American poor and homeless high carbon footprint

Posted on April 30, 2008. Filed under: Uncategorized |

For some people – mainly the better off – the need to take action against global warming holds an almost religious status (honor Al Gore, do not covet your neighbor’s gas-guzzling SUV, etc). But does being good do any good?

Not much, says a team of students at MIT. You can swap the Hummer for a hybrid and diet on lentil curry instead of lamb chops, but it will a have only a limited effect on your carbon footprint (read a PDF of their study).

The students interviewed people from a range of different income brackets. They then calculated how much energy is needed to sustain every aspect of their subjects’ lives, from the food they eat to health services they receive….and found there is a threshold energy use that almost no one in the US can avoid, and in global terms it’s high.

Take one of the Buddhist monks that the students interviewed. He earns $8500, so his travel habits likely involve Greyhound buses rather than Gulfstream jets. But the monk uses 120 billion Joules of energy a year. That’s a third of the US average, but almost double the global mean. For those in better paying professions, emissions can reach 10 times the global mean, or between 400 billion to 600 billion Joules.

The source of this carbon is the infrastructure that no one in developed countries can avoid being part of. It’s the energy used to mend the roads and heat hospitals. Even homeless people visit soup kitchens and sleep in hostels. That earns them a carbon footprint around the same size as the monk’s.

Does this mean we should abandon attempts to be green? Certainly not. Every saving matters, especially when governments are not doing enough. But the MIT work shows how deeply carbon is embedded into our lives. Real change requires reform across the board –  Read full from “Even the homeless have large carbon footprints

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