The world’s workshop — China — surpassed the United States as the largest emitter of greenhouse gases on Earth in 2007. But if you consider that nearly all of the products that China produces, from iPhones to tee-shirts, are exported to the rest of the world, the picture looks very different.
“If you look at China’s per capita consumption-based (environmental) footprint, it is small,” says Diana Ivanova, a PhD candidate at Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s Industrial Ecology Programme. “They produce a lot of products but they export them. It’s different if you put the responsibility for those impacts on the consumer, as opposed to the producer.”
That’s exactly what Ivanova and her colleagues did when they looked at the environmental impact from a consumer perspective in 43 different countries and 5 rest-of-the-world regions. Their analysis, recently published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology, showed that consumers are responsible for more than 60 per cent of the globe’s greenhouse gas emissions, and up to 80 per cent of the world’s water use.