What will be the Carbon Footprint Impact of Formula One Racing in Austin?

You may have read the news that Austin has been selected as the location for Formula One Racing in the U.S. A brand new 3+ mile Formula One Racetrack will be built probably somewhere near the airport that will seat 100,000+ fans. I’m thrilled about F1 coming to Austin, but I have one simple question:

What’s the carbon footprint of F1 going to be, and what does it do to Austin’s fanatical desire to be viewed as a progressive green city on the forefront of emissions reduction and alternative energy policy?

Am I the only one seeing the irony in this?

I mean, we’re being forced to get Energy Audits on our 10+ year old homes before selling, we’ve built this incredibly expensive and useless rail line to Leander, we have these little Go-Cars running around town that I still don’t fully understand, we’re trying to convert the entire City Fleet of vehicles to alternative fuel, and you’re not allowed to chop a tree on your own property without permission from your city government. If that’s not enough, we have the most generous green energy rebates in the country for upgrading your HVAC system, replacing old appliances, adding solar screen, insulation, weather striping, etc, etc, etc.

In short, Austin, (Boulder notwithstanding) has to be the most incredibly hypersensitive, wannabe-progressive, eco-nut city in the U.S.. That’s who we are and that’s ok. Part of it is to puff the political pride of our glorious political leaders, and part of it is in fact well intended and justifiable concern about energy consumption, and the desire to avoid building another coal burning power plant as Austin expands over the coming decades.

But that being the case, what are the real gains of these formal efforts in terms of carbon footprint and energy consumption reduction, and how much of those gains will be completely erased by a decade of Formula One Racing in Austin, and its accompanying carbon footprint?

I just find the irony of this very interesting. Why was Austin chosen in the first place? It seems sort of weird, doesn’t it? The explanation provided in the Formula One press release is:

“This is a case of the right timing in the right place. As many Americans know, Austin has earned a reputation as one of the ‘it’ cities in the United States. Austin features that rare combination of ideal geographic location and beauty. Its fine dining, world-renowned hospitality and excellent transportation infrastructure make Austin ideally suited to host and manage an event of this magnitude. Few cities if any in America could rival the connectivity of all the key elements needed for hosting a Formula 1 event as well as Austin. Now, many people around the world will have the opportunity to experience a world-class event, facility and city.”

Cool. I’m in. So is Austin’s Mayor Lee Leffingwell:

City of Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell continued the positive sentiments, adding “The City of Austin will be proud to host this magnificent event and I look forward to welcoming the participants and fans of Formula One to our City.”

Anyway, I don’t know how to calculate the carbon footprint of any of the aforementioned, but on the face of it, the best way I can sum it up is by saying this seems like a really cool, fantastic opportunity for Austin that runs counter to everything it tries to stand for environmentally.

15 thoughts on “What will be the Carbon Footprint Impact of Formula One Racing in Austin?”

  1. If we really cared about green we’d encourage density and drop most of the zoning in the city limits to encourage multi-family units. The market would love to provide them as they’re more profitable.
    If you look at most of the eco-regulation in Austin it seems well intentioned and just happens to directly preserve property values. Coincidence that Hyde Park and Tarrytown homeowners have the most to loose when a tree gets cut down?

  2. I understand your concern – on the surface it seems very odd, but If you look more deeply into the rules of F1, you’ll see that they have set things up to advance real, useable automotive technology – not just to go as fast as possible.

    Many of the advances in automotive tech come straight from F1 – including improved fuel consumption. In fact they purposefully keep the engines very small (2.4 liters – about the same size as my hybrid) and they must reuse the cars for multiple races. It really is quite different from dragster racing, stock cars, etc. If you take a slightly deeper look, I think you’ll see a much more natural fit.

  3. Dear Steve,
    Thank you for the enlightening editorial post I just found on Formula One Topix, you have educated me today. I thought most of the people of the great state of Texas were intelligent savvy Americans that understand that the “Global Warming”, excuse me the “Climate Change” threat, is a manufactured scam to steal our money and make others in industry and government rich; The planet hasn’t warmed in years and humans along with all plant life would die without carbon dioxide. I will put Austin on my list of the least favorable cities to visit. Thanks again.

