Brave, New Urban World

Most studies, but not all, conclude that city dwellers use less energy than rural dwellers. So many environmentalists believe that the future of humankind will be overwhelmingly urban. Roughly half of the world’s population today lives in urban areas. Yet these areas cover only two per cent of the planet. In the future ninety percent of the world’s population may live in cities that use up to only five per cent of the planet.

I have to wonder at these numbers. Will this five percent include extraction industries, manufacturing, agribusiness, feedlots, etc.? Whether included or not in that figure, big cities will need large areas to supply the needs and desires of the populace. Many visionaries talk about the future necessity of using intensive technologies for manufacturing and growing foods without having to worry too much about impact on the environment because, theoretically, ninety percent of the planet will be free of us.


Green cities of the future will have gardens on top of buildings and solar panels too. Mass transit and lots of bicycles. Many trees and parks will relieve the pavement. All in all, future cities will be very groovy places that most people will be quite happy to inhabit.

But not me. City life—green or not—sounds as appealing to me as a laboratory experiment. Parks are no substitute for nature. There is no quiet in urban areas, no escape from each other, no stars at night. No, thank you.

I realize that the rural lifestyle uses too much energy for transportation. My dependence on driving is the moral bane of my life right now. Yet I can’t help but deplore a futuristic vision that divides the world between urban / industrial and the Wild. It’s like segregation, like making Nature off-limits to humankind. True, we don’t have a very good record for co-existing with wildlife and wild eco-systems. I can see that they need protection from us.

But this solution to the problem seems unworkable to me. People who consider themselves weekend visitors or even interlopers when it comes to the natural world, will increasingly lose touch with the natural world. How can they be expected to cherish and protect it?

We who live in small towns and the countryside have an obligation to make our lifestyle as green and energy-efficient as possible. We already have the important capacity to make our own energy and to grow food on a sustainable, ecological scale. That should help compensate for the extra energy we use to get around.

Mainly, we need to limit the size of our houses and come up with transportation strategies that use less energy. I know many people in this area–not all of them young!–who make medium-distance commutes by bicycle. There are also park ‘n ride lots on the outskirts of several towns. If we had better bus service more people might drive to the nearest town and then get out to catch local mass transit, or to catch rail to the next town.

Unfortunately, the temptation, once you get in your car–or worse, truck (with nothing in the back) is powerful. Park your rig, get out and hop on a bus or train? I don’t know if that’s going to happen. There would need to be some powerful incentives. More powerful than, you know, saving the planet.

Wild country mice resisting urban Utopia.
Wild country mice resisting urban Utopia.



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