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Question of the Week: Do You Think Your Carbon Footprint Is Smaller Than Your Parents’ or Grandparents’?

2010 February 1

Things are much more energy efficient than they used to be, from our vehicles to our light bulbs, and most of us practice the three R’s of Reducing, Recycling and Reusing.  But now we have so much more…more vehicles, more technology, more everything…   At first thought this may seem like a pretty easy question, but think about it for a minute, and then share your thoughts.

Do you think your carbon footprint is smaller than your parents’ or grandparents’?

Each week we ask a question related to the environment. Please let us know your thoughts as comments. Feel free to respond to earlier comments or post new ideas. Previous questions.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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42 Responses leave one →
  1. Don Bain permalink
    February 1, 2010

    No. Our carbon footprints are much higher than our parents and grandparents. Rising standard of living including larger homes and more cars contribute. Counter-intuitive, the Jevons paradox is at play, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jevons_paradox, increasing energy consumption as we have made it more efficient.

    The real question: will our children’s and grandchildren’s carbon footprints be smaller, and if so, will the transition be smooth and pleasant or abrupt and disruptive?

  2. Heidi Maschmann permalink
    February 1, 2010

    I think my footprint is definitely larger than my parents and grandparents…but I am definitely working on reducing it. Unlike my parents, we are a two car family as we both work. Products we buy are over packaged compared to the way my parents bought fresh products that had very limited packaging. We have a lot more electronic devices and use them far more frequently than the two hours a night my parents let the tv be on. My family has much to do to get back to the carbon footprint levels of the sixties and seventies. I’m just glad we don’t have Aquanet hair spray to contend with anymore.

  3. Marie permalink
    February 1, 2010

    I would like to think that my foot print is smaller, than my parents, but I am sure that it is not. My parents were a one car family. They lived on a smaller budget and didn’t give vehicles to children for the convenience of not having to drive them to sports. Today, it’s all about convenience. We don’t grow our own food. We have multiple cars, shamefully some are not so green and even though we try with efficient bulbs and fridges. It can’t reduce the impact of the emissions from everything else. We must simply do more if we are to survive and protect the planet we call home.

  4. wade harter permalink
    February 1, 2010

    A really bigger question may be “will our carbon footprint produce sufficient CO2 to maintain our forrest and grasslands”. We do remember that such is required for our plant life to survive. As for my parents we were raised on a village where all houses were heated by wood and/or coal burning fireplaces and cook stoves. the mills burned coal and left evidence of such. our cars bellowed smoke enought to kill all the mosquitoes.

  5. M. Sue Pagay, M.S. permalink
    February 1, 2010

    In my parent’s time, we owned one car, one house and one of everything we needed. No more than that, and we never wanted for anything. We didn’t recycle, but we didn’t use so much … we didn’t need much.

    In today’s world, we don’t need … we greed. We have 2-3 cars, 2-3 homes, travel thousands of miles more each year, eat 4 times as much (usually processed foods rather than home-grown, home-cooked meals that require little to no major machinery). Our kids don’t play outside, they have to have a computer, an HDTV, a game console, a home theatre and loads of other electronics to even feel half human. Now, guess where all that’s going to go when it all breaks down!

    What we DO have that our parents never had is technology. And, it’s job is a dirty one, at that. It makes our lives convenient while it poisons us with our own greed. Our land is filled with toxic waste, plastics and metals that kill our wildlife and spew into our streams and rivers, electronic filth that no one wants and no one seems to know what to do with. Our lives are convenient. Our lives are longer … but, not better. Our quality of life suffers in the wake of technology.

    Our desire for more brought us to where we are today. We are in a state of denial. We believe that our recycling, water filtration methods, and spots and spurts of efforts into “saving our environment” is going to make a difference. And, indeed, it WILL. But, perhaps too late. And perhaps it’s too little an effort as well.

    In the span of our lifetime and in the history of the world, it is very recent that we are making these efforts at all. And, not everyone everywhere makes any effort at all. Can we really play “catch up” now? Or, are we deluding ourselves into believing that we really are not suffocating at the hands of our own greed?

