The Connection Between Wealth and Carbon Footprint

Lane Simonds:

A survey that started out as a way to determine what drives household energy use, ended up revealing that wealth tends to be linked to a higher carbon footprint.

The study of household energy was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and looked at energy use in over 90 million American homes. Different neighborhoods and different parts of the country were included in the examination of greenhouse gas emissions.

Household energy use accounts for about 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Using big data and deep analysis allowed those leading the study to gain a better understanding of all the factors involved in household energy use. Using a database of tax assessor records, the team, including experts from the University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability, were able to estimate building energy use and determine the influence of climate, the electrical grid, building factors, and household income on a structure’s greenhouse gas emission intensity. They used a calculation of emissions per square meter of floor space in each of the houses.

Emissions from houses

The study showed that greenhouse gas intensity is highest in central areas of the U.S and lower in the west. Interestingly, even places where there are efficient electrical grids showed affluence can have a significant influence on greenhouse gas intensity.

Thanks to green technology, U.S households are actually more efficient than they used to be and while advanced technology can go a very long way in helping all homeowners reduce their carbon footprint, a significant level of human behavior needs to be adapted as well.

The authors of the study suggest that their work can help guide governments and policy makers as they try to help slow climate change. They also suggest it may encourage community leaders to reflect upon what responsibility wealthier households should have for fighting climate change.