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Bill Gates Uses 10,000 Times The Energy Of The Average American, MIT Says

By - Source: Tom's Hardware US | B 17 comments


Cambridge (MA) - Time to start the finger-pointing again. A class at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has begun to track the carbon footprint of different lifestyle in different nations. And the picture painted for the U.S. isn’t pretty: Even the most power conscious people in this country use more than twice the energy of the average person around the world. If you are looking for people with the worst carbon footprint, look among the super-rich such as Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey, MIT says.

It is common knowledge that energy use in the U.S. has been at obscene levels for decades and that nations around the world aren’t happy with the fact that less than 5% of the world’s population is consuming almost one quarter of the energy available worldwide. A new study published by the MIT sheds additional light on this scenario and claims that no matter who you are, you are estimated to contribute at least twice and as much as five times as much greenhouse gas to the atmosphere as those living in the rest of the world.

The MIT class said that it compared the carbon emissions of Americans in a variety of lifestyles ranging from the homeless to multimillionaires, from Buddhist monks to soccer moms and compared them to those of other nations. What is interesting is that the group found that your carbon footprint impact rises with your income. The class estimated Bill Gates’ impact at 10,000 times the national average.

So, what about the average Americans and the ultra-energy conscious? There does not seem to be much hope that Americans can consider themselves as energy-conserving as people living in other countries anytime soon: "Regardless of income, there is a certain floor below which the individual carbon footprint of a person in the U.S. will not drop," says Timothy Gutowski, professor of mechanical engineering, who taught the class that calculated the rates of carbon emissions.

This "floor" below which nobody in the U.S. can drop, no matter what their energy choices are, turned out to be 8.5 tons of annual carbon dioxide emissions, the class found. That was the usage calculated for a homeless person who ate in soup kitchens and slept in homeless shelters. If you look at a self-sustaining level, the person with the lowest energy usage was a Buddhist monk who spent six months of every year living in the forest and had total annual spending of $12,500. His carbon footprint was 10.5 tons. The average annual carbon dioxide emission per person was found to be 20 metric tons, compared to a world average of four tons.

The carbon footprint calculation was based on someone’s impact on the environment, including 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. Services that are more specific, such as education or Medicare, were allocated only to those who actually make use of them. The energy impact for the rich was estimated from published sources, while all the others were based on direct interviews, MIT said.

What appears to have a substantial impact on greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. is the economical effect of saved energy and its "rebound effect". "When you save energy, you save money," Gutowski explains. "The question is: How are you going to spend that money?" For example, buying a hybrid car may save you gas money, but people are likely to spend that extra cash something that may have an even larger carbon footprint, such as a long plane trip.

The biggest factors in most people’s lives were the well-known obvious energy users: housing, transportation and food. "The simple way you get people’s carbon use down is to tax it," Gutowski says. "That’s a hard pill to swallow-politicians don’t like to step up" to support such measures. Absent such national actions, he says, it is important to study "what role consumer choices can play" in lowering the nation’s carbon emissions.

If nothing else, the members of this class got a whole new perspective. "The students really got into it," Gutowski says. "It raised everybody’s awareness about the issues."

The results of the study are scheduled to be presented on this May 19 at the IEEE International Symposium on Electronics and the Environment in San Francisco.

Read also: Map exposes carbon dioxide hotspots in the U.S.

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  • 0 Hide
    Hellbound , April 28, 2008 6:19 PM
    Lets see what Al Gores footprint is..........
  • -1 Hide
    spuddyt , April 28, 2008 6:48 PM
    hows that compared to the UK?
  • 2 Hide
    DXRick , April 28, 2008 6:55 PM
    Being that most people live in grass/mud/stone huts, it is easy to make US people look bad. A good example of how statistics can warp reality.
  • 2 Hide
    zozzlhandler , April 28, 2008 6:57 PM
    What I want to know is, if global warming turns out to be nonsense (highly likely given recent information) or harmless (may even be beneficial - previous warm periods allowed longer growing seasons => more food, etc), then will Mr Gore return the money he has gotten by being a prophet of doom? "carbon credits" may rank as the greatest scam of all time...
  • -3 Hide
    ChrisSDatTH , April 28, 2008 7:38 PM
    zozzlhandler : what new information has come out that contradicts global warming theories? The last thing I heard is that ice is melting at a record pace and the northern passage will be usable as a shipping lane in a few years. No?

    There are some puzzling comments in this article:

    "What is interesting is that the group found that your carbon footprint impact rises with your income"

    How is this interesting?! Of course your carbon footprint will rise with income levels. Poor people don't own 60" flat screen tvs, high performace cars, etc.

    "For example, buying a hybrid car may save you gas money, but people are likely to spend that extra cash something that may have an even larger carbon footprint, such as a long plane trip"

    Buying a hybrid car will save you *gas* money, but it definitely won't save you money. The $22K (?) Prius gets less than 10mpg more than my $3500 used honda and you will never recover that difference in gas savings.

