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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.

The golden years leaves its carbon footprint (Symo0)
The golden years leaves its carbon footprint (Symo0)


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

Photo - Symo0

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Life On "Mars": With The Teams Simulating Space Missions Under A Dome

A niche research community plays out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another planet.

Photo of a person in a space suit walking toward the ​Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

At the Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

Sarah Scoles

In November 2022, Tara Sweeney’s plane landed on Thwaites Glacier, a 74,000-square-mile mass of frozen water in West Antarctica. She arrived with an international research team to study the glacier’s geology and ice fabric, and how its ice melt might contribute to sea level rise. But while near Earth’s southernmost point, Sweeney kept thinking about the moon.

“It felt every bit of what I think it will feel like being a space explorer,” said Sweeney, a former Air Force officer who’s now working on a doctorate in lunar geology at the University of Texas at El Paso. “You have all of these resources, and you get to be the one to go out and do the exploring and do the science. And that was really spectacular.”

That similarity is why space scientists study the physiology and psychology of people living in Antarctic and other remote outposts: For around 25 years, people have played out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another world. Polar explorers are, in a way, analogous to astronauts who land on alien planets. And while Sweeney wasn’t technically on an “analog astronaut” mission — her primary objective being the geological exploration of Earth — her days played out much the same as a space explorer’s might.

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