What's the United States Average Carbon Footprint Per Person?

Inspire Clean Energy

12 min read

category: Clean Energy 101

We now know that every single one of us on the planet is contributing to the damage of the planet – but to what degree?

We’ll dive into this in more detail below, but our customers have already significantly reduced their carbon footprint by making the switch to clean energy.

How much CO2 does the average American produce?

It may be surprising to learn that, regardless of income, the average American citizen cannot seem to drop below a certain threshold of CO2 emissions. Why?

The U.S. is so large that daily commuting, business travel, and more daily necessities for the average American indirectly cause a release of CO2, whether it’s using buses, planes and boats to transport people or simply hiring the necessary workforce to build new roads or public buildings.

One notable 2007 study conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology assessed the average American’s CO2 emissions. This study consisted of detailed interviews of the energy usage of 18 lifestyles, ranging from a 5-year-old child to a practicing Buddhist. The study found that the average annual carbon dioxide emissions per American was a shocking 20 metric tons, in comparison to a world average of 4 tons. The world average is less than half the amount of the lowest carbon emissions of anyone in the U.S., which is 8.5 tons.

What is a human carbon footprint?

A carbon footprint is the total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions caused directly and indirectly by individuals, events, products and organizations.

It is calculated by adding together the emissions that result from every stage of a product or service’s lifetime. For physical products, this timespan starts at the point of material production and manufacturing and goes right up to its use phase, and eventual end-of-life disposal. Throughout each product’s lifetime, different greenhouse gases, like methane or nitrous oxide, may be emitted. By continuing to buy into these companies and products that emit greenhouse gases, we are contributing to the overall problem.

Your carbon footprint is calculated by everything you use, buy, or influence.

Who has the biggest carbon footprint?

One study that took place in 2017 showed that China was the highest emitter of cumulative carbon dioxide. China’s carbon footprint is concerningly high, and the air they breathe is of concerning quality. Unfortunately, China’s use of fossil fuels has continued to increase as more and more factories are built as a way of keeping up with the global demand for manufacture.

In this same study, below China was:

  • U.S. released 4.8 metric gigatons of CO2
  • India, with 2.2 gigatons
  • Russia with 1.5 gigatons
  • Japan with 1.1 gigatons

It’s worth noting that, after Japan, every country came in at below 1 annual gigaton, with most countries emitting less than 0.5 gigatons.

What country has the lowest carbon footprint?

It has been noted that Tuvalu, a microstate in Polynesia, has the lowest carbon footprint on the planet, currently resting at zero. It should be said that this tiny island is home to a mere 12,000 people, but they do rely heavily on solar and wind power, which furthers their progress as a carbon-neutral country.

How much does not eating meat reduce your carbon footprint?

One fairly simple but effective way of reducing one’s carbon footprint is by eliminating meat from one’s diet. Results from the 2013 National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey found that industries that produce meat products (primarily chicken, fish, beef and pork) accounted for 30% of average weekly household GHGEs, the biggest share of any of the food industries.

In todays agricultural industry, many cows are also being bred via artificial insemination. This is done in order to save money, improve conception rates, and ensure certain behavioral traits are bred into the calves.

Animal proteins have larger carbon footprints per calorie than grains, legumes or vegetables due to the inefficient transformation of plant energy to animal energy. In addition, the methane that is released from bovine manure management has been linked to the release of methane in countless scientific studies. In short, not only is the artificial insemination and overpopulation of cows and subsequent levels of methane damaging to the ozone layer, but it’s also about the way they are transported to us.

To put things into perspective, opting for a vegetarian meal one day a week could save the carbon equivalent of driving 1,160 miles per year.

It also depends on which meats you cut down on, as some animal products are more greenhouse-gas intensive than others. Red meat is about 150% more GHG-intensive than fish or chicken, so if you feel that you really don’t want to give up your animal protein, it is possible to choose wisely so that you reduce your footprint as much as possible.

