How large is your 'carbon footprint' -- the amount you contribute to greenhouse gas emissions? Even the people in the US with the lowest energy usage have a carbon footprint about twice as high as the average global citizen, according to a new survey. But why is that?
It's no surprise that people with a higher standard of living tend to use more resources and require more energy, and per capita carbon emissions in the US are significantly higher than in the rest of the world. The exact numbers, however, and the reasons behind them, are surprising. The researchers, a group of students at MIT, looked at the carbon footprint of people in the US with different lifestyles, from those of Oprah-Winfrey-level celebrities to those of monks and a homeless person living in a shelter. While the emissions of someone like Bill Gates were over 10,000 times that of the world per capita average, even a Buddhist monk who lived in the forest for half of every year had a carbon footprint of 10.5 tons of carbon dioxide per year. The average per capita carbon footprint globally is just 4 tons. Regardless of an individual's personal efforts at reducing their carbon footprint, the effects of shared services from courts, the military, roadways, and other public resources increased overall numbers in the United States, creating a baseline level of consumption that is impossible to avoid. We'll talk with one of the researchers behind the study about what it means, and what kinds of changes a person -- and a society -- might need to make to have a significant effect on emissions.
Produced by Annette Heist, Senior Producer