    I'd love to know how they calculated Bill Gates' carbon footprint.

  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , April 28, 2008 7:46 PM
    'Lets see what Al Gores footprint is..........'

    Well I hear as a Noble Peace prize winner (stifles laughter), he is allowed to omit the environmental impact of all those private/small jet trips he takes. Apparently 'green' Hollywood gets a pass by him as well as they all own hybrid cars that sit in their garages as they are chauffeured around in limos...those films don't have too large a carbon footprint either(?)
  • 0 Hide
    zozzlhandler , April 28, 2008 7:47 PM
    I have seen several articles showing that the most recent trend appears to be cooling! (Of course, without a lot more study, these are no more certain than warming. What we need is more study, not more panicking.) I will look them up and post links as I find them. There was also the correction to NASA data that removed most of the warming trend (which, of course, did not receive the publicity the original data did). For info on previous warm periods, it is a historical fact that the Vikings grew grapes in Greenland! Must have been quite a bit warmer, and if so, where were all the horrible disasters that are being predicted now?
  • 0 Hide
    ChrisSDatTH , April 28, 2008 8:03 PM
    "For info on previous warm periods, it is a historical fact that the Vikings grew grapes in Greenland! Must have been quite a bit warmer, and if so, where were all the horrible disasters that are being predicted now?"

    That is interesting. I suspect the disasters are at least partially related to our world population. Thousands of years ago the earth didn't need to support 7 billion people. Food production is already a critical issue. Another population related issue is the number of people living in low lying costal communities that will be under water if current trends (cyclical or not) continue.
  • 1 Hide
    zozzlhandler , April 28, 2008 8:44 PM
    Temperatures may drop:
    NASA data error:
    Others coming as I find them. Please remember, these are just data points, just as is the global warming data. We do not yet understand this planet well enough to make the sort of predictions that have been made. We need to study and learn!
  • 0 Hide
    69camaroSS , April 28, 2008 8:54 PM
    Ummm, taxation doesn't reduce carbon emissions. It just give my money to those rich politicians to spend on even more energy consuming things (all those programs they are talking about). Sounds like an expense account cut for the politicians and government officials would work best. It will cut down on the private jet trips. All the extra money saved can go to paying for my Social Security, so that I actually have money to continue contributing to global warming in my old age.
  • 0 Hide
    FoxyLockxy , April 28, 2008 9:11 PM
    What really gets my goat is people who think they are being green by buying the latest alleged gas-sipping vehicle every few years. My 99 Civic gets around 33mpg but the kicker is it has 125k miles, and I intend to drive it until it's dead- the carbon footprint of buying a new car every couple years hugely offsets any gain from a little less emissions. Also- what's with the piss-poor increase in MPG performance over the years? Chevy's tiny little Aveo only gets 34mpg, what gives?
  • -2 Hide
    DXRick , April 28, 2008 9:13 PM
    I can't help but wonder what the annual carbon footprint is for all college student that light their farts.
  • -4 Hide
    ChrisSDatTH , April 28, 2008 9:23 PM
    Zozzlhandler - thanks for the links, but did you read the whole article in the first link? The cooling is related to La Nina, and does not reflect a change in the trend.

    "But this year's temperatures would still be way above the average - and we would soon exceed the record year of 1998 because of global warming induced by greenhouse gases."
  • 0 Hide
    infornography42 , April 29, 2008 12:54 PM
    The small changes in mileage are largely due to the fact that this year the EPA changed their mileage tests and most cars dropped significantly. The Yaris is one that was affected less than most and it went from 40 MPG to 36 MPG if I remember correctly.

    As for the people saying that all of this greenhouse stuff is a load of bull... well maybe we are heating things up noticeably, and maybe we are not, but that doesn't contradict the fact that we do consume more energy resources than any other nation on a per capita level.

    Buying new cars every 2 to 4 years is absurd, my last car lasted me nearly 10 with minimal problems and probably could have gone longer had one of my cylinders not busted. Also investing in energy efficient home improvements can notably decrease the cost of cooling or heating your home.

    Also finding alternative fuels is important. Ethanol is a bit of a mistake, but there are other more promising fuel technologies on the horizon. And it is time to embrace nuclear once again. We are already seeing the effects of a diminishing supply of oil and gas, we need to find a replacement or get caught with our pants down.
  • 3 Hide
    blackened144 , April 29, 2008 1:19 PM
    The hybrid car market is a shame. Honda killed their 2008 hybrid Accord because according to customers "It does not look like a hybrid." So being "green" has nothing to do with actually saving the planet, its all about looking like you want to save the planet.
  • 0 Hide
    zozzlhandler , May 1, 2008 6:00 PM
    I did not read all the way through the link - indeed, they suggest cooling is related to la nina - but is it?
    I found the ultimate link, which pretty much settle the argument for once and for all. See:
  • 0 Hide
    thepinkpanther , May 13, 2008 8:50 AM
    we're #1!!!!