Reducing Consumption
At the global level, we have been living beyond our means for many decades due to our increases in population and consumption of energy per capita. We have already overshot the carrying capacity of our planet Earth. By doing so, excessive consumption per capita, especially in the rich countries such as New Zealand, has continuously degraded Earth’s carrying capacity to support the same number of life forms, including that of humans. For more detail, see our website page The Problem Explained


1. Use the SCAN website online version of the calculator – Link here

2. Download the Excel file of the calculator to your device – Download link here

3. Use the online Google Sheets version of the calculator – Access link here

Online - Print Only - Cannot Save Data Download Excel File - Can Save Data Google Sheets Access
Climate change is but only one symptom of exceeding planetary boundaries. Unabated climate change has been globally acknowledged and accepted as being an existential threat to humans and other life forms. The 2015 Paris Agreement was adopted by a resolution of the United Nations General Assembly to avoid this existential risk. The target of the 2015 Paris Agreement was to hold the global average temperature to well below 2° Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increases to 1.5° Celsius. The 2015 Paris Agreement recognised that business-as-usual emissions of greenhouse gases must be curbed. Adoption of a global carbon budget was agreed upon by almost all nations. The budget is an annual reducing budget, the total size of which is represented by the area under the curve of projected reductions in carbon dioxide emissions. In 2015, a carbon budget targeted to decline to net zero by 2050 was deemed to be sufficient mitigation.  
Subsequent research by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) has revised the urgency to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The IPCC AR6 Report of 2021 indicates that the remaining carbon budget required to remain within 1.5° C of global warming with 66% probability is 400 billion tonnes of CO2 and 300 billion tonnes with 83% probability. On a 400 billion tonnes carbon budget, an average country share of the global carbon budget would run out in 9 years. For a high polluting county such as the United Kingdom, its share of the carbon budget would run out in 3 years.

There is a direct relationship between economic activity – production and consumption of goods and services – with global production and consumption of energy. The figure below shows annual changes in world energy and GDP. The correlation coefficient is a high 0.83 (Keen, 2021).
Goods and services currently use combinations of different forms of fossil fuels which emit different greenhouse gases to the atmosphere – carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous dioxide (N2O), etc. There is a direct relationship between the consumption of goods and services and the emissions of greenhouse gases while we continue to make use of fossil fuels as our primary energy source. By reducing our consumption of goods and services which currently make use of fossil fuels, we reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases. In doing so, we would also reduce our current levels of mining minerals, an activity which pollutes the surrounding environment.

Modern humans need to continue using high-grade energy and materials to survive. The alternative is to go back to a hunter-gatherers life style, but that is possible only with a greatly reduced population. At the same time as we reduce our consumption of fossil fuel based goods and services, we need to transition to renewable energy and infrastructure. Production of renewable energy requires the use of not only the direct use of high-grade energy, but also scarce materials which, in turn, requires energy and materials to mine. Continuous production of energy by renewables requires repetitive cycles of replacing solar panels and wind turbines etc. Replacement of renewables has its own limits due to the scarcity of materials and the physical impossibility of 100% recycling. The term “replaceables” is a more correct description than “renewables”.

A transition to renewables/replaceables requires major investments of fossil fuels because the scale of current renewables/replacables cannot initially produce more renewables/replaceables without the use of key fossil fuels. We need to invest fossil fuels to manufacture renewables/replaceables on a reducing carbon budget while staying on track within our targets of net zero carbon emissions by 2050, if not earlier. One way out of this predicament is by voluntarily reducing our consumption of fossil-fuel based goods and services to a sufficient level within our declining carbon budget where we have a surplus of fossil fuels within our diminishing carbon budget which can be invested in renewables/replacables.
Those on higher income will have a greater surplus than others should they participate equally in our global efforts to mitigate the impact of climate change. Part of this surplus could be used to invest in personal further long-term reductions in CO2e or gifted to community projects which develop replaceables. Some people on extreme high incomes would have much greater surpluses which, if spent on goods and services, would result in further greenhouse gas emissions.

Money is a human construct which serves as a medium of exchange, a store of value, and a claim on current and future resources which is supported by our institutions. Greater claims of energy and resources by a minority does not increase the abundance of remaining resources. These claims, instead, hasten the exhaustion of these resources which reduces the level of remaining resources which could be more equitably used by current and future generations. Squandering resources for unnecessary private consumption leaves behind less concentrated resources which are more energy intensive for current and future generations to mine.

