Quantifying the global and distributional aspects of American household carbon footprint
Analysis of household consumption and its environmental impact remains one of the most important topics in sustainability research. Nevertheless, much past and recent work has focused on domestic national averages, neglecting both the growing importance of international trade on household carbon footprint and the variation between households of different income levels and demographics. Using consumer expenditure surveys and multi-country life cycle assessment techniques, this paper analyzes the global and distributional aspects of American household carbon footprint. We find that due to recently increased international trade, 30% of total US household CO2 impact in 2004 occurred outside the US. Further, households vary considerably in their CO2 responsibilities: at least a factor of ten difference exists between low and high-impact households, with total household income and expenditure being the best predictors of both domestic and international portions of the total CO2 impact. The global location of emissions, which cannot be calculated using standard input-output analysis, and the variation of household impacts with income, have important ramifications for polices designed to lower consumer impacts on climate change, such as carbon taxes. The effectiveness and fairness of such policies hinges on a proper understanding of how income distributions, rebound effects, and international trade affect them.
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