American households, if mobilized, hold the key to achieving enormous CO2 emissions cuts, well beyond what President Obama is offering at the Paris Climate Conference.
Paris represents the traditional top-down approach to carbon reduction, where leaders at a “summit” announce broad emissions reduction goals which they promise to implement over long time periods. While climate summits such as Paris are indispensable, their essential complement is a bottom-up commitment of the citizenry to reduce carbon emissions.
The U.S. pledge at Paris is to reduce U.S. CO2 emissions by 28% by 2025 relative to 2005 levels. This level of reduction can be achieved by closing coal-fired power plants, increasing vehicle efficiency standards, and implementing other measures which will not require new legislation nor significantly affect consumers. Unfortunately, the U.S. pledge, combined with the anticipated pledges of other nations, will be insufficient to meet the goal of stabilizing global temperatures at 2 degrees above present temperatures by 2050, unless followed by draconian cuts after 2025. In short, we are pledging too little and leaving the hard work until later.
There is a way that emissions cuts can be realized sooner: An enormous, largely untapped source of CO2 emissions cuts is in the hands of citizens like you and me. Households’ use of energy to fuel cars and heat and light homes is responsible for nearly half of all U.S. CO2 emissions. If the CO2 emitted in the manufacture and transport of consumer goods and services is factored in, consumers account for approximately 71% of all CO2 emissions. U.S. per capita CO2 emissions are 17 metric tons annually, among the highest in the world, and nearly double the European average.