I spoke with David recently about the city of Copenhagen and how one-third of commuters there use bicycles. Below is an excerpt from his book where he talks about the choice world cities face: They can either copy Copenhagen, or they can copy American cities such as Los Angeles. The excerpt is from his chapter on Colombia. David visited Bogota and saw how investments in public transportation and bicycle infrastructure have helped to reduce carbon pollution and make the city a more pleasant place to live.
Something else remarkable has happened in Colombia over the past decade: the country has reduced its carbon dioxide pollution. Some of this reduction has been because of an increase in hydroelectric power—eighty percent of the country's electricity comes from dams—and a decrease in coal-fired power. But the Transmilenio [the public transit system] and bikeways have also had a serious effect, perhaps decreasing Bogotá's pollution by over half a million tons of carbon dioxide a year and cutting Bogotá's total pollution by a few percent. Car use in Bogotá has dropped significantly, and nearly twenty percent of daily trips are via the Transmilenio, an efficient service that didn't even exist a decade earlier. Bogotá shows that reducing pollution often has ancillary benefits. The city didn't set out to reduce pollution. The city set out to make itself more livable, and consequently reduced fossil fuel use.
If cities in the developing world decide to copy Bogotá, how big of a difference would it make? In the next thirty years, almost all growth in greenhouse gas pollution is expected to come from developing nations such as Colombia—nations where living standards are rising rapidly. Cities in these countries are growing rapidly, and decisions made today will decide the transportation infrastructure for decades to come.
A city like Bogotá could look to U.S. cities like Los Angeles where the majority of commuters drive, or they could look to European cities such as Copenhagen where transit is evenly divided between personal automobiles, public transportation, and bicycles. Whereas the average citizen of Los Angeles produces about five tons of carbon dioxide per person through transportation, the average citizen of Copenhagen is responsible for less than one and a half tons per person from transportation.
Half of the world's population now lives in urban areas, and the difference between these cities copying the transit system of Los Angeles versus copying the transit system of Copenhagen is thus a difference of about 10 billion tons of carbon dioxide. Given that global carbon dioxide pollution from fossil fuels is roughly 30 billion tons today, the difference between a world of Los Angeleses and Copenhagens is dramatic.
Here is David's video for the HuffPo Hopenhagen contest. Don't forget to vote: