Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Leaving Our Mark

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Leaving Our Mark

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Everyone who lives in the United States contributes more than twice as much greenhouse gas to the atmosphere as the global average, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) class has estimated. The class studied the carbon emissions of Americans in a wide variety of lifestyles--from the homeless to multimillionaires--and compared them to those of other nations.

The somewhat disquieting bottom line is that in the United States, even people with the lowest energy usage account for, on average, more than double the global per-capita carbon emission. And those emissions rise steeply from that minimum as one's income increases. "Regardless of income, there is a certain floor below which the individual carbon footprint of a person in the United States will not drop," says Timothy Gutowski, a professor of mechanical engineering, who taught the class that calculated the rates of carbon emissions.

While it may seem surprising that even people whose lifestyles do not appear extravagant, such as children or monks, are responsible for significant greenhouse gas emissions, a major factor is the array of government services that are available to everyone in the United States. These basic services--including police, roads, libraries, the court system, and the military--were allocated equally to everyone in the country in this study. Other services that are more specific, such as education or Medicare, were allocated only to those who actually make use of them. …

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