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Major Cities - Environmental Friend or Foe?

Many environmentalists celebrate the environmental benefits of densely developed urban centers. Urban living reduces the scope of humanity's footprint on the earth in many ways. Not only do cities fit more people on less land, but urban density generates tremendous economies of scale that lead to greater energy efficiency and other material savings. There are environmental costs of density, to be sure. Air pollution tends to be higher in more densely populated areas, and the concentrated pollution flowing from dense areas will, in some circumstances, be more likely to overwhelm nature's inherent absorptive capacities. Nonetheless, environmental activists have long championed dense urban growth over the dominant alternative of suburban sprawl.

Environmentalist gadfly Jeremy Rifkin challenges this consensus in today's Washington Post. Rifkin argues that urbanization, combined with population growth, comes at a terrible environmental toll; "our burgeoning population and urban way of life have been purchased at the expense of vast ecosystems and habitats."

The flip side of urbanization is what we are leaving behind on our way to a world of hundred-story office buildings, high-rise residences and landscapes of glass, cement, artificial light and electronic interconnectivity. It's no accident that as we celebrate the urbanization of the world, we are quickly approaching another historic watershed: the disappearance of the wild. Rising population; growing consumption of food, water and building materials; expanding road and rail transport; and urban sprawl continue to encroach on the remaining wild, pushing it to extinction.
I am not much of a Rifkin fan, largely due to his Luddite view of modern technology, and I don't entirely accept his analysis. Nonetheless, I think this article is worth a read.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Bailey on Rifkin on Cities:
  2. Major Cities - Environmental Friend or Foe?
35 Comments
Bailey on Rifkin on Cities:

Ronald Bailey was not too impressed with the Rifkin op-ed on urbanization and the environment.

As humanity has urbanized, we have become ever less subject to nature's vagaries. For instance, a globally interconnected world made possible by the transportation networks between cities means that a crop failure in one place can be overcome by food imports from areas with bumper crops. Similarly resources of all types can be shifted quickly to ameliorate human emergencies caused by the random acts of a brutal insensate nature. Autonomy is just another word for freedom.

The further good news is that the movement of humanity's burgeoning population into the thousand of megacities foreseen that Rifkin is part of a process that ultimately will leave more land for nature. Today cities occupy just 2 percent of the earth's surface, but that will likely double to 4 percent over the next half century. In order to avoid this ostensibly terrible fate Rifkin proclaims, "In the next phase of human history, we will need to find a way to reintegrate ourselves into the rest of the living Earth if we are to preserve our own species and conserve the planet for our fellow creatures." Actually, he's got it completely backwards. Humanity must not reintegrate into nature-that way lays disaster for humanity and nature. Instead we must make ourselves even more autonomous than we already are from her.

Since nothing is more destructive of nature than poverty stricken subsistence farmers, boosting agricultural productivity is the key to the human retreat from wild nature.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Bailey on Rifkin on Cities:
  2. Major Cities - Environmental Friend or Foe?
7 Comments