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Carbon Emissions: Focus On Individuals Rather Than Businesses?

July 9th, 2009 by Alison · 1 Comment · sustainability

I hope the G-8 related climate talks in Italy today  seriously consider Princeton researchers’ outside-the-box proposal to reduce carbon emissions (CO2). Carbon is the main driver of global warming; this new approach is part of the Carbon Mitigation Initiative that’s based at Princeton .

The Princeton group is suggesting we measure and reduce the collective carbon footprint of individuals, rather than businesses. Individuals wouldn’t be held directly accountable, but the nations they’re in would take responsibility for the needed carbon reduction. This makes sense to me because it focuses on the end-users of all the emissions. If people consumed differently, businesses would have to follow suit.

Background: On average, each person in the world produces five tons of CO2 per year, with Europe producing twice that, and the U.S. producing 20 tons per person per year. With three billion people in the world, 50% of the carbon is being created by only 700 million individuals. They need to consume less if global warming is to be slowed.

How can you and I reduce our carbon footprint? In many cases, it looks the same as saving money, i.e. using less electricity, slowing our pace in summer heat rather than cranking up the air conditioning, spending less money on gas, saving on our heating bills in winter, and most of all, flying less. One approach to the latter is staycations for far-flung families.

“All of the world’s high CO2-emitting individuals are treated the same, regardless of where they live.”  That statement is part of the short abstract of the plan, which is designed to engage developed and developing nations alike, and address the energy needs of  millions living in extreme poverty.

While I still hope the Senate passes the Waxman-Markey bill, which focuses on a cap and trade system for U.S. businesses, I hope even more that this more global and progressive Princeton-based initiative takes off.

Sidenote: My brother Mick is visiting from out of state, and I see my family so little that I’ve been more focused on him than on blogging in the last few days. All three of us are leaving for a weekend in Bend tomorrow, and I plan to post again from that beautiful town in Oregon’s high desert.

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One Comment so far ↓

  • Tom Harris

    What are “carbon emissions” and a “carbon footprint”? Are they concerned about soot emissions (i.e. structureless carbon, a pollutant), graphite or diamonds? Those are what carbon is

    What they mean are “carbon dioxide emissions” and a “carbon dioxide footprint”.

    This is not merely an academic point but is part of the way the language of the debate is distorted to bolster concerns about possible human-caused climate change. Ignoring oxygen atoms and calling CO2 ‘carbon’ is like ignoring the oxygen in water (H2O) and calling it ‘hydrogen’. Most of the public would regard such a communications trick as ridiculous. Imagine getting a hydrogen tax bill, only to be told later that was water tax.

    Such deceptions do serve a purpose, however: to frighten the public into CO2 cuts. Using such phrases as “harmful carbon emissions” encourages people to think of the gas as ‘dirty’, like graphite or soot. Referring to CO2 by its proper name only would help people remember that it is an invisible gas essential to plant photosynthesis and so all life.

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