  4. hi, Steve:
    The irony was not missed in our home! My wife and I had a conversation over coffee and the Sunday paper about this silliness.
    Ours went one step further, relating to the BP Oil Fiasco: if our country really wants to start conserving fuel, then ALL vehicle racing should be outlawed.
    Ever wonder how many gallons of gasoline NASCAR consumes in a year? According to my friends at Wikipedia, some 216,000 gallons per 36x race season (not including practices). Add Formula 1, Drag Racing, Tractor Pulls, Motosports… I know, some guy is going to threaten to run me down in his hemi for even bringing this up… And another is going to try to validate the consumption by saying that my truck can’t consume the fuel use in NASCAR vehicles… The Cynical Point of my story – we’re a hypocritical nation for the most part… Just my 2x Cents. Thanks, once again, for sharing a good topic.

  5. I don’t really have a problem with the race coming to Austin, and I don’t think it’s the cars themselves that produce the greater share of “carbon footprint”. I think it’s the accompanying support vehicles, travel, consumption, trash, etc. created that represents the real impact.

    I do think it’s a great economic boon for Austin. My main point was the hypocrisy of our illustrious leaders and the fact that almost everything about our personal lives, right down to selling our homes and buying appliances, has to be judged and filtered through the the “environmental impact” filters of the City of Austin, but in bringing F1 racing to Austin, it’s conveniently ignored as a subject altogether.

    I’d rather the Mayor come right out and say “look, we know this is bad for the environment, but it’s such a great economic opportunity for the city, and will bring us so many new visitors and additional exposure as an “it” city, that we’re not going to hold ourselves to any of the environment standards or considerations that we impose upon our own citizens and their homes”.


  6. It’s nice to have them brag about Austin. But “excellent transportation infrastructure” ???

    Thanks for the laugh.

  7. I remember about 20 years ago when you’d get out at the airport and the announcments would say “Welcome to Austin. The City of Austin is a Green City…” That’s back when you’d see guys with buckets of wildflower seeds reseeding the roadways along Mopac every fall. Now they plant crepe myrtles and call them “native”. Are the diesel powered watering trucks native too? And the same people driving Go-cars are flying off on family vacations 2 or 3 times a year. Airplanes are soooo green, right?

    Back when I started eating organic food and filtering my drinking water to get rid of the fluoride and chlorine people that I was one of those “hippy weirdos”. People like to think a compact city is a great idea but they forget that you can’t grow food on concrete without expending a huge amount of money, resources and time to retrofit a grow zone (like those super hip rooftop gardens – check out THEIR carbon footprint).

    It’s ridiculous and insane for the city to require people to get energy audits to sell their homes before they address the baseline problems with the city’s own air, water and soil pollution problems. Fish from Town Lake anyone? Not to mention the loss of trees and the pending oak wilt devastation due to the city blindly trimming limbs at any time of the year without properly protecting against it’s spread.

    The racetrack WILL bring a lot of people, tourists, noise, traffic and all the trimmings with it. For better or worse.

    But taxes are going up again.

  8. “People like to think a compact city is a great idea” – only insofar as it’s better than the suburbs. You get more people per sq/ft and you get more land for growing food. You confine the pollution to the city. You wouldn’t grow the food in the city. You’d grow it where the suburbs are now. Most people who advocate for more people living in compact areas, do not advocate for food growth in those same spaces.

    “It’s ridiculous and insane for the city to require people to get energy audits to sell their homes before they address the baseline problems with the city’s own air, water and soil pollution” – Why? Shouldn’t they be doing both? I’d guess that on average the city’s much more green with regards to their buildings and landscaping than is the average city homeowner. And why shouldn’t it be a plan that we’re doing together. I’m also somewhat puzzled as to how you’re taking yourself out of the city. We are the city. There is a city government, but it’s there to provide services that the residents of the city want. Oddly enough this statute is pretty popular. Why? Because right now we have huge numbers of people migrating to Austin. Therefor we have more buyers than sellers, and buyers want an updated house. Homebuyers want a working AC and a fully insulated house.

