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Households with higher income produce more carbon emissions, study finds

Researchers are urging consumers to adopt more eco-friendly habits in their homes

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While corporations and state legislators have made efforts to reduce carbon emissions, a new study suggests that how much consumers make can affect their impact on the environment.

According to researchers from the University of Michigan, higher-income households were found to produce roughly 25 percent more carbon emissions than those in lower-income houses. 

“Residential energy use accounts for roughly 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States,” said researcher Benjamin Goldstein. “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.” 

Varying carbon footprints

The researchers sought to uncover how household income and carbon emissions intersected, so they analyzed data from over 90 million homes in the U.S. This included stats on each home’s heating source, general size, and income. 

The primary takeaway from this study was that higher income was associated with a higher carbon footprint. The researchers learned that emissions in wealthier areas could be as much as 15 times higher than in lower-income neighborhoods. 

The study also revealed that different parts of the country yielded different results. Homes in colder climates were found to require more energy, while houses in states in the middle of the country had the highest greenhouse gas intensity per square foot. 

Reducing carbon emissions

The researchers say there are actionable steps that consumers can take to reduce the rate of greenhouse gas emissions in their homes. For example, opting for cleaner energy sources can lead to major improvements, as can cutting back on how much fuel and energy are used on a daily basis. 

While part of the onus is on consumers, state officials can also do their part. The researchers learned that the best results are likely to come when all states opt for cleaner energy alternatives, rather than sticking with traditional fuel oil.

“Our exploratory scenario-based models indicate that meaningful reductions to residential emissions will require concurrent grid decarbonization, energy retrofits, and reduced in-home fuel use,” said researcher Joshua Newell. 

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