In One Chart: How America Can Influence the World on Sustainability and Why It Can’t Now

The chart below on the left shows why America can’t lead anyone on sustainability. People mistakenly believe America can influence others on sustainability. Why do they think so? Maybe because of our large GDP, military, or population, since they enable us to influence in other areas, but they don’t help here.

carbon footprint 8 billion trees

Note our average per capita emissions almost five times the world average, nearly ten times mine, and ten times India’s. Remove the U.S. contribution to the world average and we probably pollute close to ten times the rest of the world’s average. Among those other nations, many have higher marks for health, longevity, prosperity, equality, and stability with lower rates of addiction.

We’ve stupidly confused consumption and pollution with quality of life, thinking lowering our pollution levels and therefore consumption would lower our quality of life. We ignorantly think it would be hard and detract from things we want. Lowering consumption would improve most Americans’ quality of life, especially those who pollute the most, which is those who own the most.

We also mistakenly don’t notice that since Watt’s more efficient steam engine, more efficient technology has increased pollution so we think more technology will decrease pollution when it usually, in the long run, increases it. We value consumption and don’t value stewardship, so we pollute.

How We Can Lead

We can lead by raising our quality of life while lowering our emissions to below the world average. That’s easy to do: consume less, especially things that burn fossil fuels. That means buying less food, less doof, fewer cars, fewer homes, less stupid junk, less disposable stuff, and so on.

We have the perfect opportunity to show the rest of the world we deserve to lead by lowering our emissions to below the world average. The lower rate will give us some credibility. The large drop will give tons more.

Until we lower our average per capita emissions, we look like fools advising others, ignorant about the problem and solution, imposing on others. Our values and behavior are the problem. I feel like the rest of the world must be looking at us like an emperor with no clothes or with a big “kick me” sign on our backs. Or a sign that says “I’m with stupid” and it’s pointing at ourselves.

The crazy thing no American I’ve met gets is that we’ll enjoy and benefit from shifting our values to stewardship and living simply so that our emissions drop. I’ll keep working to help get us there.

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