The bare necessities: How much household carbon do we really need?
The consumption patterns of Western nations are generally deemed to be unsustainable. Yet there is little attempt to restrain either material throughput or income growth. Nonetheless, in the face of the need to make 'deep' cuts in carbon emissions (for instance), consumption restraint may be a perfectly legitimate response. This paper explores the potential for a Reduced Consumption Scenario in the UK constructed by assuming that households achieve a specific 'minimum income standard' which is deemed to provide a decent life for each household type. The minimum income standards are taken from a recent study for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and include not only subsistence commodities such as food, warmth and shelter but also the means to participate effectively in society. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation study produced detailed household expenditure budgets for these income standards. The paper uses an environmentally extended Quasi-Multi-Regional Input-Output model to estimate the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions required in the production and distribution of all goods and services purchased according to these budgets. Our results show that average household GHG emissions in the UK would be around 37% lower in the Reduced Consumption Scenario than they are currently. We explore several implications of these findings including: the need to change social norms around consumption, the need for investment to improve the thermal performance of homes and the need to develop new transport infrastructures. We also address the potential to reduce emissions below the level achieved in this Scenario and discuss the implications for policy.
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