Switch to a clean energy company. Working with companies that use hydro, solar power or, more notably, wind energy is an effective way of helping to reduce your carbon footprint. You have to make the decision to do this – you can’t wait for your energy supplier to do this for you.
Eat low on the food chain. This has been touched upon earlier, but it’s worth considering if you are concerned about your carbon footprint. Every day that you forgo meat and dairy, you are reducing your carbon footprint by 8 pounds, that’s an impressive 2,920 pounds a year.
Don’t buy fast fashion. This only seems to have come to the forefront of our conversations recently, but it’s hardly a new problem. Clothing made poorly and quickly is usually disposed of quickly, too. These items of clothing fill up landfills, decompose and produce methane. There’s also the transport of this clothing to consider; most fast fashion retailers have factories in countries like China, India, and Bangladesh, which requires significant burning of fossil fuels to ship to the U.S.
Avoid single-use plastic. This includes things like plastic cutlery, cosmetics packaging, plastic shopping bags, plastic drinking bottles, coffee cups and the packaging around fresh food produce. By bringing your own reusable bags shopping, buying loose fruit and vegetables and drinking from a reusable water bottle instead of buying a new bottle of water every time, you will create notable changes in the way you consume plastic. These are all small and achievable changes, but they can really help to make an impact- plus, if everyone made small changes like these, think of the difference that could be made.
Drive less. If you can, consider cycling or walking to places where you would usually drive. Not only will this be an investment into your own health, but it will also save you money in the long run, reduce your use of cars and public transport, and help you stay healthy, which will save a lot on anguish and medical bills in later life!
Make the switch
If you’re interested in doing more for the environment, consider switching to clean energy.

What is a good carbon footprint?

The global average is 4 tons, which would be a good first step for most Americans to aim for. However, if we want to avoid global warming, we all need to strive to get it under 2 tons by 2050.

What causes the biggest carbon footprint?

Currently, it’s burning fossil fuels for heat, electricity, and transport. We can eliminate a huge amount of carbon emissions simply by sourcing our electricity needs from clean sources, like wind power. If you’re ready to help reduce your carbon footprint by switching to clean energy.

What is the average american carbon footprint per year?

While there isn’t much data on personal carbon footprints over the years, an analysis of the world's carbon dioxide emissions as a result of burning fossil fuels found that the U.S. emitted 5079.53 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 1992.

By 2000, the U.S. had increased its emissions again, rising up to 5860.38 million metric tons.

Jumping forward another six years, this figure increased to 5902.75 million metric tons. So, as you can gather, the average American carbon footprint is still steadily growing – and we need to do more to change this.

Is the average American carbon footprint trending up or down each year?

Unfortunately, the carbon footprint of the average American seems to rise every year, likely due to an increase in consumerism, demand for meat, transport, and population.

How is a carbon footprint calculated?

A carbon footprint is a calculation of an activity's impact on Earth's atmosphere, such as manufacturing a product, one’s lifestyle, or running a business. A carbon footprint is typically computed by estimating not just the CO2 emissions caused by the activity, but also any additional greenhouse gases. It sums up the factors that affect the atmosphere, and subsequently, the climate. 

All of these factors are totaled up and expressed as a single value in terms of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e), which is the quantity of CO2 that would cause the same amount of warming. While this may seem complicated, everyone has a carbon footprint or an impact on the climate. 

What causes carbon footprint?

Many factors can cause carbon footprints, such as: 

  • Transportation 
  • Industrialization
  • Energy production
  • Personal homes 
  • Commercial buildings
  • Agriculture
  • Land use and forestry 

As you follow the line down from each of these options, you find carbon footprints are essentially a given, considering the needs of the modern world. 

A carbon footprint includes both direct and indirect emissions, with direct emissions ascribed to a single person and indirect emissions attributed to a production process. Food, product consumption, transportation, and residentialenergy contribute to carbon footprints. Food is a significant contributor to carbon footprints, with meat being particularly problematic. Food transportation, pesticide use, and out-of-season purchases all add to carbon footprints. In addition, transportation, factory processing, and additional packaging all contribute to higher emissions in processed foods than in fresh foods. 

Energy inefficient homes squander considerable amounts of energy due to poor insulation, inefficient appliances, and excessive water use. Clothing, household items, and personal products all contribute significantly to an individual's carbon footprint due to emissions related to gathering resources, production, and transportation.

Group transportation, such as trains or buses, emitless pollution per person, although they still emit pollutants. As you can see, almost everything in our energy-heavy world will leave behind a carbon footprint. 

Why is a carbon footprint important?

The term "carbon footprint" is shorthand for the quantity of carbon emitted by an activity or organization. Carbon emissions from fossil fuel combustion build up in the atmosphere if there is not enough bio-capacity to absorb them. 

