks were driven 2.6 trillion miles in 2004, equal to driving back and forth to Pluto more than 470 times. [VIA] [Original study here]

Clearly it’s not only automobiles that cause pollution in this country, but if more people live in cities and reduce their personal “carbon footprint,” we can reduce the source of 1/3 of our country’s emissions.

To drive home how much we pollute, consider the following 2 graphical comparisons of our emissions with other countries’. Each state, or cluster of states, is labeled with a country or continent that has equivalent greenhouse gas emissions.[VIA] Click on the map for a full, legible view.

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