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The Deadly Greenhouse Footprint of American Consumers

04/19/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The following is a excerpt from Climate Catastrophe: Surviving the 21st Century, an essay by Ronnie Cummins and Will Allen.

We all know in general that cars, trucks, coal and power plants, household heating and cooling, and manufacturing industries spew a majority of the greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere and the oceans. But did you know that U.S. household use of fossil fuels (housing, transportation, and food) accounts for 67% of total energy consumption and 67% of GHG's emitted? 1

Heating, lighting, and cooling our poorly insulated and designed 113 million homes and apartments and running our electrical and gas appliances consumes 26.6% of total U.S. fossil fuels.

Cruising in our gas guzzling (averaging 22 miles per gallon) and underutilized cars (average 1.4 passengers per journey) burns up another 23.4% of energy.

Eating highly processed and packaged foods and animal products, produced on chemical and energy-intensive factory-style farms, transported over long distances, and throwing our waste foods into the garbage (rather than composting them) eats up another 17.3% of the nation's energy.

The average U.S. citizen generates 19.6 tons of climate destabilizing greenhouse gases every year, more than twice as much as the European Union and Japan (9.3 tons per capita), and 7.3 times as much as the developing world (2.7 tons per capita).

The Tab for Saving the U.S. from Climate Chaos: $700 Billion a Year

The estimated costs over the next 40-50 years to replace coal and natural gas with solar and wind in electricity generation, at current levels of use, is $15 trillion (which is about the equivalent of U.S. GNP for one year). 2

We must reduce fossil fuel use by 80-90% in the nation's five million commercial and 83 million residential buildings (which currently use up 40% or 40 quadrillion BTUs of our total energy), including reducing building size, changing lighting and windows, making wall, ceilings and floors as thick and as airtight as possible (R-50 or R-60), and placing furnaces and ductwork inside the retrofitted space. The estimated costs for this in future decades will amount to another $10-15 trillion This figure is based upon deep retrofitting costs of $50,000 per residential unit, and $600,000-$2,000,000 per commercial building, with two million new more compact units per year replacing old housing and business stock and meeting new 90% fossil fuel reduction standards.

Converting from our current energy and chemical/GMO-intensive food and farming system (which currently accounts for 35% of our greenhouse gases and $800 billion in diet-related health care costs annually) to one which is organic, local, energy-efficient, and carbon sequestering, will cost at least another $100 billion per year, or $5 trillion over 50 years.

Rebuilding our mass transit systems and reorganizing personal transportation (5-15 people in high-mileage "smart jitneys" and electric cars and vans instead of 1.4 passengers in gas guzzlers, along with a massive increase in bicycle use) will cost us at least another $100 billion a year, or $5 trillion over 50 years.

In other words we need to start redirecting $700 billion a year in federal expenditures away from war and corporate welfare, offer training and jobs in a giant green jobs program (similar to the Works Project Administration program of the New Deal era in the 1930s), and build a new green, full-employment economy. Where are we going to get this money? Not by raising taxes on working people and the poor, but by taxing the rich and the greenhouse gas polluting corporations, and guaranteeing loans from a new citizen-controlled Federal Reserve and banking system.

A major part of this transition, to an organic and low-carbon economy, will require innovative public and private financing for home, transportation, food and farming retrofitting along the lines of the recent PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) program in California. Under this "Slow Money" regime, homeowners, renters, businesses, and farmers can immediately start to reduce their energy bills and carbon footprints and get their homes, businesses, and farms retrofitted for no money down, with low-interest costs being added to their mortgages and tax bills over an extended 30-40 year period.

Can we afford $700 billion per year? Obviously we can, although shortsighted, unsustainable corporate profits will no doubt suffer. Keep in mind that the Pentagon budget, not including the wars for oil and strategic resources in Afghanistan and Iraq, will cost us over $700 billion dollars this year. And don't forget that Obama and his advisors recently handed over approximately $12 trillion in subsidies and grants to the Wall Street criminals and pathological kleptomaniacs who rule our out-of-control financial system. Clearly, what we are proposing is chump-change compared to our recent corporate giveaways.

Honest businesses, homeowners, consumers, farmers and industries that reduce their carbon footprint and help develop the green economy can and should receive substantial tax credits. Speculators, mercenaries, toxic polluters, and Masters of War can go to financial hell, where they belong.

References:

1. Plan C: Community Survival Strategies for Peak Oil and Climate Change. Pat Murphy. New Society Publishers, pp. 120-127.

2.Ibid, p. 85

3. "How innovative financing is changing energy in America" by Cisco Devries. Grist, January 27, 2010. http://www.grist.org/article/2010-01-26-how-innovative-financing-is-changing-energy-in-america