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 this resistance is 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 published in the journal Nature 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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Word Fiddling While Earth Burns: Climate Talks End

One Billion Cars Now On World’s Roads


Image Credit: Flickr – kate365photos


Duane B.
.5 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Jay Williamson
Jay w6 years ago

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

Cheryl B.
Cheryl B6 years ago


J.L. A.
JL A6 years ago

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

Carol P.
Carol P6 years ago

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.

KS Goh
KS Goh6 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Dave C.
David C6 years ago

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....

roy m phillips
Roy Phillips6 years ago

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.

Doris Turner
Doris Turner6 years ago

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.

Zana Zatanique
Jan Alexanian6 years ago

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.