A new report by Oregon’s Portland Metro has found that emissions from driving cars and providing energy only account for about half of the GHGs emitted in the northwest Oregon region. The other half is a direct result of the consumption habits of the region’s inhabitants.
Although Portland Metro residents use less energy and drive less than the US average, it’s the ingrained system of consumption that, according to the report, leads to the most excessive emissions of greenhouse gases. In the report, manufacturing products and food, moving those products and food around, and dealing with the waste produced by consuming those products were all classified as consumption of materials.
As if to highlight the impact of overconsumption even more, the report’s estimates are based entirely on domestically-produced food and products and don’t account for all the stuff imported from overseas. Apparently that data is too sketchy and patchy to use. But the report’s authors say that if all of that is added in, it likely would increase consumption’s GHG emissions to 70% of the total.
Certainly the report’s results are not that surprising, but it’s rare to see the government of a major city within the framework of capitalism point out that overconsumption is unsustainable. As much as personal mobility tends to get demonized as a major contributor to pollution and GHG emissions, I often see that argument as a smokescreen to our underlying problem, which is that we are abusing the freedoms given to us by our democracy and capitalistic society. Do you really need all the stuff you have? For me, at least, it often feels like I have too much stuff and I’m constantly being encouraged to buy more… instead of, let’s say, saving for the future.
More and more these days, driving is a necessity, whereas much of what we consume is a luxury. Don’t get me wrong, I’m one of the loudest proponents of green car technology — you all should know that by now. But all this great change we are encouraging within the auto industry is only a small part of the solution. We need to make sure that as we move forward into a system of lowering emissions and reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, we don’t penalizing one industry disproportionately while others don’t take up their fair share.
Image Credit: David Berkowitz’s Flickr photostream. Used under a Creative Commons License.