    As we debate this question, we’re tearing down the rainforests to pour cement; we’re destroying the wildlife and balance of nature by flying overhead in helicopters to shoot down animals that have more right to roam free on this good earth for the harm they never did as compared to those two-legged sapiens who in the short span of their rein on this planet have single-handedly managed to destroy the soil, the water, the air, and now … even outer space.

    And, as we debate this question … the polar ices melt and the oceans swell. The ozone in the atmosphere thins and the ultraviolet light from the sun slowly scorches its way into the DNA of our skin. We have been in the process of poisoning the earth with our carbon footprint ever since man entered the scene, and the effects of our filth have escalated exponentially ever since the dawn of the industrial age.

    The small steps we take now to erase the harm we’ve already done may be admirable at best, but are almost undoubtedly too little too late. And the legacy we leave behind and give with our love to our children when we leave this planet is one of natural disaster, disease and famine. They have much to thank us for!

  6. Becky permalink
    February 1, 2010

    What a sad commentary. I tend to believe that with more awareness, maybe we can make more concerted efforts to change things for the better. We must start with our children – teach them to conserve, recycle, to respect the earth, the environment and all it’s creatures. I strive every day to make a difference.

  7. Jackenson Durand permalink
    February 1, 2010

    Nos parents and grand parents nous a envoyé a l’école pour que nous puissions offert de nouveaux resultats modernisatrices envers notre societé.

  8. Bgcoffeelover permalink
    February 1, 2010

    Hi Everyone,
    No doubt, my carbon footprint is magnitudes of order greater than my grand parents or even my parents.
    I remember my grandmother cooking on a wood stove, they had one 60 watt light bulb in the ceiling, and had just installed an electric pump in their well for all water supplys. They lived in a small community that was self sufficient. “The good old days” were really hard times when compared to today. I don’t think anyone wants to go back in time giving up air conditioning, clean water, indoor plumbing….. With that said, we are more energy efficient in a specific energy view. Automobiles use less fuel, less oil, and last longer. The cost of comfort is declining as breakthroughs in technology provide lower energy consumption.
    The real question is how do we continue to get better? If by 2050 we reduce our footprint by 80%, where will the reduction come from? We need real science, seperate from politics, to accomplish our goals. Turning off a few lights may be a start but the step change can only be seen with investment in, and application of new technologies.
    Tony

  9. Jackenson Durand permalink
    February 1, 2010

    Our parents and grand parents had been sending us to school in other that we would be able to produce better new result towards our society.
    Change the way we use to perceive our world in the past by bringing new technology for energy future.

  10. M. Sue Pagay permalink
    February 1, 2010

    The truth is usually sad. The commentary was meant to address the issues and what has been said here ARE the issues. It was not meant to make any feel better.

    Now, we ALL would FEEL better to “believe” that putting a bandaid on our boo boo will make things better. But, let’s see about that. You may very well be trying to make a difference. So am I. BUT, until EVERYONE wants to make a difference and we ALL teach our children that our greed was NOT a spendid example of how to live … then where will two drops in the bucket help to save the ocean?

    I agree that we are trying … now. But, much of the damage is already done What’s dead will not come back to life. We must ALL do our part to save what’s left. NOT just you and me. And being a Pollyanna will not help our children or the world that we leave them. It’s time we get our heads out of the sand, fess up to our mistakes, and ALL pitch in to save what we strove to destroy.

  11. Lee permalink
    February 1, 2010

    In my family, my generation has a much larger carbon footprint than our parents, and much, much larger than our grandparents. We travel internationally, and travel much more in the US. We live farther from work and school and our kids are driven to school, drive themselves, or occasionally take the bus – but never bike or walk! My grandparents kept their car in a car garage that was a couple of miles away, so grocery shopping was always by foot. And we have so much more “stuff” than our parents or grandparents, “stuff” that takes energy to make and use. We use clothes dryers instead of clotheslines, eat out more, and so on. It’s no surprise that greenhouse gas emissions are increasing!

