Affluent households energy intensive

Wealthy Americans’ homes generate 25 percent more greenhouse gasses than those less affluent.

About a fifth of US emissions comes from residential power use.

The homes of wealthy Americans are major engines of the climate crisis, research has found, with the United States’ most affluent suburbs generating as much as 15 times the greenhouse gas emissions as nearby, poorer districts.

An analysis of 93m homes in the contiguous US found that the most energy intensive dwellings, per square foot, are found in Maine, Vermont and Wisconsin, while the least energy intensive are located in Florida, Arizona and California.

Mainly due to the larger size of homes owned by the wealthy, richer Americans are generating roughly 25 percent more greenhouse gasses through lighting, heating and cooling their residences than poorer people.


This disparity has significant implications for the climate crisis: about a fifth of US emissions comes from residential power use. Americans are particularly voracious users of energy, with the typical person in the US using more than 30 times the amount of electricity at home than the average person in India.

Benjamin Goldstein, a University of Michigan researcher who led the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, said: “Although houses are becoming more energy efficient, US household energy use and related greenhouse gas emissions are not shrinking, and this lack of progress undermines the substantial emissions reductions needed to mitigate climate change.

While emissions generated in homes would plummet if the power grid switched entirely away from fossil fuels towards renewables such as solar and wind, the researchers point out that more far-reaching changes would need to occur to help avoid disastrous impacts from the climate crisis.

This includes energy efficient retrofits and a shift towards smaller, more densely packed homes. A climate plan released last week by Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, includes a proposal to upgrade 4m buildings and weatherize 2m homes to increase energy efficiency, although it’s not clear, even if elected, whether Biden would get congressional support for the overall $2tn climate package.

Disproportionate Consequences

Wealth is not the only demographic divider in the causes of climate change in the US – previous research has shown white people disproportionally affect the environment by eating more foods that are produced with large amounts of water and planet-warming gases, such as milk and beef.

Despite this impact, white people are, on average, less likely than people of color to be subjected to the consequences of burning fuels for energy.

study last year found that Black and Latino people are far more likely to breathe in more air pollution, such as airborne soot, than they produce through their own activities.

This Author 

 is an environment reporter for Guardian US. Follow him on Twitter: @olliemilman.

This story originally appeared in The Guardian and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.


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