New Studies, New Questions
Three recent reports make sustainable consumption more complicated.
America is the world's leading netimporter, bringing in nearly 700 million metric tons in 2004, or 10.8 percent of our overall consumption-related emissions. The average American "consumes" 22 metric tons of CO2 annually, of which 2.4 tons are actually emitted abroad. (Some countries in Europe import more than 30 percent of their overall emissions and more than 4 tons for each citizen.)
Meanwhile, China is the world's leading net exporter: 22.5 percent of its production emissions were related to goods that wound up outside the Middle Kingdom. China and India may now be among the world's biggest CO2 emitters, but the people in those countries aren't entirely to blame. As the world continues its struggle to reach a global consensus on climate change, that's a point developed nations would do well to keep in mind.
Can personal choices really make a big difference?
The Natural Resources Defense Council thinks so. The environmental action group just released a report, in conjunction with theGarrison Institute's Climate, Mind, and Behavior Project, that outlines 14free or low-cost things individuals can do that would collectively eliminate a billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent—or almost 15 percent of America's total emissions.
It's not a particularly surprising list to anyone who's even mildly committed to green living. The report recommends keeping your vehicle properly maintained, using your clothes dryer sparingly, and replacing incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent ones. (If every household replaced six interior bulbs and one exterior bulb, NRDC calculates that the country would avoid 30 million metric tons of CO2-equivalent.)
A billion-ton reduction is a good carrot but to achieve those kinds of cuts, every single American would have to implement all the changes NRDC suggests. And the head of the NRDC has been quick to note that personal behavior is only one part of the overall equation. But as a simple, straightforward list of the low-hanging fruit we should all be focusing on, the Lantern thinks it represents a pretty solid action plan.
Is there an environmental quandary that's been keeping you up at night? Send it to email@example.com, and check this space every Tuesday.
Nina Shen Rastogi is a writer and editor, and is also the vice president for content at Figment.
Illustration by Mark Alan Stamaty.