  12. Al Bannet permalink
    February 1, 2010

    If the human population keeps growing, our mass carbon footprint will trigger an ecocidal collapse as the mountains of landfill continue to grow, more tons of waste and garbage are both legally and illegally dumped in the oceans, and thousands more jet planes spew more exhaust fumes directly into the atmosphere. Only by recycling 100% will we survive, otherwise the toxic buildup in soil, water and air will slowly kill us all and most other forms of life.

  13. Al Bannet permalink
    February 1, 2010

    In those days the human population was less than half of what it is now. Seven billion people and counting are polluting the Earth to death. Only 100% recycling of all waste and garbage with a gentle and peaceful reduction of the population can save us from global ecocide.

  14. Joan permalink
    February 1, 2010

    I agree with you, and obviously nobody wants to go back to the “old days”. Modern conveniences have given us a lot more leisure time, which we fill with energy-gobbling activities.
    But, the good news is that we are finally starting to see how our habits are impacting the environment. Changing our way of living will be a slow process, but we have to make a start somewhere.

  15. Al Bannet permalink
    February 1, 2010

    How strange that posters on this and other forums are so willing to discuss the past and the present, but never the future. Too scary, I suppose, and it is, unless its high tech fantasy, onward and outward to the Moon, Mars and the stars, but not from a planet dead of pollution.

  16. Anonymous permalink
    February 1, 2010

    Thats an interesting question! ….
    I think that thoug my footprint is small: I take the metro to work, i dont have a car, I recycle as much as I can, I think that my footprint is still bigger than my grandmother perhaps. Thought, now that I think about it, they used coal to cook…back in dominican republic and I dont. But I think mines is bigger….I think that Iam getting more educated everyday about environmental issues though, so I think my children will also have a small FP
    -M

  17. Michael E. Bailey permalink
    February 1, 2010

    Every generation’s carbon foot print has been greater than those who went before. To change things clean energy must be developed in the form of solar and wind power. Tap landfill methane to help power cities, and power vehicles with hydorgen or electric power with the electric power supplied by solar power and solar power used to make the hydrogen. Best wishes, Michael E. Bailey.

  18. durgadas datta permalink
    February 2, 2010

    THE EARTH HAS BECOME A DIRTY PLACE WITH SO MANY CARS AND THERMAL POWER STATIONS EMITTING POISONOUS GASES. WE MUST BRING SOME REGULATION SO THAT THE TREND OF CHEAP CARS ACQUIRING AND DRIVING IS CONTROLLED BY CLEAN MASS TRANSPORT SYSTEM .

  19. Elise Beattie, Seattle permalink
    February 2, 2010

    Well, that certainly depends on a person. I am driving a Toyota Prius, buying almost exclusively locally grown food products, using power-saving translator lightbulbs. On top of that I don’t fly Boeing airplanes across the country every few months. So I am sure my carbon footprint is much smaller than my parents’ or even grandparents. I an same the same thing about most of my friend, including Mackenzie Deering, Bianca Candler and Marat Fidarov.
    But I would guess that for most other people the situation is quite different. People drive huge SUVs, the fly somewhere every few months, they buy all kinds of things just to throw throw away in a short while.
    So, I’d guess that most Americans would answer this question: no, it is not smaller.
    And America is only small part o the problem. With world economies, especially Chinese, Indian, Russian, Brazilian, etc. growing so fast, 90% of people in those countries will answer no.
    Thank you for asking this question.

  20. bassent fisal permalink
    February 2, 2010

    i think my carbon footprint is a little bit larger than my parents ,i think the awareness increased and my parents have some mistakes too .
    that difference came from the technology era that we live in.
    Also i think that my grandparents had the most simple life ever where they could have a little harmful impact on the earth.

