“Our homes and personal vehicles generate approximately 40% of carbon dioxide emissions,” said Sumeet Gulati, Associate Professor in the Food and Resource Economics Group. “We live in big, energy inefficient residences, far from work and other amenities, and operate large, and sometimes multiple, vehicles.”
Gulati’s research is centred on the cost-effectiveness and formation of environmental policy. In an op ed article for The Globe and Mail published in April 2011, Gulati suggested that if the public were required to pay for carbon emissions, they would choose the location of their residences, their size and energy efficiency, and their vehicles appropriately. However, “Pricing carbon, especially for individuals, doesn’t sell in politics.”
So what is the alternative?
Gulati pointed to a recent study of U.S. metropolitan regions that estimated the difference in carbon emissions from the average household living in a suburb versus the city. In only two cities – Los Angeles and Detroit – were city dwellers less energy efficient than those in suburbs, and only marginally so.
“Cities that are bordered by mountains, large bodies of water, or lack water to supply their suburbs sprawl less,” he added. “While our governments do not have control over geography, they do have other mechanisms.”
Transferable Development Rights (TDR), for example. This policy instrument raises the cost of suburban development without hurting local landowners. It allows the sale of development rights from a protected area to areas suitable for densification.
Could TDRs encourage suburban dwellers to give up that sprawling lot, and two hour drive, for a more energy efficient life in the city?