Using Local Knowledge to Shrink the Individual Carbon Footprint

Entire texts have been devoted to exploring the meaning of the term “lifestyle” and sociological understandings of lifestyle are complex and nuanced. For present purposes, however, a more simple articulation of the term will suffice. Lifestyle can mean “mode of living,” including “patterns of action” and “patterns of ways of living.” Without rendering judgment, one observation that can fairly be made about the current lifestyles and associated behaviors of Americans is that they indirectly and directly lead to the emission of a high volume of greenhouse gases (“GHGs”). Although an American diplomat is said to have remarked in preparing for the Rio Earth Summit that “‘the

American lifestyle is not up for negotiation,’” a growing number of legal scholars recognize the need for environmental policy to capture individual GHG emissions, and have begun to explore whether and how the law can or should be used to change individual, GHG-emitting lifestyles and behaviors. One consideration in designing a policy aimed at individual, GHG-emitting behaviors will be the division of authority between different levels of government. As evidenced by the opening quotations, local governments are often characterized as well-situated to influence individual behavior, particularly GHG-emitting behaviors. This Idea links concepts developed in the environmental federalism literature with work discussing the use of law to influence environmental behaviors to consider the competence of local governments with respect to influencing individual, GHG-emitting lifestyle and behavior choices.

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