These factors harm (or negatively impact) the planet by devastating the environment with their effects. These effects include rising sea levels, extreme weather patterns, and altering plant and animal ecosystems to name a few. By reducing the effects on the planet, we can improve environmental and public health. 

Why is the American carbon footprint so high?

Emissions are calculated per person to make more relevant comparisons. he United States stands out in its average carbon footprint per citizen. In fact the t per capita emissions in the U.S. are far higher than in India for example, where millions of people still lack access to energy. 

Overall, America's rates are so much higher because of a few reasons that play a significant role in why Americans have a higher carbon footprint. These include major use of private transportation and single-family detached homes. Not only that, but America just tends to be a high consumption market , which in turn creates larger carbon footprints. 

What is the ideal carbon footprint?

Keep in mind that the optimal carbon footprint ranges from 6,000 to 16,000 pounds of greenhouse gasses per year per person. The typical pound or a low carbon footprint is between 16,000 and 22,000 pounds. A score of less than 6,000 is regarded as extremely low. If your household contributes more than 22,000 pounds of greenhouse gasses per person in a given year, then it's time to consider implementing greener options into your lifestyle. 

It takes time to reduce individual carbon footprints. However, we can begin to make a significant difference by making minor changes to our behavior, such as eating less meat, taking fewer connecting flights, and line drying our clothes. Essentially, you can look at every aspect of your life to see if a carbon reduction is possible. 

What are indirect carbon emissions?

Indirect carbon emissions are emissions from sources that the person or organization does not own or control directly. They are, nonetheless, tied to the person or organization's operations. This is commonly thought of as the supply chain, which includes emissions from various vendors, outsourced activities, and shipping. Indirect carbon emissions account for the majority of GHG emissions in several industries. This is because many functions are outsourced in today's economy.

Do products have carbon footprints?

Yes, every product has a carbon footprint, from food to vehicles and everything between. As demand for environmentally-friendly products grows, the Product Carbon Footprint (PCF) is becoming increasingly significant in the current climate discussion. This demand is putting pressure on manufacturers to make product emissions more transparent. 

Furthermore, PCFs, which document a product's total carbon emissions across its life cycle, are intended to record them transparently. This means that the analysis considers not only the product itself, but also aspects such as  supply chain, logistics, internal manufacturing, usage, and product disposal. Most products include a product life cycle starting with raw materials, product manufacturing, distribution and retail, use by the consumer, and finally, the disposal or recycling of the product. 

How does carbon footprint relate to climate change?

Burning fossil fuels is responsible for roughly three-quarters of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, we rely on fossil fuels to power our automobiles, heat our houses, and even consume electricity. The EIA has also concluded that greenhouse gas emissions have increased since industrialization, implying that humans are responsible for a significant portion of greenhouse gas production. 

When fossil fuels like coal, natural gas, and oil are burned, carbon dioxide is discharged into the atmosphere. In addition, other biological materials, such as solid waste, produce carbon dioxide when they are burned. Carbon dioxide emitted in enormous quantities into the atmosphere impacts the earth, especially if it stays in the atmosphere for thousands of years. Carbon emissions directly impact humans, producing an increase in respiratory ailments due to smog and air pollution.

Climate change is perhaps the most significant way that carbon emissions affect the environment. Our climate changes dramatically as the global average temperature rises, it heats. As a result, extreme weather phenomena such as tropical storms, wildfires, flooding, and severe droughts are caused by global warming. Because global warming can result in catastrophic weather events and disrupted ecosystems, each individual must recognize their effect on the future and seek to make a positive impact.

Make the switch
If you’re interested in doing more for the environment, consider switching to clean energy.

What does the future hold for American carbon footprints?

The global pandemic has given us a unique opportunity to build a low-carbon future for ourselves and an insight into what that world could look like. While it’s clear that the virus has caused a lot of devastation, it’s also important that we view this massive shift in our lives as an opportunity to reassess the way we live and consume. It is also clear that nature has benefitted from a sudden drop in the use of public transportation, obsessive consumerism and consumption. A global crisis can also be a time to instigate change, and that change urgently needs to be one that brings a halt to the damage being done to our planet.

If you’re ready to take action and protect the planet for the future, join us in our fight for a better world where every American carbon footprint is 2 tons or lower.

If you’re looking for a quick and easy way to make an impact, sign up for a 100% clean energy supply plan for your home.

Not sure if renewable energy is right for you? Read some of Inspire Clean Energy’s reviews to see how we've helped customers make the switch.

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