Our total supply of energy from renewables/replacables per capita will be limited in the future  and communities can ill afford a minority of citizens from squandering the following resources on private transport - consumption of electricity, embodied energy, materials to construct the heavyweight EVs, and scarce materials for batteries - when the community has a greater public need and use for the same energy and materials. It is physically impossible for everyone to replace their ICE car with an electric car. There are, however, less energy intensive options available - walking, bikes, electric bikes and scooters, community shared electric cars, and public electric transport.

Excessive claims on resources need to cease. There are ways and means of doing this. The most effective and equitable way is rationing. An example is Tradable Energy Quotas (TEQs). Relying on Carbon Taxes and the market place alone to restrict consumption does not prevent those on higher incomes from continuing to contribute the highest CO2e emissions per capita. Progressive Taxes on high incomes would help to reduce consumption by those on higher incomes. Alternatively, some people who are able to generate income at a higher rate per hour could choose to work fewer hours and convert their potential greater surplus into more leisure time.
All actions to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions involve reductions in consumption. Those on low incomes have less ability to further reduce their carbon footprints than those on higher incomes. The adjacent figure shows the extent that people in the United States need to reduce their consumption to attain a 3.0 tonne CO2e per capita carbon footprint. The bottom half of the population in the United States is already 3% below the target. The middle 40% and top 10% would need to reduce the CO2e emissions by 54% and 87% respectively to achieve the target of 3.0 tonnes of CO2e emissions by 2030. According to Chancel (2021), the bottom 50% of other rich countries are already below a 2030 target of 3.0 tonnes of CO2e per capita, or close to it. The figure demonstrates that the key to global reductions in greenhouse gas emissions is for all citizens of the world to participate equally. If those on higher incomes do not participate, then the efforts of all others will be in vain. Participation can be voluntary or enforced by our institutions. Failing that, nature itself in due course will enforce a reduction in consumption
Higher levels of material production and consumption in any nation enable higher standards of living and initially higher levels of wellbeing and life expectancy. But when a nation has reached a certain standard of living as indicated by average per-capita income, additional per-capita income does not necessarily result in greater wellbeing or happiness and nor does it result in greatly extended life expectancy.  For example, the adjacent figure shows happiness and satisfaction with life for people within each country plotted along the Y-axis ranging from 30% to 100% of the population with GNP plotted along the X-axis in United States 1995 dollars. About 88% of New Zealanders are happy and satisfied with life with a GNP per capita of $16,000 compared to about 90% of those in the United States with a GNP per capita of $27,00. About 78% of Brazilians are happy and satisfied with life with a GNP per capita of only $3,000. It is possible to live well on a reduced level of consumption (Inglehart & Kingman 2000).
Our website section Family and Individual Action describes many actions we can undertake as households and individuals to reduce our carbon footprint with links to sources which provide broad brush estimates of savings you can make in terms of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e) in kilograms per year. The Internet also provides several excellent Carbon Footprint calculators which you can use to estimate your potential savings in CO2e emissions. The Berkeley University CoolClimate Network Calculator is a good  example of a comprehensive calculator applicable for those in the United States. The calculator make use of average energy intensities per US dollar for estimating the carbon footprint of different goods and services. These values vary from country to country. The Carbon Footprint Calculator also uses energy intensities per dollar for different categories of goods and services based on the currency of a wide range of countries, including that of New Zealand. 

Calculations of the average carbon footprint per capita for each country is relatively straightforward to estimate. However, to estimate your personal carbon footprint with any practical level of precision can be tedious and is unnecessary. According to the Pareto Principle, 80% of changes can be achieved by 20% of effort. Identification and implementation of potential savings in CO2e emissions that you can make in order of priority is a sufficient first step.

Reductions in CO2e emissions requires reductions in consumption. This results in a corresponding greater surplus of income for those on high incomes. A reliance on carbon footprint calculators alone will not realise the full potential of carbon footprint reductions especially for those on high incomes. The full potential to reduce CO2e emissions is lost if those on high incomes spend their greater surplus income on additional goods and services. This known as the Rebound Effect.

SCAN provides a Budget Calculator below which identifies how much surplus you have left over after you have taken steps to reduce your CO2e emissions. The Budget Calculator is spreadsheet based and, like all spreadsheets, it enables quick views of what-ifs. The bottom line is the surplus-deficit estimate at the bottom of the calculator.

