Young adults’ carbon footprint at lowest point


A recent study published in the journal Demography said not only can emission levels be measured by country, but a person’s carbon footprint can be predicted depending on age. According to research, young adults in their 20s are more earth-friendly than they will be at any stage of life.

The study is based on estimated amounts of carbon emission on average activity level in nine areas: electricity, natural gas, gasoline, air flights, tobacco products, clothes, food, cars and furniture.

Americans and citizens of other industrialized countries tend to hit their peak in carbon-production around their early to mid-60s. This is about 14.9 metric tons per person a year. Their emission rate then declines but never again gets as low as it is at age 25: just below 10 metric tons.

Study author Emilio Zagheni, a demographer at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Germany, suggests there may be many explanations for the outcomes found. One is because of the financial stability of the age group.

“Income tends to grow with age,”  Zagheni said in an article in the New York Times. “Older people often have larger houses and less energy-efficient cars.”

Another factor is that young people tend to drive and fly less often. Similar average lifestyle patterns of energy-intensive activities are used to predict the emission levels.

BYU students interviewed said although they are not always conscious of the CO2 emission levels, the research makes sense. They believe this has to do with the recent push for earth-friendly behaviors.

Glenn Rowley, a sophomore studying public relations, said emission habits specifically are far from his mind, but he agrees that young adults are more aware in general.

“I think our generation has probably been raised with a more ‘green-friendly’ attitude,” Rowley said.

Vanessa Webster, a junior studying clinical lab science, said since high school she has been interested in environmental issues. Webster said recently there has been a universal movement toward eco-friendly habits.

“So with that comes more awareness of the environment and our surroundings,” Webster said.

On the other hand, Angela Shelley, a graduate student studying TESOL, said if a comfortable lifestyle was more of an option to young adults, they would not necessarily choose to be more environmentally-friendly. Shelley said she agrees the numbers are because of financial stability.

“I know a lot of people in their 20-somethings that would fly more if they could afford it,” Shelley said. “If we were in stable jobs with higher salaries, we’d have more of those things.”

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