It’s easy to compute per capita greenhouse gas emissions for a country. I’d like to determine the proportion of this that is under the control of individual consumers, in the sense that they can choose to reduce it by changing their consumption decisions. (Which I am calling a ‘footprint’ here for lack of a better term, though in general the word is ambiguous.) So for example:

  • a car bought by a consumer is included in the footprint
  • Government spending on health is not

The latter does scale with the population, but at the margin the consumer has no option over whether to pay taxes & so no control over spending on health.

Assume for simplicity that each $1 of production has the same carbon intensity.

To a first approximation, consumption seems like a good scaling factor to go from per capita emissions to individual footprint. I can see problems, though:

  1. If consumers save more via company shares or bonds, companies will increase investment, with associated carbon costs. I suppose consumers could avoid this by buying govt bonds, but the topic generally confuses me.

  2. As I understand it, National accounts map all consumption by businesses onto consumers or the government. (Is that right?) But that doesn’t seem to distinguish between variable costs, which should correspond to embedded emissions in some final product & so be counted in individual footprints (as defined above) & fixed costs, which will not at the margin be affected by consumer choices.

I’d be grateful for any thoughts on how to do this right.


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