China passed the U.S. as the largest emitter of greenhouse gases on Earth back in 2007, mostly due to manufacturing. However, the great majority of all the products China produces are exported to the rest of the world. China’s per capita consumption-based environmental footprint is actually small. If you put the responsibility for environmental impacts on the consumer instead of the producer, we are all the culprits.
The United States is the worst overall performer when it comes to per capita greenhouse gas emissions. The countries with the highest consumption have about 5.5 times higher environmental impact than the world average.
Consumers are directly responsible for about 20% of all carbon impacts, such as those from driving our cars and heating our homes. But secondary impacts – the environmental effects from producing the goods and products that we buy – are far greater. And it isn’t just carbon.
Water use is a prime example. The water we use to take showers, wash dishes, and the like is, no pun intended, but a drop in the bucket. The amount of water needed to produce foods and other products greatly surpasses our individual use.
A recent study in the Journal of Industrial Ecology, looked at all these things in great detail and concluded that consumers are responsible for more than 60% of global greenhouse gas emissions and up to 80% of the world’s water use. We like to put the blame on someone else like the government and businesses, but when it comes to the impact on environment, all of us and how we consume the world’s resources are the biggest factor and it is a problem we all must face.
Photo, posted August 19, 2014, courtesy of Sunny Lapin via Flickr.
‘Consumers and the Environment’ from Earth Wise is a production of WAMC Northeast Public Radio.