Kea Wilson wrote:

Rural homes are surrounded by nature, but are often larger than urban houses or apartments and people who live in them require cars to get around. City homes are usually smaller and offer short distances, but also a world of shiny consumption goods, takeaway food and entertainment options – at least in non-COVID times. But what does this mean for individual carbon footprints: are they bigger in the city or in the countryside, if the income level is similar?

To answer this question, my colleague Pablo Munoz and I looked at the consumption patterns of more than 8,000 households in Austria. We clustered them into urban, semi-urban and rural areas, estimated their carbon footprints, and found that people in urban areas, on average, had the smallest carbon footprints. People in semi-urban areas had the biggest carbon footprints, with those in rural areas in between.

The main difference we found is that the city dwellers we analyzed had lower direct emissions from transport, heating and cooking. They did have more indirect emissions, that is, emissions released upstream in the production chain — by factories producing TVs for example. But in total, we found that the emissions of urban dwellers were still comparatively low. Even when controlling for other socioeconomic factors including income, we found that people in semi-urban areas in Austria emit around 8 percent more CO2 than those in cities, and people in rural areas around 4 percent more.