Living Well on a Four Ton Carbon Budget

Environmentally minded Americans recognize that global climate change is the single most urgent ecological and political issue facing the planet.  If you are like me, you want to live consistently with your beliefs about climate change. We all know we need to reduce our carbon impacts. But we don’t know by how much, and most environmental organizations don’t give us a clue what a sustainable carbon footprint would look like.  The rate of global carbon emissions overwhelms us, and makes individual action feel futile.  Giving up carbon emissions entirely seems inconsistent with a contemporary, comfortable lifestyle in the developed world.

But most people share the basic ethical sense that it is wrong to make lifestyle choices that cause harm to other people.  And we know that climate change will cause grievous harm to millions of people around the globe.  It’s easy to blame capitalism and large, impersonal oil and coal companies for climate change, but we can’t ignore our own complicity in the fossil fuel economy when we burn gas to get to work, jet fuel to go on vacation, natural gas to heat and cook, and coal generated electricity to light and cool our houses.  As cartoonist Walt Kelly put it forty years ago, “We have met the enemy, and he is us!”

This is a blog about living a good life with a sustainable individual carbon footprint of about four tons CO2 equivalent per year. The dual, mildly contradictory premises of this blog are that 1) we all share an ethical responsibility to live right now with a carbon footprint that will not cause catastrophic climate impacts to other people, and 2) life should be fun.

I think that an individual direct footprint of four tons per year is defensible as sustainable for a middle class citizen of a developed nation during the phaseout of all fossil fuels over the next few decades.  Some might argue that this is unjustifiably high (it is much higher than a per capita global allocation of the remaining carbon emissions budget), some might argue that it is impossibly low (few people in the US get by on a four ton carbon budget).  I will explain this in greater detail elsewhere.


I plan to use this blog to share my thoughts about the meaning of carbon sustainability, and to share my experiences with lowering my footprint for getting to work and heating and lighting my house, while saving some of my carbon budget for fun!


4 thoughts on “Living Well on a Four Ton Carbon Budget

  1. This book and lifestyle sounds wonderful….for those who can afford it! Sadly much of this is out of reach for those of us who are environmentally conscientious but poor. The Real issue in living sustainably is for it to be Affordable for the masses. I live in a small log cabin but cannot afford to install solar panels nor can I afford an electric vehicle, along w/the fact that there are few power stations in northern Michigan. I eat mostly vegan too but often cannot afford all of the products I need to do so in a healthy, organic manner. I don’t think I’ll be buying This book! However, if one were written explaining how to live sustainably and healthy on a $20-25,000 per year pension, I’d buy and read it. Retired teacher…2 bachelors, 2 masters, 2 certifications…. Yeah, the educated poor…


    1. Thanks for the comment. If you are retired and living in a cabin in N Mich, and you don’t fly much, you probably already have a very
      low footprint, and you don’t need my book! If you are a DIY person and don’t mind working on your own roof, a DIY solar installation doesn’t have to be too pricey – the panels themselves are about $150 each for 100w panels. And there are some deals on mint condition used EVs out there like my Smart Fortwo – I paid $6K for mine last year.


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