Greater Cincinnati Not So Hot In The Carbon Footprint Game

The Brookings Institute recently launched their Blueprint for American Prosperity: Unleashing the Potential of a Metropolitan Nation: ambitious, multi-year initiative to build long-term U.S. prosperity by reinvigorating the federal role in promoting the health and vitality of America's metropolitan areas.
The key concept is that our nation's assets are concentrated in our metro areas, and are the vital engines of the U.S. and global economy.

Anyway, one of the policy briefs that have come out of it so far is a study on carbon emissions and energy usage in the top 100 metropolitan areas. Greater Cincinnati does not fare so well (page 21 of the PDF).

First, they looked at the period between 2000 and 2005 and studied the change in the average per-capita carbon emissions:
  • Average per-capita carbon footprint change from 2000-2005:
    • Metro Cincinnati: +12.10%
    • Top 100 metros: +1.1%
    • Nation: +2.2%
  • Of that carbon footprint change, portion which was transportation energy:
    • Metro Cincinnati: +4.0%
    • Top 100 metros: +2.4%
  • Of that carbon footprint change, portion which was residential energy:
    • Metro Cincinnati: +20.8%
    • Top 100 metros: -0.7%
Then they studied the average per capita carbon footprint for the year 2005 as a snapshot.
  • Average per-capita carbon footprint in 2005:
    • Metro Cincinnati: 3.281 tons of carbon
    • Top 100 metros: 2.24 tons
    • Nation: 2.60 tons
  • Of that 2005 carbon footprint, portion which was transportation energy:
    • Metro Cincinnati: 1.575 tons
    • Top 100 metros: 1.310 tons
    • Nation: 1.44 tons
  • Of that 2005 transportation carbon footprint, portion which was from cars:
    • Metro Cincinnati: 1.140 tons
    • Top 100 metros: 1.004 tons
  • Of that 2005 transportation carbon footprint, portion which was from trucks:
    • Metro Cincinnati: 0.436 tons
    • Top 100 metros: 0.305 tons
  • Of that 2005 carbon footprint, portion which was residential energy:
    • Metro Cincinnati: 1.706 tons
    • Top 100 metros: 0.925 tons
    • Nation: 1.16 tons
  • Of that 2005 residential carbon footprint, portion which was from electricity:
    • Metro Cincinnati: 1.255 tons
    • Top 100 metros: 0.611 tons
  • Of that 2005 residential carbon footprint, portion which was from residential fuels:
    • Metro Cincinnati: 0.451 tons
    • Top 100 metros: 0.314 tons
The numbers that jump out at me are the whopping 20.8% increase in home energy use, and the related 1.706 tons of carbon emissions from home energy in 2005, nearly twice that of the average person living in the top 100 metro areas. And most of that 1.706 tons is from homes powered by electricity.

Why the drastic increase and consumption of home electricity? Do Cincinnatians like it cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter than other cities? Is it all the huge, new home construction, with an entertainment center and server room in every house? Is it all the old homes that need a fortune to keep heated in the winters? Other cities have these things. But they may make up for it with more high-rises and multi-family buildings and public transit. The study does say that weather is a factor.

I originally found this info linked from Soapbox Cincinnati, which wrote up the Blueprint For Prosperity program as a whole. There's also a story about it on Local12, though they spent most of the time focusing on how our air is still clean.


Anonymous said...

You need to differentiate between change in carbon footprint and change in energy consumption. The carbon footprint would change depending on the source of energy used in residential applications. Coal burning power plants would have a larger footprint than gas or nuclear. The method used to determine how and where our electricity is made is likely influenced by things like regulation/deregulation of the electrical grid in different areas of the country or the purchase of Cinergy by Duke Energy and could make it look like we had a large increase in carbon footprint if the source of our electricity changed.

It seems highly unlikely to me that we increased our residential energy use by 20.8% in 5 years which makes me think that the change might be due to more of an accounting change.

hellogerard said...


As I was composing this and trying to think of a synonym for "carbon footprint", I ended up using "consumption", and your point crossed my mind. But I wouldn't begin to understand all the variables in the power utilities industry - I just threw this up to get it out there.

That said, I find it hard to believe that such a study would disparage a metro region with such an obvious miss, or at least without such an obvious footnote.

I think you may be on to something, but I'm not quite sure what. The intro page of the brief alludes to what you mention:

"Residential density and the availability of public transit are important to understanding carbon footprints, as are the carbon intensity of electricity generation, electricity prices, and weather."

In the actual report, they do describe their methodology. They gathered data on electricity sales (i.e. usage) and estimated average person, household, and metro use, accounting for apartments, etc. Then:

"5. Convert to carbon emissions estimates using statewide averages of the
carbon content of electricity generation."

As you said, if they are using statewide averages for carbon content of electricity generation, even though my house's power may come from outside the state, then there's some gray area in there.

Anyway, good catch. I may end up reading the full 83-page report. I'll post again if I do.