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The Green Life: Carbon-Neutral Cities: If They Can Do It, So Can We

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February 18, 2009

Carbon-Neutral Cities: If They Can Do It, So Can We

Antarctica Those scientists in Antarctica must be pretty smug. The Princess Elisabeth Station in East Antarctica just debuted the world's first carbon-free polar research center, featuring solar panels, wind turbines, energy-efficient buildings, even microorganisms and decomposition to allow scientists to reuse shower and toilet water. All week they've been topping their parkas with black fedoras and blasting their Sinatra records, singing, "If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere."

Well, maybe not. But part of the idea behind building the emission-free base was to prove that if alternative energy is possible in one of the world's coldest, most inhospitable regions, then it's possible anywhere.

The same has been said about carbon-neutral, zero-waste Masdar City, a $22 billion project in Abu Dhabi's broiling deserts. Besides the solar power and water-treatment systems, nonpolluting underground light rail, and research university, this planned community (they expect 50,000 people to live here) factors in the desert's blistering heat with architecture designed to create shade and breezes and encourage walking.

So if these extreme climates are boasting carbon-neutral zones, why can't the comparably moderate-weathered United States pull it off? The general consensus is it's easier to build an energy-controlled city from scratch than to modify existing infrastructure. In a wobbly baby step, Atlanta recently claimed to have the nation's first carbon-free zone -- a shopping and dining district made up of 18 shops.

You wouldn't exactly call it the carbon-free city that never sleeps, but at least Atlanta is spreading the news.

--Jordana Fyne

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