Why Grandma And Grandpa Deserve Some Of The Blame For Climate Change
Researchers at Germany’s Max Planck Institute have calculated the average CO2 emissions per capita by age and have found that the most emissions are produced by people in their early to mid-60s.
MUNICH - Researchers at Germany's Max Planck Institute have calculated the average CO2 emissions per capita by age and have found that the most emissions are produced by people in their early to mid sixties.
When calculating CO2 emissions, energy and climate researchers take the growth of the world's population and increasing affluence in emerging countries into account. But there's one aspect of demographics that has not been taken into account before: aging populations in the industrial countries and an increasing number of older persons in emerging economies. The Planck results show that the demographic change has an impact on emissions.
Consumption habits are different for different age groups, and hence so is the amount of CO2 that a person produces indirectly by what he or she consumes.
People in their sixties often have a relatively high income and so can afford more: they drive and fly more than younger people, and have bigger living spaces that have to be lit and heated. The researchers used U.S. data about age-related consumption patterns because it was easier to access, but the economic-demographic model the results are based on is also valid for other industrial countries, said the head of the research team, Emilio Zagheni. According to Zagheni, humans begin life producing nearly two tons of CO2 per capita per year, and this figure goes up steeply until they are nine years old.
By a person's mid-20s, the curve flattens out or even goes down a bit at around 10 tons, but then between ages 63 and 65 reaches a high point of 14.9 tons. After that the curve descends again. At age 82, when calculations stop, the amount is 13.1 tons and, the researchers say, continues to diminish with age.
The team gathered data about nine energy-intensive products that produce high amounts of CO2, such as gas, heating oil, electricity and plane trips. Every dollar spent on electricity generates 8.7 kilos of CO2. For gas the result is 6 kilos. The CO2 life curve reflects consumption of such goods over a lifetime weighed against CO2 emissions per dollar.
The turning point, says Zagheni, is when people start spending more on health care. Health services are often less energy-intensive than are other goods and services, and are so costly there is little left over for other things.
Read the full story in German by Wolfgang W. Merkel
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