My friend Jillian posted today about the fact that statically big cities are actually more environmentally healthy than rural areas. I agree with this and I think the reason that it is so shocking has to do with our perceptions. We are an egocentric race and it is commonly accepted that cities are bad for our health. We translate this to mean that it is bad for the world, the larger environment without even thinking. Our brains really like to make such connections even when, if we took a moment to analyze it, the connection doesn't actually make sense.
I think the main problem may stem from our use of the word environment. We talk about environment in the sense of our immediate surroundings but we also use the word to mean the entire planet as well. These ideas are actually quite separate. Our environment, when speaking about immediate surroundings, be quite toxic due to toxins that reside in our houses and the emotional atmosphere and lack of nature, but it could be perfectly fine when talking about pollution.
How could a house that is toxic to us not be a pollutant you ask? It lies in the fact that the toxins are confined within the structure. One of the shocking things that has come out in recent years is the fact that indoor pollution is now worse than outdoor pollution, mostly due to the fact that there is no airflow to remove toxins from our midst. But since there is no airflow these toxins are quite nicely contained indoors and only escape slowly into the outdoor environment so aren't really a problem. So in this way our environment (indoors) is highly toxic for us, while it really has no affect on the larger (outdoor) environment.
Not to mention the other environmental toxins one may encounter in a city, sewer gases, close proximity to car emissions, more exposure to viruses and bacterial infections, emotional stresses due to the working nature of cities, the lack of plant life. All these things seem like major detrimental affects, but none of them are bad for the worldly environment. They are simply bad for human health. Humans are bad for the world health because they tend to ruin the environment they are in with their waste and utilization of every available resource, animal mineral and vegetable. Put them all in one big area and that waste is reduced.
Cities tend to build upwards once outwards becomes limited. Large cities such as New York or Paris fill more people per square foot. Because everyone is so crowded together it makes a central hub for food distribution, more people can walk or bike to work, public transportation is more cost effective and readily available using less energy and gas to move people around.
Having spent two weeks in Paris I noticed this difference was huge when I got back to Spokane. In Paris I could walk almost anyway, or jump on the metro. Grocery stores were small but abundant and I could find almost anything I needed easily. Coming back to Spokane I was immediately forced to drive to get to the normal places I go because the distance was greater to get everywhere. Central hubs in Spokane are larger but more spread out. Yes you can get all your shopping done in one store, but you have to travel farther to get there and you need a car to utilize the store because you did all your shopping at once.
I think if this country was really serious about 'saving the planet' we would put a complete halt to urban sprawl and start building upwards, localizing food sources so that we weren't needing to travel so far (this would also create jobs since more shops would need employees). People could not only walk to the stores, but walk to work etc. Not to mention using more local farms not shipping food from all around the world. The government cannot do all this. It needs to start like all things start, from the bottom up. Support local business, walk, bike or bus to work when possible (get a job closer to home if its a long commute!) start a local grocery in your suburb.
Go, Fight, WIN!