City Mice Greener Than Country Mice

by Liz Colville

The country mouse vs. city mouse argument is likely to rage on and on, in society and perhaps also in your head, and/but here’s a new log to throw on the fire: city dwellers are actually “greener” than country dwellers in five categories, according to a study that looked at Chinese citizens in big cities like Shanghai, Beijing, and Tianjin, as well as some of the country’s smaller cities. The researchers surveyed some 5,000 people, asking them:

if, in the last year, they had sorted their garbage, talked about environmental issues with relatives or friends, recycled plastic packing bags, participated in environmental education programs or been involved in environmental litigation.

It turns out those in the bigger cities reported these activities more than people in smaller cities. This is not because of income or education level, say the researchers, but it might have something to do with employment, and also to the fact that people living in big cities simply witness more of the effects of waste and so on.

Chinese employers in the bigger cities are apparently more likely to encourage environmentally-minded activities, and city dwellers “feel the brunt of pollution and other environmental woes, possibly giving residents a bigger push to do something about those problems.” One of the study authors naturally adds that even that “bigger push” by city residents might not be enough to save the planet, sorry.

This isn’t really the first time cities have been rewarded for their environmental activities. The Brookings Institution, for one, released a report a couple of years ago that also suggested that urban living creates a smaller carbon footprint than rural living. Looking at “transportation and residential carbon emissions,” the report showed that because of features like public transportation, “metro area residents have smaller carbon footprints than the average American,” but that the footprints vary widely across the country because of factors like weather, population density, and energy costs. It’s worth noting that the New York/New Jersey/Long Island area had the lowest highway and automobile emissions in the country, according to the Brookings data (Bakersfield, CA had the highest). So if you’re dreaming of greener pastures, or just any pastures at all, you might want to reconsider, until the world figures out how to make every place more like a city. Sorry.