I’m often asked if there’s a substantial role for individual actions to reduce GHG emissions. There’s an excellent new piece in the the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, Dietz, et al., Household Actions Can Provide a Behavioral Wedge to Rapidly Reduce U.S. Carbon Emissions, 106(44) PNAS 18452-18456 (2009) (open access) that quantifies the potential role of household actions in reducing emissions in the United States. Among the findings of the report:
- Direct energy use by households in the United States accounts for approximately 38% of overall U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, or 626 million metric tons of carbon. Put in perspective, this constitutes approximately 8% of global emissions, more than than other country other than China;
- The U.S. could reasonably achieve emissions reductions of 20% in the household sector within 10 years if the most effective non-regulatory interventions were utilized, amounting to 123 MtC/yr., or 7.4% of total national emissions, an amount larger than the total emissions of France;
- The most effective interventions to induce behavioral change includes the combination of several policy tools (including information, persuasive appeals and incentives), use of strong social marketing, including mass media appeals and community-based approaches; and efforts to address multiple targets, e.g. individuals, communities and businesses.
- The most effective package of interventions varies with the category of action targeted
- Similar percentage reductions could likely be achieved in Canada and Australia given carbon profiles roughly comparable to the U.S.;
- There is currently insufficient information on the costs and institutional requirements to effectuate large-scale behavioral change initiatives.
This piece could be effectively used in conjunction with Pacala and Socolow’s piece on “stabilization” wedges (Stabilization Wedges: Solving the Cliamte Problem for the Next 50 Years with Current Technologies, 305 Science 968-972 (2004)). The PNAS article calculates that the potential reduction in household emissions from non-regulatory mechanisms could result in approximately 3 “wedges”, or 44% of the U.S. contribution at year 10. I think the study also reminds us that there are many effective short-term oriented interventions that can help us buy some time as we work to structurally de-carbonize the world’s economies.