  21. saurabh(SRB) permalink
    February 2, 2010

    No doubt,my footprints for producing carbon is definately more than my parents and granparents coz its not me that only producing carbon in surrounding ,we all are the equal donor of it , I’m not going here any type of lecture o global warming but i think that we all should take some steps over it coz our EARTH is going towards “END”

  22. debbie.j.avalone-king permalink
    February 2, 2010

    No way Jose! Considering our “Palmer Putnam Rap” that we present to kids up here in Maine; the growth in how much energy people have used over the years is vastly higher now than in the past. For example, between 1860 and 1947 (our great grand parents time) Palmer calculated that world wide energy use for that 87 year period was 12 Quadrillion BTU.

    The most recent data we have from Department of Energy is that; in 2006 world wide energy use (for that ONE year) was at 472 Quadrillion BTU! That is a remarkable change from our grandparents time! And our use of energy continues to grow by acout 10 Quad each year!

    Two more interesting factoids we like to reveal in our presentations are that:
    1) a full 25% of that world energy use is by a country with only 5% of the world’s population – the United States and,
    2) only 7% of that energy is from renewable energy sources while the bulk is from fossil fuels that are responsible for creating the problem of climate change.

  23. Ben Prichard permalink
    February 2, 2010

    No. As a young boy I was given the responsibility of taking the “trash to the curb.” I took out one small trash can each Monday night for our family of 13. We reused everything, jars, coffee cans, news paper, tin cans, grocery bags etc. Milk and soda bottles were returned for deposit. We walked or rode bicycles even in the dead of winter. The family had one car. Today, even though my wife and I make an effort to recycle, when the trash goes to the curb, it’s in a 32 gallon can.

  24. Davester permalink
    February 2, 2010

    As a whole, we have a lot more people than were around 100 years ago, but read the question. If you think by individual generations of families you burn more, then shame on you for not greening up and cutting back on your consumerist urges. That and not cutting back on families of 8-10 people under one roof! Many modern services are adding to Carbon which are just a standard of living issue and not an individual choice item which can be switched off easily without much wailing and gnashing of teeth (I.E.: take away your kid’s cell phone; try pushing a manual lawnmower; bicycling instead of driving that polluting Prius.)

    My answer is yes, within limits. The insulation on the old buildings we owned was thin, and we burned incandescents all over the place while we watched those power-sucking tube TVs that took 5 minutes to warm up. Clothing and consumer goods were produced in factories that had little to no restraint in the pollution they cranked out into the environment. Recycling was not in vogue when I was a kid, though there was a demand for metals, paper, and oily rags from stories my parents told me of their youth during the War.
    My dad owned a car dealership and I remember vividly starting up those rows of new cars just to defrost them every day or two.
    My mom actually burned coal in her old house and smoked 2 packs daily while driving around in big, 2-1/2 ton, 8-cylinder vintage cars that got 8-10 mpg on leaded fuel. Woo! Lead….

  25. THINKING OUT OF THE BOX FOR AMERICA & OUR WORLD permalink
    February 2, 2010

    YES NO DOUBT, Due to increase in Population, no brainer.

    I always try to come up a Solution when I answer any question so here is a quick Idea that just came to me.

    Why Not Start up a Contest that Pays Money, Gift Certificates & Yes Free Automobiles to the Winners (several categories) that comes up with the best Solutions to Our Pollution Problems. We Could Have different categories for this Contest. Go Out and Get Sponsors for Our Contest, this would be easy to do. Go to Chevrolet, Ford, etc. Go To Home Depot, they have a lot of extra Inventory and so do a lot of other Stores, they would be happy to jump on board for Advertisement Purposes and can write off the Gift Certificates. Make A National Contest out of this.
    THIS WOULD WORK, Celebrities would jump all over this. WINNER WINNER CHICKEN DINNER ! ! For All of us. If you want to put me to work to help on this YOU GOT IT ! ! (The Beauty of this Contest, it wouldn’t cost much to do it, Networks would donate their Time to Promote this Contest, everyone would ! ! Name Idea for this Contest could be; “Go GREEN AMERICA CONTEST” (or something like this)

    Thank You, Respectfully, Michael V. Caldwell

    (ALways Striving to be Part Of The Solution In A Positive Way)

