Urbanization and Local Drivers of Emissions in the United States: A Nationwide Study of Declining Efficiencies of Scale

James R. Elliott, University of Oregon
Matthew Clement, University of Oregon

A paradox exists in the literature on environmental impacts of urbanization: Cities are said to be environmentally efficient and to generate negative environmental change, particularly when it comes to carbon emissions. Improving knowledge of this apparent contradiction requires social scientists to complement existing case studies and cross-national research by examining multiple dimensions of urbanization and how they contribute to environmental outcomes at and from the local level. We advance an analytical framework for conducting such research, which we then test with a nationwide study of local drivers of carbon emissions in the United States. Results reveal how different dimensions of urbanization – population concentration, land-use intensity, and systemic position – push against one another to decrease carbon efficiencies at higher levels of urbanization in ways that exert far greater influence than commonly presumed factors such as household density, alternative transit, and political commitment to global mitigation campaigns. Implications are discussed.

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Presented in Session 78: Urbanization and Climate Change