    “Fish from Town Lake anyone” – Why would you be fishing in town lake? The lake is a man-made lake. If you’d like to fish go upstream or downstream to one of the areas that is protected for fishing. That’s like complaining that you can’t go fishing in a rain-water retention pond.

    While I think there are valid arguments to be made about whether the point of sale is the best time to require this, and what the responsibilities of the seller should be, I don’t think the valid argument is whether there is value in these upgrades. The majority of these upgrades are well thought out and give the most value for the least amount of money. I could understand your point if they were requiring solar panels to be installed, but blowing in more insulation saves money for the homeowner and Austin Energy (which saves taxpayers money) and helps the environment.

  9. Thank you Tim for exposing the nonsense in some previous comments.

    The carbon footprint of F1 is huge, but it doesn’t matter what city they move to. Unless they ban auto racing altogether, we may as well get the revenue here, even though it will change our city.

    Of course Leffingwell’s on board. What politician doesn’t want huge revenue from F1 coming in on his watch? He may as well have discovered oil under his swimming pool.

    Along with tax dollars and revenue, F1 will bring traffic from Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, and the rest of TX. It will bring to Austin the types of people that make the cause of Keeping Austin Weird more and more difficult. I’m talking about people whose favorite entertainment isn’t live music, theater, dance, or art–it’s watching others drive around in circles (as if there wasn’t enough of that in Houston).
    As it grows in size but not in cultural merit, the live music capital of the world inches it’s way towards being just another Texas city.

  10. Hi Noah,

    > The carbon footprint of F1 is huge, but it doesn’t matter what city they move to. Unless they ban auto racing altogether, we may as well get the revenue here, even though it will change our city.

    But then that logic could be applied to anything, couldn’t it? My main point in the article was that if the City of Austin has a fundamental set of principles that guides its decisions, then those principles should be applied uniformly to all decisions. Not doing so is hypocritical and causes the city to lose credibility if it’s going to pick and choose when and where to be “green”.

    Imagine someday, for example, that I pay an Austin “gas guzzler” surtax when filling the tank of my truck on the way to go see a F1 race. This is not at all beyond the realm of possible.

    I’m not all bent out of shape about it. I just think it’s interesting and amusing.


  11. Steve, I deeply apologize for being off-topic. What do you think will be the impact on real estate because of of F1, and what do you think will happen to real estate in this part of town?

  12. Hi johannus,

    Not sure what will happen out there. The most likely site based on rough descriptions of “east of the airport”, and common sense, in in or near Elroy around FM 973. There isn’t much out there other than a few super cheap start home subdivisions and farm properties.

    The venue will be built for F1, but perhaps used for other things such as concerts? I don’t know. Seems like if we’re going to build something that’s only going to be used 10 times, it ought to have some other possible purpose as well.

    But to answer your question, I don’t know. This is the first F1 built from scratch in the US, so we’d have to find other similar attraction that draw large crowds infrequently to see what has happened in those areas and that might provide some clues.

    Have a great 4th!

  13. Ah, light rail is a particular pet peeve of mine. Here is a really interesting analysis of energy efficiency of light rail vs private car and other transportation methods:

    Is green U.S. mass transit a big myth?

    I think all these green incentives would be fertile ground for study by the Freakonomics authors.

  14. Light rail and subways are good in that they’re perhaps the only form of public transportation that can reliably get knowledge workers onto public transit, and thus they are a useful tool in battling traffic congestion.

    I don’t really have interest in debating that author’s facts and figures, but even he points out that public transit is only less green if green is the only thing we’re debating. If we have all the possible roads we could ever want with no traffic jams and the government subsidizes vehicles for the poor, then a transit system would be a horrible thing for the environment.

    He points out that public transportation is almost always put into cities generally for reasons unrelated to the environment (relief of congestion, transportation for the poor, tourism), and that because very few of the transit systems run at full capacity there is almost always excess capacity. Using that excess capacity IS more green than putting another car on the road.

    Light rail in Austin is pretty much exclusively being debated for tourism (getting tourists between hotels and the airport), and congestion relief (getting workers downtown and students to UT without them having to put a car on IH-35, which is nearly impossible to expand). If it is put in place for those reasons it will be more green to take light-rail than to put another car on the road.


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