Are Your Holiday Purchases the Stuff of Carbon Emissions?

On the heels of COP26, a lot of folks have been talking about their disappointment with the world leaders who set underwhelming carbon reduction goals. Since then, an underlying sentiment of doom-and-gloom is being carried out in conversations among those who care.

This is because a lot of folks—when thinking about climate change and who is responsible for reversing it—point at government entities and businesses (especially utility companies). Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from energy, transportation, materials, and waste sources is “their” job. If they do it well, we will see a slow-down of extreme weather events, natural disasters, pollution, and more.

There is no arguing that they need them to step in bold ways. They must think and act differently. They must set goals that are difficult but not impossible to achieve. And they must develop plans to reach their goals with a high-level of stakeholder accountability. If you’re a utility industry professional, you understand this better than anyone. But are “they” going to be enough to turn rising temperatures in the other direction? Are there opportunities for “we”—you and me as consumers—to play a valuable role?

Irresponsible Consumerism

The answer is “yes”, and it is all about consumerism, the preoccupation of society with the acquisition of consumer goods. In many cases, what we purchase (both products and services), the quantity we purchase, and how we dispose of our purchases have companies spouting carbon into the atmosphere without a care in the world because we are making them rich.

According to the article, “Consumerism Plays a Huge Role in Climate Change, “A new study published in the Journal of Industrial of Ecology shows that the stuff we consume—from food to knick-knacks—is responsible for up to 60 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and between 50 and 80 percent of total land, material, and water use.”

“We all like to put the blame on someone else, the government, or businesses. But between 60-80 percent of the impacts on the planet come from household consumption, says Diana Ivanova, a Ph.D. candidate at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology who is the lead author on this study from The Journal of Industrial Ecology. “If we change our consumption habits; this would have a drastic effect on our environmental footprint as well.”

Consumerism is set to get significantly worse. According to Knowledge for Policy, “By 2030, the consumer class is expected to reach five billion people. This means two billion more people with increased purchasing power than today.”

What Can We Do About It?

On November 23, 2021, Matt Chester, an Energy Analyst with Chester Energy and Policy, posted a Thanksgiving-themed question on the Energy Central website, What are the energy topics you hope to be able to share your insights on at the Thanksgiving dinner table this year?” With COP26 fresh on my mind, my holiday gift-buying well underway, and black Friday mayhem on the calendar for many courageous Americans, consumerism immediately came to mind. I want to ask my Thanksgiving guests:

  • How can we exercise our hard-earned buying power in environmentally responsible ways that don’t kill the economy?

  • When it comes to utility services, how can our utility provider better educate us about environmentally responsible options and behaviors?

  • What’s the one thing we can do in 2022 move the needle towards being more responsible consumers?

I look forward to hearing about your energy-related conversations, as well. Happy Thanksgiving!

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COP26 Daily Highlights

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Vanessa Edmonds

Vanessa Edmonds