White households in US emit most carbon despite greater energy efficiency

Residential energy use represents roughly one-fifth of annual greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.

A team of researchers from McGill University and the University of Michigan has used data from 60 million individual American households to look into how carbon emissions caused by household energy use vary by race and ethnicity across the country.

Paradoxically, this first national-level analysis found that even though energy-efficient homes are more often found in white neighborhoods, carbon emissions from these neighborhoods are higher than in African American neighborhoods.

“Our analysis shows that homes in majority African American communities have poorer energy efficiency than those in Caucasian neighborhoods. However, carbon emissions are still higher in Caucasian neighborhoods because homes in these areas are generally larger,” said Benjamin Goldstein, assistant professor in McGill’s Department of Bioresource Engineering and lead author of the study. He is also a former University of Michigan postdoctoral research fellow.

The study was published online Nov. 17 in the journal Energy Research & Social Science. Co-authors are Joshua Newell and Tony Reames of the U-M School for Environment and Sustainability. Read more about JPB Fellow Tony Reames’ research.