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Higher Incomes & Big Carbon Footprints Don’t Equal Better Life

Higher Incomes & Big Carbon Footprints Don’t Equal Better Life

Over the past few years, international climate negotiations have been a monumental disappointment. One reason for this is that developing countries find it hard to see why they should slow their consumption of fossil fuels, simply because countries like the U.S. and Japan have been over-consuming for decades.

The reasoning behind thisresistanceis that a big carbon footprint is necessary for the economic growth that will pave the way for more infrastructure, better paying jobs, and therefore a higher quality of life. But a recent study publishedin the journalNature Climate Change found that this assumption is actually incorrect.

In fact,results showed that countries with high incomes and high carbon emissions do not achieve higher life expectancies than those with moderate incomes and lower carbon emissions.

A central finding of this study is that a moderate income, corresponding to a Gross Domestic Product of between $2,000-$12,000 per capita, is currently a necessary, but not sufficient, requirement for sustainable development: ‘necessary’ because no high-income country has carbon emissions below 1 tonne of carbon per capita; ‘not sufficient’ because moderate incomes do not guarantee either high life expectancy or low carbon emissions.

To arrive at this conclusion, researchers investigated links between carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels, economic wealth and life expectancy and found that, ideally, from a sustainable development perspective, countries would achieve both high incomes and high life expectancies at low levels of carbon emissions.

“Most scenarios leading to stable and reduced carbon emissions rely on rapid technology shifts, from fossil-based energy to renewable sources, for example,” said Dr Julia Steinberger, a lecturer in ecological economics at the Sustainability Research Institute of the University of Leeds.”The results of this study show that technology shifts may not be required if economic activity is reduced in the richest countries. In this case, global long life expectancies would be compatible with a stabilized climate on planet Earth.”

Unfortunately, this once again puts the onus of action on the world’s biggest and wealthiest countries. Even though the U.S. and its wealthy counterparts are in the best position to make the technological and behavioral changes necessary to balance the global carbon footprint, they are also the least likely to take action.


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Image Credit: Flickr – kate365photos

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8:19AM PST on Dec 7, 2012

Thank you for sharing.

3:31PM PST on Feb 21, 2012

im working on my carbon footprint every day doing everything i can to lessen it. A huge carbon footprint does not = good financial gains

5:51PM PST on Feb 7, 2012


1:17PM PST on Feb 7, 2012

An interesting statistical method for providing guidelines for countries in this policy area.

3:22PM PST on Feb 4, 2012

People are only interested in living longer once they get older. Before that, it is all about having possessions. Granted, in a developing world, that may just mean a roof over your head or food in your belly, but everything we do uses resources.

12:16AM PST on Feb 4, 2012

Thanks for the article.

7:43PM PST on Feb 3, 2012

my most enjoyment is knowing that I did something good to help my children, wife, or someone else....including recycling or something else good for the world that wouldn't be done if I didn't do it....

10:54AM PST on Feb 3, 2012

i remember a line from a Western i saw as a child. it was about some people desperate to get gold and there was a lot of shootin' and killin' and finally we heard one 49'er intone-If the world was made of gold, man would dig it all up to get a handful of earth. oh, if only this man could see the state of Canada's boreal forests today.

3:26PM PST on Feb 2, 2012

A good life is inner peace. Doesn't matter how much you have, or how big your house, car, or bank account is. If you don't have inner peace, nothing will do.

2:20PM PST on Feb 2, 2012

Thanks for the article. Big business doesn't consider the environment a priority unless it directly effects their ability to conduct their business. And then when it does, they cry foul. Short term gain at the price of long term loss. They don't impress me much.

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