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Despite better energy efficiency, larger suburban homes cause more greenhouse gases

Lester Graham
Michigan Radio
Researchers found that typical white suburban homes are well insulated and have energy efficient appliances, but because of their size, still result in more greenhouse gas emissions than smaller homes that are not as efficient and are typically found in African-American neighborhoods. (file photo)

A new study finds African-American households tend to produce lower greenhouse gases per capita than white households.

Although homes in predominantly Black neighborhoods tend to be older, less well insulated, and have less efficient furnaces and other appliances, they emit less carbon dioxide per person.

White households tend to have better insulated houses with efficient appliances.

“And yet, paradoxically, the overall carbon emissions from these predominantly white households –or neighborhoods, rather- are larger,” said Joshua Newell, an Associate Professor at the School for Environment and Sustainability at the University of Michigan. He is one of the authors of the study, published this month in the journal Energy Research & Social Science.

The difference is size of the home. Typically, houses in majority white neighborhoods are larger suburban homes. Often homes in Black neighborhoods are smaller. The larger houses use more energy.

Researchers from the University of Michigan and McGill University used data from 60 million U.S. households to see how energy use varies by race and ethnicity.

“We were surprised by what we found. We wanted to understand this because for developing policies, we need to target different communities differently,” Newell explained.

While large houses are not going away, it might be important to make renewable energy such as community solar available to those white neighborhoods to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“The research points to the need to decarbonize our electricity grid mix and develop distributed solar energy systems to bring down carbon emissions, especially in the case with suburban neighborhoods with large homes,” Newell said.

For Black households, the first priority is to help make those homes efficient though weatherization programs and low interest loans for updated heating systems.

One factor that exacerbates the problem is low rates of home ownership among African-Americans.

There often are no incentives for landlords to install energy efficiency measures in the homes.

“The end result of it is that a lot of these African-American households are paying higher relative energy costs,” Newell noted.

Policy makers can use the research to better target climate action programs.

The study, “Racial inequity in household energy efficiency and carbon emissions in the United States: An emissions paradox” can be found here.

Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report. He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Radio from 1998-2010.
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