Homes of wealthy Americans have 25% higher carbon emissions than lower-income residences

The homes of wealthy Americans generate about 25% more greenhouse gases than residences in lower-income neighborhoods, says the University of Michigan. In the nation’s most affluent suburbs, those emissions can be as much as 15 times higher than in nearby lower-income neighborhoods.

The estimates come from a new University of Michigan study of 93 million American homes. It is the most comprehensive study of U.S. residential greenhouse gas emissions, according to the authors, and the first to provide nationwide rankings by state and zip code.

It is also the first nationwide study to find correlations between affluence, residential floor space and greenhouse gas emissions, says a statement.

In addition, the U-M researchers determined that the U.S. residential housing sector won’t be able to meet the Paris climate agreement’s 2050 emissions-reduction targets solely by phasing out fossil fuels in electricity generation. In-home fuel burning and electricity consumption must also be reduced. New homes will have to be smaller, and denser settlement patterns will be needed.

“Residential energy use accounts for roughly 20% of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States,” said study lead author Benjamin Goldstein in the statement. “Although houses are becoming more energy efficient, U.S. household energy use and related greenhouse gas emissions are not shrinking, and this lack of progress undermines the substantial emissions reductions needed to mitigate climate change.”

Household “greenhouse gas intensity” is a measure of the emissions per square meter of residential floor space and takes into consideration the types of fuels used to generate electricity at a given location, explains the statement. The team’s state-by-state rankings show that GHG intensity is lowest in the West and highest in the central United States.

“Energy intensity,” the amount of energy used per square meter of floor space, was low in warm or mild regions of the country but markedly higher in cold north-central and Northeast states.

Photo credit: Josué Goge/Flickr Creative Commons


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