  26. Don olosn permalink
    February 2, 2010

    NO

  27. Annie Hedgepath permalink
    February 2, 2010

    Sadly our forests will not survive to need CO2 at the current rate of deforestation. The survival of animal life is dependant upon, in part, the oxygen produced by forest. And yet, we recklessly destroy rain forests in South America; some of the only remaining virgin forests in the western hemishere. In doing so we displace thousands of animals and indigenous people who, then lose their natural habitat. Look to Easter Island for the outcome of our reckless behaviour. Once our forests are gone, mankind is doomed. It is not only our carbon footprint for which we should be concerned. We have lost our way as stewards of our planet and now are the blight that will destroy it.

  28. Al Bannet permalink
    February 2, 2010

    People are addicted to the buying power of money, which multplies their instinct to grow and exploit, regardless of consequences. Instinct dominates reason.

  29. Bror WIngard permalink
    February 2, 2010

    Well just answering this question may have increased my carbon footprint……

    I am not sure what is meant by “Carbon Footprint” in this question. Since CO2 is required to sustain plant life it is an essential component of our environment. As Wade Harter wrote, “We do remember that such is required for our plant life to survive.”

    In many aspects of our daily lives we are doing much better than those before us in regards to a negative impact on our environment. Can we do better? Oh yes, but we need to move forward intelligently not rush forward blindly as California did with the MTBE regulations that were adopted in 1996 to improve the air and unfortunately resulted in water contamination and millions upon millions in costs for its treatment (I wonder if the rush to use CFL’s is going to end similarly?).

    I do have an example of the positive trends that are taking place in the world today (specifically the USA). It is a report on the serious issue of lead poisoning in children. The section quoted indicates an approximate 73% reduction in the cases of children with elevated blood levels. This is huge and something that is undeniably a case where our negative impact on the environment is smaller than our parents’ or grandparents’.

    It was taken from; http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5420a5.htm

    “Findings of National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES) from the period 1976–1980 to 1991–1994 reveal a steep decline (from 77.8% to 4.4%) in the percentage of children aged 1–5 years with BLLs >10 µg/dL (5,6).”

    We need to include consideration of how things could affect the big picture when making decisions and base it on sound science not politics or emotions.

    Hey all you downers! It’s not all doom and gloom out there, remember, even nature when viewed up close is violent, destructive and an extreme polluter, yet as a whole, it is a creative force and the essence of life.

    Cheers!

  30. Luis Visani permalink
    February 2, 2010

    Well the carbon footprint now is greater than the past decades. Regarding the actual situation of world economy it will be need new and continuos improvements on technologies as well policies to preserve the natural resources. Some countries does not have adequate environmental policies and the uses of these resources are predatory.
    So nowadays the challenge is, what can we do to change the unstoppable consume of the natural resources and develop technologies “enviro care” worldwide accessible?

  31. Stephanie Tsao permalink
    February 3, 2010

    No, I definitely think my footprint is higher. Today’s generation drives or flies to get to work or school. With IPODs, computers, most houses with televisions, the electricity consumption is far greater than that of older generations. One could argue that younger generations have a smaller footprint because of the rise of energy efficient technologies. Even though the breadth of appliances has increased, they are far more efficient than those from years ago.

  32. M. Sue Pagay, M.S. permalink
    February 3, 2010

    Just a quick comment:

    “i.e. try pushing a manual lawnmower…” Well, believe it or not, I do … on a 1/2 acre of land I lost weight while I do the lawn!
    ;-) And you know what? From the looks of the American populace, a whole lot more people should try doing the same … it might just help to save their lives from the demise of obesity (for what Americans, young and old, are so well known for). Just a thought!

  33. Jackie R. permalink
    February 3, 2010

    No, our carbon footprint is definitely larger than the previous generation(s). The standard of living is generally much higher, so people travel more, have numerous cars, buy larger houses, afford lavish appliances…We emit more carbon dioxide than ever before, and its due to our very accustomed, comfortable lifestyle.

