Friday, July 13, 2007

Climate Change Surprise

Wendell Cox has been surveying the latest information on Greenhouse Gas Emissions and observes that the Australian Conservation Foundation's findings on the emissions from different areas provide some surprising results. People living in the higher density Eastern and Inner Northern Suburbs emit more greenhouse gases than do people living in the lower density single-residential Western suburbs:

WESTERN SYDNEY: CLIMATE CHANGE MODEL

For many years, the urban elites of Australia and Sydney particularly have cast aspersions on western Sydney. Indeed, their distorted views about western Sydney have been a principal foundation of the urban consolidation policies that have destroyed home ownership in Sydney and around the nation. They claim that western Sydney was unplanned, they have divined all manner of phony society costs that were not paid by the residents. To hear the elitist newspaper columnists and cabinet ministers talk, one would imagine that pictures of shantytowns on the banks of a Jakarta river could be substituted for western Sydney photographs without anyone noticing.

This kind of elitism has no place in any nation, and certainly not in a nation with perhaps the world’s strongest egalitarian streak. Indeed, there is much to be proud of in western Sydney. Western Sydney has provided hundreds of thousands of people the opportunity to own their own homes and climb on the ladder of opportunity. If the offense of urban consolidation had been visited upon the city in the 1950s, there would have been no western suburbs. Not only would urban consolidation have priced the next generation out of the housing market, but the generation of their parents and grand-parents.

The imperative now, of course, is to greenhouse gas emission reduction. The crowd that sends off scientists to gather Greenland ice cores at the slightest suggestion of anything that would make middle income lives better is committed to using climate change as the mechanism to engineer people into the life styles that planners prefer. Thus, we must all move out of our detached houses to flats. We must give up our cars for public transport. And on and on and on. And, western Sydney is exactly the kind of place that will have to change, at least according to the creed of the elites.

It must thus have come as something as a surprise for all of this arrogance to be interrupted by reality. The reality is to be found The Australian Conservation Association’s Consumption Atlas, which allocates all of the greenhouse gas emissions based upon their final point of consumption. In fact, the western suburbs do very well indeed. In the western suburbs the annual emission of greenhouses gases is approximately 18.1 tonnes per capita. This is approximately 25 percent less than the favored eastern suburbs at 25.8 tonnes. Among Sydney’s regions, only the southwest does better, at 17.2 tonnes. The southwest includes Campbelltown and Camden, which area really not suburban – they are rather exurban.

The admirable record of the western suburbs does not stop there. The Consumption Atlas shows them to consume less water per capita and to have a smaller ecological footprint. So much for the conventional wisdom.

The reality is that residents of the eastern and near northern suburbs should be standing in line to buy carbon credits from the environmentally more favorable western suburbs (or at least the urban elites should). Rather than being a model to be avoided, as the planners have so wrongly concluded, the western suburbs have proven themselves to be a model for the future.

Data at: http://www.demographia.com/db-sydareaGHG.pdf

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

It is clear from the report that greenhouse gas emissions is a direct function of income. If the Western Suburbs were inhabited mainly by affluent persons and the inner city areas by lower income people (the situation in most U.S. cities), then the pattern would be reversed. Also, since in Australia petrol accounts for only 10% of greenhouse emissions, reducing this form of energy use is obviously secondary to eliminating coal burning and so forth.

Tony Recsei said...

The allegation that the greenhouse gas emission difference is mainly due to income is not supported or quantified. My research shows that high-density is more energy intensive due to greater operational energy resulting from lifts, clothes driers, common lighted areas etc and also due to the much greater energy embodied in construction. These factors are not dependent on income.

Tony said...

You can see from "Multi-Unit Residential Building Energy & Peak Demand Study" By Paul Myors, EnergyAustralia, with Rachel O’Leary and Rob Helstroom, NSW Department of Planning (October 2005), "Energy News VOl 23 no 4, December 2005" that energy use per person in high-rise is double that of people in single-residential. One can only presume that it is easier to keep a house cool (eaves, overhanging trees) than a unit which may run airconditioning for a greated portion of the time. Cooling takes much more energy than heating due to the necessity of moving around large volumes of air and this is significant in a hot climate such as in Australia compared to cold climates such as in Europe.

With regard to embodied energy see "An analysis of the embodied energy of office buildings by height", G.J. Treloar, R. Fay, B. Ilozor, P.E.D. Love; Journal: Facilities; ISSN: 0263-2772; May 2001 Volume: 19 Issue: 5/6 Page: 204 - 214 for the embodied energy in high rise and convert this to per person. Compare this with the results in "Estimating Energy Consumption In The Urban Environment With A Focus On Embodied Energy";Stephen Pullen, Patrick Troy, Darren Holloway & Raymond Bunker;Proceedings of the 36th Conference of Architectural Science Association (ANZAScA). 1 – 4 November 2002. Deakin University, Australia for single residential. One sees the embodied energy in high-rise is nearly four times that in single-residential per person.

James said...

According to the web site the high emissions in inner cities are due to high expenditure on purchases. NOt because of building energy use.
I can't see how this makes high density living bad. Smaller and denser living spaces and better public transport clearly are much more energy efficent.

Tony said...

Looking at the data in detail one finds that even after allowing for high expenditure on purchases high density living results in more carbon dioxide emissions per person than does low density. Possible reasons are more people living in a low density dwelling than in a high density unit, so sharing the dwelling’s emissions between them; the energy required for lifts, more frequent use of air-conditioning, clothes driers and common lighted areas in high density and people living in units more often feeling the urge to get out from between the four walls of the dwelling and so travelling around more.

