Household Consumption Around the World

A.J. Rohn


In dialogue on climate change, it is often said that certain people and parts of the world will feel the effects more so than others. Likewise, responsibility lies with certain countries and ways of living more than others. Generally, countries using great amounts of fossil fuels, propelling deforestation, or generating waste or seen as those responsible. Among that group is another source of responsibility studied for a newly published paper in the Journal of Industrialized Ecology: consumerism. It is common knowledge that China produces a great number of consumer products, and that the United States consumes much of that. The study quantifies national household consumptions to find which countries are most responsible for climate change based on consumption. It uses a wider range of consumption variables and considers their interactions to offer strategies to mitigate problematic consumption without increasing other sorts of problematic consumption.

The study found that household consumption resulted in 22 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions in 2007, or 65% of the global carbon footprint. It is not uncommon to see percentages like this given for different types of emission sources: agriculture, industry, vehicles, fossil fuels, etc., but these numbers provide a quantitative basis for alternative perspectives. France and South Korea, for example, may not be perceived as countries among the most responsible for greenhouse gas emissions. If their household consumption and imports are considered, though, they are above average. China and India have among the lowest contribution through household consumption, though they are nearly always mentioned when climate change responsibility questions are raised. Similarly, Indonesia and Brazil are often cited as driving climate change due to rain forest decline and questionable agriculture but both countries fall far below the global average in emissions due to household consumption. The study reinforces the critical need for lifestyle changes. However, it also gives some hope that real progress can come from changes at the level of the individual.

Carbon, land, material and water footprints for different countries. Source: Ivanova et al., 2016.
Carbon, land, material and water footprints for different countries. Source: Ivanova et al., 2016.


Ivanova, D. et al. Environmental Impact Assessment of Household Consumption. 2016. Journal of Industrial Ecology.

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About the author
A.J. Rohn
A.J. is a recent graduate of the Geography and Environmental Studies programs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a passion for writing and interests in areas ranging from ecology to geosophy to geopolitics. He enjoys the geography of Wisconsin, be it the north woods or city life in Madison. He loves to read research papers in geography, books by scholars like Yi-Fu Tuan and Bill Cronon (both at UW-Madison), as well as classic fiction writers like Thomas Pynchon and Fyodor Dostoevsky. He is very much inspired by the work of all the people he encountered in Madison’s geography department, so expect a wide range of topics when reading his articles here.