By Sarah “Steve” Mosko
More and more Americans are taking responsibility for their personal contribution to global climate change by driving fuel efficient cars, insulating their homes and switching to energy efficient lighting and household appliances.
However, even someone that’s gone to the extremes of traveling only on foot or bicycle and forsaking home heating, cooling, lighting, food refrigeration and cooking will likely shrink their carbon footprint by only about a third. That’s because roughly two-thirds of Americans’ greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are embedded instead in consumption of other goods and services, according to a recent analysis by the Center for Global Development (CGD), a non-profit policy research organization.
Most of us attribute our GHG footprint to the easily discerned energy we consume for personal transportation and home utilities. Yet these so-called “direct” emissions account for just 36% of the average American’s annual GHG emissions which are equivalent to 21.8 tons of CO2.
The remaining 64% of GHG emissions are “indirect” and produced during the manufacture and production of literally everything else we consume, such as food, shelter, clothing, furniture, cars, bicycles, appliances, electronics, pets, toys, tools, cleaning supplies, medications, toiletries, entertainment and air travel. The fact that indirect emissions typically take place somewhere distant and out of our sight, like in a factory overseas and during transport of products to the point of sale, underlies our lack of connection to them.