Peter Rickwood said...

The headline and main gist of this post in misleading.

The main finding of the ACF study is that consumption (of goods/services) is the main determinant of greenhouse gas emissions, and consumption rises with income. This is why the wealthier inner suburbs produce more greenhouse gases, not because they are high density. The report makes this clear.

Your comment:

The allegation that the greenhouse gas emission difference is mainly due to income is not supported or quantified.


is incorrect. The report details the dominating relationship between expenditure and greenhouse gases quite clearly. Quoting the Myors et al study is irrelevant, as income and demographic effects were not controlled for in that stufy -- it is quite clear that wealthy households occupy high-rise apartments in the City, Chatswood, and St Leonards (which make up a large part of the sample by Myors et al). No argument with your claim that embodied energy is higher for high-rise buildings, but for semis, terraces, 6-packs and the like the embodied energy is lower than for detached dwellings.

Tony said...

The statement "the allegation that the greenhouse gas emission difference is mainly due to income is not supported or quantified" was made in the context of high-density versus low density. It is clear from the "Main Findings" report that this statement is correct overall but this report does not show that for equal incomes high-density is more sustainable than low-density. In fact the opposite is the case!

A paper by the authors describing the methodology of the Consuming Australia study ("Energy requirements of Sydney Households", Manfred Lenzen, Christopher Dey, Varney Foran, "Ecological Economics" 49 (2004) 375-379) gives the monetary and energy budget for households with comparable incomes selected from the high-density inner Sydney and Easter Suburbs compared with households from the low density Fairfield and outer South-Western suburbs. This comparison removes the effect of income. This shows the energy requirement per person in the high-density suburbs is 169 GJ per annum and for those in the low-density suburbs only 96 GJ per annum. Remember these are for households with comparable incomes.

It is clear that these authors have really thought this out and are intellectually committed. We have for the first time a comprehensive approach instead of the piecemeal, hobby horse and incomplete approach the high-density advocates and their running dogs have been promulgating over the years.

Sustainability has been the main claim by the high-density priesthood to support their ideology of high-density. This has been completely blown out of the water.

Peter Rickwood said...


[Lenzen et als...] comparison removes the effect of income. This shows the energy requirement per person in the high-density suburbs is 169 GJ per annum and for those in the low-density suburbs only 96 GJ per annum. Remember these are for households with comparable incomes.


If we stick with the Lenzen paper you refence, the relevent section to look at to find the independent effect of dwelling type is table 4. All other things equal, detached dwellings are associated with higher domestic energy consumption and higher automotive fuel consumption.

The comparison of households you mention (in section 3.3 of the article) does not allow you to make any inferences about the effect of density, because, while
incomes are comparable, nothing else is. Ages differ, household size and types differ, education levels differs,
etc. To attribute the difference to dwelling form alone is incorrect.


It is clear that these authors have really thought this out and are intellectually committed. We have for the first time a comprehensive approach instead of the piecemeal, hobby horse and incomplete approach the high-density advocates and their running dogs have been promulgating over the years.


While the author's approach is systematic, you should be a little more careful in your interpretation of their results. The study you mention allows for very limited inference on the effect of density on greenhouse gases, and what inference one can draw (from the multivariate regression results in table 4, and elsewhere) pretty much match what is generally claimed -- in-dwelling and transport energy use is higher in detached dwellings further from the city.

Tony said...

One cannot but agree that care must be exercised in interpreting the results of the paper by Lenzen et al and these cautions are appreciated. However let us look at this debate in the context of the initial contention of the head posting decrying using climate change as the mechanism to engineer people into the life styles that planners prefer. Thus, we must all move out of our detached houses to flats.

In Sydney the State Government has been forcing the retrofit of high-density onto suburbs originally designed for low-density under threat of taking away the planning powers of the community’s council if this is not done. The main pretext for this despotic action is given as sustainability. One would therefore expect that a careful study such as this paper would show overwhelmingly that there is a dramatic reduction in energy requirements associated with high-density living.

Surely some conclusions may be drawn from the household comparison in section 3.3 of the paper? It is not claimed that the energy difference of 169 GJ per person living in high-density compared to 96 GJ living in low-density can entirely be entirely ascribed to dwelling form. But perhaps one can assert that these figures are highly suggestive that high-density living does not result in an energy saving to the extent that justifies the dictatorial planning policies of the State Government.

Similarly with multivariate regression in Table 4. The regression lines for various variables including the energy requirement for mobility and automotive fuel consumption per person are almost flat for various densities. There is no huge decrease indicated for higher densities.

The Government planning policy has many drawbacks. Many people who have purchased or built the long-term house of their dreams in a suburb zoned for single-residential are suddenly confronted with a development application for a 6-storey unit block next to them. The result is overshadowing, a huge reduction in privacy, destruction of neighbouring trees and gardens and open space, more noise and increases in traffic volume and congestion beyond the capacity of the original planning in a previously quiet area. On a larger scale, the city’s infrastructure is overloaded including roads, public transport, sewers, water reticulation, storm water disposal and power supplies while the diversity of wildlife within the city is devastated.

One can justifiably ask – what benefit can counter these disadvantages. We can now be reasonably sure this cannot be sustainability. Can the driving force be political donations?