Budgets are used to assist and enable organisations to balance their income and expenditure. A surplus or profit is the target. At the household and individual level, a budget serves the same purpose. Estimating a surplus using a handheld calculator can be tedious and prone to error. A far more efficient way is to use a spreadsheet which retains a record of income and expenditure entries into each cell of the spreadsheet. A spreadsheet then does all the tedious work of calculations in the background.

At the household and individual level, there are well established principles of budgeting as follows:

1. Identify your costs (unavoidable at any scale), flexible costs (scalable), and discretionary costs (can do without).
2. Buy what you need and not what you want.
3. Identify the scale of what you need and do not buy more than what you need.
4. Buy quality durable goods which can be easily repaired.
5. Do not buy updates of goods which are currently perfectly OK for your needs.
6. Avoid debt.
7. If you have current debt, then be more frugal if possible and reduce your debt by budgeting accordingly and reduce that debt as soon as possible. The longer you delay reducing debt, the greater your interest payments. Consider selling items you do not need to help reduce debt.
8. Avoid hire purchases - buy second hand essentials instead.
9. Build up a contingency reserve.
10. Buy in bulk to reduce long-term expenditure.

The SCAN Budget Calculator includes a Purchase/Replacement Fund which is an essential component of any budget calculator. To not put aside a fund for replacement of items is to invite some unpleasant consequences in the future. It is prudent to put aside a fund for the purchase of essential items than to take on hire purchase which, with payments of interest, results in greater costs. Entering data into the Purchase/Replacement Fund group and comparing the percentage proportion of this group against total income is a reminder that we can be captives of and be limited by our possessions. The more stuff we own, the greater our insurance, maintenance, and replacement costs. We can become captive by our debt and also captive by the stuff which we accumulate and do not need. Many inheritances involve the burden of getting rid of stuff at the end of a loved one’s lifetime accumulation of stuff.

If you have a surplus after adopting the above principles of budgeting, then consider investing some of that surplus into further reducing your long-term carbon footprint. Examples include installing a solar hot water system, photovoltaic panels, additional insulation where warranted, and a heat pump. After doing that, consider donating part of your surplus to a community project which generates electricity using wind turbines. Focus should be on investing your surplus in ways which reduce your long-term carbon footprint and that of your community instead of squandering your surplus on consumption. Bear in mind that it is impossible for everyone to own an electric car. Consider sharing an electric car with others outside of your family or donating an electric car for community use. Ask yourself whether it is necessary to own more than one car per household. There are alternative modes of transport.

The primary purpose of production and consumption in any economy is the maintenance of wellbeing. If you have the ability to generate a high hourly rate of income, then consider reducing your potential surplus by reducing your work hours and hence your income. Life is much more than just working more to earn more to spend more. Unless you enjoy your work as much as a hobby, then seize your opportunity to increase your leisure time by working fewer hours.
Excessive consumption per capita has degraded Earth’s carrying capacity to support life on Earth.

Climate change is but one of many symptoms of exceeding planetary boundaries.

As part of the 2015 Paris Agreement, nations agreed to adopt reducing carbon budgets to limit an increase in climate change temperatures above pre-industrial levels.

Current production of goods and services requires the use of fossil fuels,

By reducing our consumption of goods and services, we reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases. 

A transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy initially requires the continued use of fossil fuels to manufacture renewables on a declining carbon budget.

We need to voluntarily reduce our consumption of fossil-fuel based goods and services to enable an investment of fossil fuels to manufacture renewables while staying within a declining carbon budget, 

Everyone needs to participate equally in reducing their consumption. If those on current high carbon footprints do not participate, then the efforts of all others will be in vain.

Those on higher income will have a greater surplus than others should they participate equally in our global efforts to mitigate the impact of climate change.

Any surpluses should not be used on consumption. Surpluses should be used to invest in long-term reductions in CO2e emissions while remaining within our global carbon budgets. 

Those who are able to generate income at a higher rate per hour could choose to work fewer hours and convert some of their potential surplus income into more leisure time.

Our total supply of energy from renewables/replacables per capita will be limited in the future 

It is physically impossible for everyone to replace their ICE car with an electric car. There are many less energy intensive modes of transport options available. 

Excessive use of resources need to cease. After reaching a moderate standard of living, additional per-capita income does not necessarily result in greater wellbeing or happiness and nor does it result in greatly extended life expectancy.