Editor's Note: This is the first in a three-part series exploring climate change, its effects and its possible solutions. Wednesday's edition of the News will feature part two of the series exploring solutions to the problem.
Compared to the rest of the United States, Newton County residents on average drive more, waste more and produce more greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.
According to the Clean Air Council, the average American produces 4.39 pounds of trash per day and up to 56 tons of trash per year of which only about 10 percent is recycled.
In 2007, per capita trash production per day in Newton County was 5.29 pounds, according to the county's Multi-jurisdictional Solid Waste Management Plan. Still Newton County households produced much less waste than the average Georgia household - 7.39 pounds in 2004.
Despite the many efforts of Keep Covington/Newton Beautiful, compared to the rest of the nation Newton County residents recycle much less of their garbage - 3.62 percent.
Newton County residents own more than their share of cars - more than one for every person living in the county. According to the Newton County Tax Commissioner's Office, as of April 1, there were 97,925 vehicles registered in the county. Passenger vehicles accounted for 59,295 of the vehicles registered.
Keep in mind that according to the 2007 U.S. Census population estimate, the county only has a population of 96,019, many of whom are not licensed drivers.
According to a 2003 National Household Travel Survey published by the U.S. Department of Transportation, the average American household owns 1.9 personal vehicles but only has 1.8 licensed drivers.
Newton County drivers are also commuting a greater distance to work. According to the U.S. Census, while the average national commute time is 24.3 minutes, the average commute time jumps to 29.9 minutes in Newton County.
On one environmental marker, it does appear that Newton County residents are conserving more than the rest of the nation - water usage. According to the Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority, in January the per customer average daily usage of water was 176 gallons. Compared to the 350 gallons a day the American Water Works Association reports the average U.S. household runs through, Newton County residents are positively frugal when it comes to water.
Whether this is a result of the drought and the mandatory restrictions imposed by Gov. Sonny Perdue or if it reflects a real change in water consumption habits on the part of county residents remains to be seen. Both Jasper County (120 gallons) and Walton County (170 gallons) managed to conserve even more water on a per customer basis in January.
According to the Hinkle Charitable Foundation, an organization that advocates for more environmental education, in 2003, the average U.S. household produced 12.4 tons of carbon dioxide from its household operations and approximately 11.7 tons from its automotive uses. American households on a yearly basis produce six times the carbon dioxide emissions as the rest of the world.
Professor Bryan Norton, who studies environmentally sustainable practices at Georgia Tech's School of Public Policy, believes that U.S. consumers will have little choice but to begin cutting back their consumption rates, not only to decrease greenhouse gas emissions, but also as a result of the rest of the developing world, especially China and India, demanding a greater share of the planet's natural resources.
"From an ethical point of view, we need to look at this as a problem of fairness," Norton said. "At some point we're going to have to cut back our carbon footprint in order to allow others to go through the development stage."
While the developed world has produced the lion's share of greenhouse gas emissions, Norton noted that it is the developing world that will likely bear the brunt of problems caused by climate change - severe weather storms, droughts, low plant production and flooding, unless wealthy nations, such as the U.S., decide to take action, sooner rather than later.
But with President George Bush and many members of Congress encouraging taxpayers to spend their stimulus checks rather than save them, Norton doesn't have much hope for any radical policy changes in the next year.
"If the government is encouraging consumption as one of its main economic policies then where are we headed?" Norton said. "The time of too much regulation if it ever existed is long over with."