Atlanta Family Slashes Carbon Footprint Malaika Taylor used to live the typical suburban life — the kind that helps make America the world's top contributor to climate change. But fed up with commuting, Taylor and her daughter moved from the Atlanta suburbs to a green loft in the city.
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Atlanta Family Slashes Carbon Footprint

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Atlanta Family Slashes Carbon Footprint

Atlanta Family Slashes Carbon Footprint

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For almost a year now, our series Climate Connections with National Geographic has taken us around the world. We've been learning how people change the climate and how the climate changes us. This week, we're visiting you, your life, your choices, your home. Thanks for the coffee, by the way. We've been looking at the way American lifestyles affect climate change. For example, your commute may affect the climate. And today, from Atlanta, we will meet a family that shortened its commute. It's the second of two stories on how the choices we make about where we live have a big effect on the planet. Here's NPR's Elizabeth Shogren.

ELIZABETH SHOGREN: It's still dark when the Taylors start their day in their swanky, compact loft apartment.

Ms. MALAIKA TAYLOR: Baby, are you ready?

(Soundbite of elevator bell)

SHOGREN: Malaika Taylor and her 11-year-old daughter, Maya, ride the elevator and walk a few blocks to the school bus stop. Maya's backpack has wheels, and she rolls it behind her. The Taylors used to live the typical suburban life, the kind that helps make America the world's top contributor to climate change. But three years ago, they moved to Atlantic Station. It's a new community in midtown Atlanta designed to put jobs, homes and shopping all in one place. Their lifestyle changed dramatically.

(Soundbite of traffic)

Ms. TAYLOR: It's 7:20. Here she is. Bye.

SHOGREN: Malaika Taylor walks briskly towards the apartment complex where she works as a property manager. She says she moved to the city because she was fed up with all the hours she spent in her car.

Ms. TAYLOR: And there's some weekends where I don't even use my car. My daughter likes to go to the movies, so maybe we'll go to a movie or - and all of her friends, you know, we're the house that everybody wants to come to. So her friends come, and we'll just kind of hang out and walk around.

SHOGREN: That's the whole point of developments like this. Walkable communities are springing up around the country. Proponents say they help cut pollution from cars, including carbon dioxide, which contributes to climate change. Less than 10 minutes later, Malaika Taylor arrives at work. She hasn't burned any gasoline or spewed carbon dioxide into the air.

Ms. TAYLOR: Now, I have to admit, if it's raining or really cold, I drive.

(Soundbite of bell)

(Soundbite of laughter)

SHOGREN: But the drive is less than a mile and doesn't have much impact on global warming. That's unusual in Atlanta. The federal government estimates Atlanta residents on average travel 32 miles each day in cars. But the people who live and work in Atlantic Station drive about a third that much.

Mr. GEOFF ANDERSON (CEO, Smart Growth America): We don't often think of a development as a way to solve environmental problems, but this is really a unique example of kind of growing your way into better environmental quality, in some ways.

SHOGREN: Geoff Anderson helped steer the project for the Environmental Protection Agency. Now he's president and CEO of a group called Smart Growth America that advocates for environmentally friendly development. At first, the EPA supported Atlantic Station as a way to help Atlanta fight its unhealthy smog problem. Anderson says now the agency sees the community as a model of how America can fight climate change.

Mr. ANDERSON: The two biggest things that we do from a carbon perspective are we heat our houses or cool them, or we drive. And when you combine that, that's going to add up to a big chunk of your personal carbon footprint.

SHOGREN: Reducing her carbon footprint wasn't on Malaika Taylor's mind when she moved here. She just wanted her life back. But living here has cut her and Maya's impact on global warming to about half the national average for a family of two.

Ms. TAYLOR: See you guys tomorrow.

Unidentified Woman: Bye.

Ms. TAYLOR: Bye.

Unidentified Man: Have a nice day.

SHOGREN: At 3:20, Malaika's workday is over. Today, she went home for lunch, as she often does.

Ms. TAYLOR: My dog likes it when he gets his midday walk.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SHOGREN: Since it had started raining, she picked up her car. When she lived in the suburbs, Taylor filled up her gas tank three or four times every two weeks - not anymore.

Ms. TAYLOR: We get paid biweekly. I can fill up on pay day and make it to pay day without filling up again, which is nice.

SHOGREN: Her other energy bills shrank, too.

Ms. TAYLOR: When we had a house, you know, easily in the winter, the gas bill was almost $200.

SHOGREN: The Taylors use electricity to heat and cool their apartment. That bill tops out at around $80. That's about 20 percent less than the average bill for an Atlanta household. Apartments often have lower energy costs because of shared walls and smaller spaces. If lots of Americans lived like the Taylors, the nation's greenhouse gas pollution could drop by hundreds of millions of tons. It took just a couple minutes to drive to Maya's bus stop. As we wait in the car, Malaika says what she really values is extra time with her daughter. When they lived in the suburbs, it took Malaika more than an hour to get to Maya's after school care.

Ms. TAYLOR: And I was one of the last parents getting there and just the guilt, and I was just really unhappy with the way the evenings were. I felt all I did, like, was work, cook dinner, go to bed - work, cook dinner, go to bed.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SHOGREN: And commute.

Ms. TAYLOR: Yeah, and commute. Yeah.

SHOGREN: Of course, the move didn't come without trade-offs.

Ms. TAYLOR: I can't afford to buy a house in the city. It took me four garage sales to get rid of enough stuff to fit into my apartment. You know, I thought I purged, and it still wasn't enough. And I had to purge again, but here's the bus.

(Soundbite of bus engine, beeping)

Ms. TAYLOR: How was school today, babe?

Unidentified Child: Good.

SHOGREN: It takes no time and hardly any gas or greenhouse gas emissions to drive home. Sometimes Taylor has to go back to work. But since she has no commute and starts so early, on days like today, she's done. Maya settles in to do homework, and her mom decides to go to the grocery store. Taking shelter under an umbrella, Malaika walks all of two minutes to get there. On the way, she points out the places where she and Maya happily fill up their free time.

Ms. TAYLOR: The movie theater is on that back street. It's right down there, so very close. And then they have a little central park area in the middle where they throw all kinds of different events. During Christmas, they had a, you know, a big tree and they would make it snow.

SHOGREN: They also walk to stores like Target and Ikea, as well as the supermarket.

Ms. TAYLOR: I forgot to take something out to cook tonight. So...

SHOGREN: What are you going to make for dinner?

Ms. TAYLOR: Fajitas.

(Soundbite of door shutting)

SHOGREN: Her errand takes less than 15 minutes, door to door.

Ms. TAYLOR: Yeah, that's hands down probably one of the biggest perks about living here. The convenience, convenience, convenience.

SHOGREN: It's only 4:20. Maya's already made a big dent in her homework, and Malaika has a few hours to kill.

Ms. TAYLOR: Maybe I'll work out. You know, maybe we'll play a game. It makes a huge difference just in the quality of our lives.

SHOGREN: While most Atlantans are still at work or stuck on congested highways, the Taylors have a whole evening in front of them.

Elizabeth Shogren, NPR News.

INSKEEP: You can check out the Taylors' greenhouse gas footprint and see how it compares to a different family that moved from the city to the suburbs. Just go to, and try not to use too much electricity while you're there.

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