City-Dwellers Blow Their Green Cred on Energy-Hogging 'Compensatory' Holidays, Research Says


Escape from the city. Photo: Jennifer Hattam.

Ouch. This one hits a bit close to home: According to a recent study by two Norwegian researchers, people who live environmentally friendly day-to-day lives commuting by public transportation and residing in compact urban areas are more likely than their suburban counterparts to take gas-guzzling vacations.Researchers Erling Holden and Kristin Linnerud found that "using a kind of 'moral accounting,' people who thriftily save fuel getting to work may feel they've done 'their fair share' and can indulge themselves in their time off," the magazine Miller-McCune writes in an article about the study:

People living in dense cities with no backyards typically consume more energy on their time off than people in cities with a little more greenery because they undertake longer getaways by car and by plane. It's called "compensatory travel." Environmentalists who drive less during the week tend to fly more on holidays than the less environmentally active.

Coasting On Green 'Credits'
I've certainly fallen victim to this syndrome, patting myself on the back for being car-free and always living in small-ish apartments (with flatmates, no less) in dense, central, mixed-use urban neighborhoods. But whatever green "credits" I've racked up throughout the year are probably more than outweighed by my love for travel, particularly of the international variety. And while I didn't have a backyard when I lived in San Francisco either, it seems obvious that living in crowded, park-lacking Istanbul further fuels the desire to escape. Sure, when I have the better part of a week off, taking the overnight bus to the Mediterranean coast and back is perfectly do-able, but when I've just got two days free from work and I'm feeling desperate for some peace, quiet, natural beauty and fresh air? A plane or a car it sometimes seems it must be.

The study, titled "Troublesome Leisure Travel" and published in the Urban Studies Journal, doesn't seem to be available online in full, so I can't tell if they crunched all the numbers and determined whether or not these trends completely wipe out the environmental benefits of urban life. Without knowing that, it's hard to say that their call to (among other policy prescriptions) limit the density of cities should be heeded, but the unintended consequences they detail are thought-provoking at the very least.

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Tags: Cities | Tourism | Urban Life