Intergenerational Differences in Carbon Emissions

June 28, 2014

Changing people’s carbon emission patterns requires first understanding the differences in behaviors and corresponding emissions levels between different groups of people. A recent paper by Chancel in the journal Ecological Economics investigated the differences in carbon emissions between different generations in the U.S. and France. The author examined carbon emissions by American and French households between 1980 and 2000 and isolated the contributions of different age cohorts. He found that people born in France between 1935 and 1955 emitted the most carbon relative to their predecessors and followers while there were no generational differences in carbon emissions across U.S. age cohorts. The author attributed this dissimilarity to stronger intergenerational income inequalities in France than in the U.S. Specifically, the French 1935-1955 age cohort is wealthier than all other French cohorts and they typically live in very energy-inefficient homes. This research reminds practitioners that one-size-fits-all energy education initiatives may not be sufficient to decrease carbon emissions in all cases. 


Chancel L (2014) Are younger generations higher carbon emitters than their elders? Inequalities, generations and CO2 emissions in France and in the USA. Ecological Economics 100:195-207