    I think of my 98 year-old great aunt who always tells me about the “old days” on the Hill in Saint Louis, Missouri. She would say how they didn’t have much money, and would play games in the street or just get together with one another and have fun. “Nowadays, all you kids do is spend money and go, go, go!”

    In some ways, she is right. As a society, we worry and rush to get from one place to another and expect instant gratification. And unfortunately, our planet is paying that price.

  34. Gabriel permalink
    February 4, 2010

    Our carbon footprints are the ones causing all these problems. We have too much of everything. We consume too much of nature, we replace and give back so little. We must do what we can so our planet will not suffer the terrible consequences. We must remember the future generations who will be born to this world.

    Gabriel

  35. Lara & Vara Sharma permalink
    February 4, 2010

    Ofcourse Not.

    We are living in the “Teach World”. Where things are invented to make life easy for the people. The thought about trees and environment comes secondary.

    I remember my grand parents telling me how people in olden days were more strong, less prone to infections and he said it was all due to the FRESh AIR that they had.

    Inventions to make life easy has certainly made life more complicated. Look around and you will see things those are just burning away our environment – cars, machines, smoke, plastic, what not.

    Like I just did in my school science project “Fresh is Best”.

  36. sharon permalink
    February 8, 2010

    Oh, Hell no!!!

  37. Dylan permalink
    February 10, 2010

    “I remember my grand parents telling me how people in olden days were more strong, less prone to infections and he said it was all due to the FRESh AIR that they had.”

    Or maybe the reason why we are more prone to infection is because of all the crap our government allows in our food.

  38. Dylan permalink
    February 10, 2010

    Oh carbon footprint! CO2 is good for Earth. The EPA, along with the rest of the useless government agencies, needs to be shut down.

  39. J Bleeker permalink
    February 11, 2010

    I think my CF is about the same as my parents but higher than my grandparents. Something to consider- During 2008 national ridership on mass transit equalled the highest ridership in the USA which was around 1954-55. The population in the US was about 169 million v today with 330 million people. I won’t mention a comparision of the number of cars per person that were on the road….

  40. Hari Bindal permalink
    February 16, 2010

    How could the carbon foot print be the same as of the old times, while it is not same as in last ten years. About ten years ago, only a few SUVs and/or Vans were seen on the roads/highways, their use has incresed tremedously to 30% to 50% to now over 70% of the number of small cars. I hate one person driving a 7 person seat van to work and other places. The Vans and SUVs consume twice as much of the gasoline. One side Government is promoting car pools, other side these Vans and SUVs on roads not only wasting fuel energy and adding to the carbon foot print, they also are creating traffic hazard.

    Vans a SUVs block the front view of small cars, they run eigther to fast or too slow, thus likely to cause accidents. They jump in front of small cars and block their view. I hate when some Van jumps in front of me.

    I wish, and I advocate, the use of Vans and SUVs must be restricted to a minimmum, imposing certtasin regulation, such as very high road tax, permitted to only those who have genuine need, such as a large family or a business that demand such vehicle, etc.

    I have advocated this to Maryland Department of Transportation, about 5 years ago, I did not get a reply. The Federal Department of Highways and EPA must do something about it, restrict use of Vans and SUVs, not only to reduce the carbon foot print but also the road hazard.

  41. Libby permalink
    March 21, 2010

    No, I think our carbon footprint is bigger because they grew their own food – even sold at farmer’s markets, they had to be careful with their garbage so they composted and burned garbage (it’s illegal where we live to burn but we recycle). However, they did not even think about solar energy, nor did they have the means to research it, but we do (checking out http://www.how2buildsolar.com) so we are hoping to add solar panels to begin to move toward living off the grid if possible.

  42. Manish Kumar permalink
    September 28, 2010

    No, Our Carbon Footprint is bigger than our Parents’ or Grandparents’.
    Our greed for a comfortable life & talk big is growing day by day and hence our carbon footprint. This is like sigmoid curve, in earlier days of civilisation, there were only natural sources of Carbon footprint. With run of development of civilisation, it is growing day by day. Someday, saturation will come, but where we will be at that point of time is the matter of concern.

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