Mapping your neighborhood emissions

December 19, 2022
An aerial photo of a suburban neighborhood in Utah.
Households in suburban neighborhoods like Herriman, Utah, have higher-than-average greenhouse gas emissions when compared to households in dense city centers.

Scientists and researchers who try to measure greenhouse gas emissions often turn to emissions sources like power plants, factories, and transportation for data. Research published by UC Berkeley’s CoolClimate Network, however, offers a competing approach—one that helped reporters at the New York Times map the average household emissions for neighborhoods across the country.

Rather than focus on the source of greenhouse gas emissions, the CoolClimate Network, a cross-sector partnership founded by Energy and Resources Group (ERG) researcher Chris Jones and professor Dan Kammen, models “consumption-based emissions” for households. 

“When individuals or households want to know what influence they have over emissions, a consumption-based carbon footprint is the most relevant indicator,” Jones, PhD ’10 Energy and Resources, told the Times. He developed the first comprehensive carbon footprint calculator in 2005 for his ERG master’s project. In 2014, Jones and Kammen updated the calculator’s methodology to allow household-level comparisons for residents in specific zip codes.

Jones said the methodology “can help us see what sorts of larger systemic changes are necessary” to help cities and households reduce their emissions.

Analysis of the CoolClimate Network’s data by Times reporters showed that households in dense city centers typically have smaller emissions impacts than exurban or suburban households. Reporters also found a connection between household income and emissions: wealthier households tend to purchase goods and services—including long-distance flights abroad—at higher frequencies, which contributes to their increased emissions.

Dive into the neighborhood-level data at the New York Times website.