Strategies for reducing global warming have focused mostly on stopping large oil infrastructure projects such as the Keystone XL pipeline, enacting carbon pricing strategies such as cap and trade, and promoting divestment from carbon extraction businesses. Relatively little attention has been paid to effectively promoting voluntary carbon use reduction by American consumers, even though changing consumer carbon usage patterns holds the potential for enormous carbon emissions reductions. On a per capita basis, Americans emit 17 metric tons (37,000 pounds) of CO2 per capita, roughly twice the European Union average and eight times as much as the Brazilian average.
The majority of Americans understand generally that it is important to conserve energy to help the environment, but lack the conceptual foundations to translate that notion into an understanding of personal CO2 emissions. Consumers should be given the following basic conceptual tools to understand the volume of their carbon emissions: Using 1 gallon of gas releases 20 pounds of CO2 into the air; the 15 gallons in your car’s gas tank will spew 300 pounds of CO2; 1 kilowatt hour of electricity equals 2 pounds of CO2; 1 airplane mile = 1 pound of CO2. A firm understanding these basic equivalencies, driven home by repetition, will give people a way to measure, understand and evaluate their personal carbon output, and the output of others.