Reducing consumption today reduces the number of people elsewhere who will suffer the consequences tomorrow and can prevent much of the instability that would otherwise result.
Throughout the world, the researchers estimate, the average person who is going to be exposed to unprecedented heat comes from a place that emitted roughly half the per capita emissions as those in wealthy countries. American per capita emissions are more than twice those of Europeans, who still live a prosperous and modern existence, the authors point out, so there is ample room for comfortable change short of substantial sacrifice. “The idea that you need the level of wasteful consumption … that happens on average in the U.S. to be part of a happy, flourishing, rich, democratic society is obviously nonsense,” Lenton said.
“There are clear, profound ethical consequences in the numbers,” Timothy Lenton, one of the study’s lead authors and the director of the Global Systems Institute at the University of Exeter in the U.K., said in an interview. “If we can’t level with that injustice and be honest about it, then we’ll never progress the international action on this issue.”
Each American today emits nearly enough emissions over their lifetime to push one Indian or Nigerian of the future outside of their climate niche, the study found, showing exactly how much harm Americans’ individual actions can cause (1.2 Americans to 1 future person, to be exact). The lifestyle and policy implications are obvious: Reducing consumption today reduces the number of people elsewhere who will suffer the consequences tomorrow and can prevent much of the instability that would otherwise result. “I can’t — as a citizen of a planet with this level of risk opening up — not also have some kind of human and moral response to the figures,” Lenton said. We’ve all got to deal with that, he added, “in our own way.”