By Beth Daley, Globe Staff
So you've replaced all the lamps in your house with compact fluorescent bulbs. Those wet clothes are hung on the clotheslines. Maybe you've even gone on a car diet.
Feeling pretty green? Think again.
|An energy intensive home (Suzanne Krieter/Globe Staff)|
Anyone who lives in the U.S. - even a Buddhist monk who lives in the forest half the year - emits more than twice as much greenhouse gas than those living in the rest of the world, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology class has discovered.
The class, taught by mechanical engineering professor Timothy Gutowski calculated carbon emissions from 18 lifestyles including a monk, vegetarian college student and Bill Gates. While emissions dramatically rise with income, even a homeless person still emits 8.5 tons of carbon dioxide, the key heat-trapping gas, a year. The world average is four tons.
"Regardless of income, there is a certain floor below which the individual carbon footprint of a person in the U.S. will not drop,'' says Gutowski.
It's our basic service infrastructure. Energy used to produce and maintain roads, police, libraries, the military and court system bump up everyone's per capita emissions. So even if you do all you can, those services will never get you past a certain emissions point.
But Gutowski says don’t get depressed.
“I don’t want people to go away thinking they shouldn’t do anything. If we are all operating at that ground level, that would be a significant improvement,” Gutowski said.
The class conducted detailed interviews with most people to make their calculations. They estimated emissions for more famous people. A Buddhist monk who spends six months of every year living in the forest and who had a total annual spending of $12,500 emitted 10.5 tons. Gates average is 10,000 times the global average. People in the U.S. emit, on average, about 20 tons of CO2.
The class focused an extra layer of analysis on the money we save by being greener. Called the rebound effect, it analyzes, for example, what people do with the money they save from buying a hybrid car instead of a gas-guzzling SUV. Sometimes, they take it to take a long trip on an airplane, adding to their carbon footprint.
Gutowski’s class is now analyzing what actions people can really do to limit their environment impact. They already know it will likely require drastic behavior changes around housing, transportation and food. Who is willing?
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