Designing Carbon Neutral Cities

There's a lot of hype around global warming thanks to Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth. While it seems obvious that there's some kind of global warming going on, it isn't as obvious what (if anything) can be done about it. Carbon offsets are a popular way to pay your way to guilt-free consumption, but I'm not convinced that investing in potential future energy programs, like the offsets Terrapass offers is the road to environmental recovery. Planting trees to consume the carbon produced is a more plausible solution, because there's some thought that deforestation is part of the global warming problem. Of course the real solution no one wants to face is that we all need to consume less. We need to turn off our computers, turn off our lights, and stop driving everywhere.

I'm currently in Silicon Valley working on Microsoft IPTV. When I'm not in The Valley, I'm working out of my home in Seattle full time. When I'm at home, I drive less. I can walk to the grocery store. I can walk to the bank. I can walk to the video store. I can walk to several of my favorite restaurants. There's almost no where in Silicon Valley I could easily do any of those things, certainly not within my housing price range. There are several vibrant downtown areas, like Burlingame, Palo Alto, and San Mateo, but the towns here aren't set up for living and walking the way many Seattle (or San Francisco) neighborhoods are. Silicon Valley is a suburban sprawl.

My current suburban surroundings make articles like the recent story in Wired about Dongtan, a town being constructed in China around the idea that population density can actually reduce consumption, feel like a glimmer of hope. It also reminded me that while I was in Beijing for two weeks last summer, I almost never road in a car. I took the subway or I walked virtually everywhere I went. I think there's something too this. Rather than buying our way to guilt-free consumption, we should be re-thinking how we approach city planning. As Celcias puts it, we should be designing our cities for people, not cars.