To Stop Climate Change Americans Must Cut Energy Use by 90 Percent, Live in 640 Square Feet, and Fly Only Once Every 3 Years, Says Study
In order to save the planet from catastrophic climate change, Americans will have to cut their energy use by more than 90 percent and families of four should live in housing no larger than 640 square feet. That’s at least according to a team of European researchers led by University of Leeds sustainability researcher Jefim Vogel. In their new study, “Socio-economic conditions for satisfying human needs at low energy use,” in Global Environmental Change, they calculate that public transportation should account for most travel. Travel should, in any case, be limited to between 3,000 to 10,000 miles per person annually.
Vogel and his colleagues set themselves the goal of figuring out how to “provide sufficient need satisfaction at much lower, ecologically sustainable levels of energy use.” Referencing earlier sustainability studies they argue that human needs are sufficiently satisfied when each person has access to the energy equivalent of 7,500 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity per capita. That is about how much energy the average Bolivian uses. Currently, Americans use about 80,000 kWh annually per capita. With respect to transportation and physical mobility, the average person would be limited to using the energy equivalent of 16–40 gallons of gasoline per year. People are assumed to take one short- to medium-haul airplane trip every three years or so.
In addition, food consumption per capita would vary depending on age and other conditions, but the average would be 2,100 calories per day. While just over 10 percent of the world’s people are unfortunately still undernourished, the Food and Agriculture Organization reports that the daily global average food supply now stands at just under 3,000 calories per person. Each individual is allocated a new clothing allowance of nine pounds per year, and clothes may be washed 20 times annually. The good news is that everyone over age 10 is permitted a mobile phone and each household can have a laptop.
How do Vogel and his colleagues arrive at their conclusions? First, they assert that “globally, large reductions in energy use are required to limit global warming to 1.5°C.” The 1.5°C temperature increase limit they cite derives from the 2015 Paris Agreement in which signatories agreed to hold “the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.”
To achieve that goal, the researchers focus on what they call provisioning factors, which are intermediary institutions that people use to satisfy their needs. Provisioning factors that affect the amount of energy a society uses include public service, public health coverage, access to electricity and c
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