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Environment: treading lightly on the Earth
Environment: treading lightly on the Earth

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2.2 Household carbon footprints in other developed countries

Although the mean carbon footprints per person vary in different European and other developed countries, depending on their energy supply system and economy, the footprint breakdown is generally similar to that for the UK. You will now look at two major economies for a brief comparison: Germany and the USA.

A study of the carbon footprint of German households found that the mean footprint was 14.3 tonnes CO2e per person per year. Housing (which in this study covered domestic fuel use, purchase of appliances and furniture, water use and rent) was responsible for the highest share of emissions (34%); followed by personal transport (24%), including car manufacture, fuel and maintenance, public transport and air travel; then food and drink (18%); goods such as clothing and shoes (15%); and services such as health and education (9%). As for the UK, the study found heavier carbon footprints were associated with higher household incomes and smaller household sizes (Miehe et al., 2015).

A US study (Weber and Matthews, 2008, updated by Hubacek, n.d.) found that the mean American carbon footprint was about 23.5 tonnes CO2e per person per year. This is considerably heavier than mean European footprints, but its breakdown is similar, with the largest components again being personal transport, home energy use, food, and consumption of goods and services and, especially in the US context, private health services.

One difference in the carbon footprint breakdown is the result of the amounts of room heating and cooling required in different climates. In the USA, for example, 87% of homes had air conditioning in 2009, which used over 6% of all household energy (US EIA, 2013). In Britain, by comparison, few homes at present need or have air conditioning.

Earlier it was mentioned that the carbon footprint measures only CO2 and other GHG emissions while other environmental impacts are included only indirectly or not at all. This was highlighted by an earlier American study (Brower and Leon, 1999) which showed that personal transport, food production and home energy use, as well as emitting large amounts of GHGs, were also major sources of toxic air and water pollution and damage to wildlife habitats.