Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Big Dogs in emissions: electricity and transportation

We can talk about recycling newspaper and aluminum cans, composting and reusing our containers, but the big dogs in the global climate issue are electrical use and transportation.

(Image: The tailpipe is one of the major producers of carbon dioxide in the U.S.)

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in a report issued in April 2008, showed that among sources of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the nation's leading culprits are electrical generation and transportation.

They're huge.

The extensive executive summary for the report is available here: http://epa.gov/climatechange/emissions/downloads/08_ES.pdf. Included is a list of greenhouse gas emissions through 2006. (For the whole report, see http://epa.gov/climatechange/emissions/usinventoryreport.html.)

If your eyes glaze over when you see a lot of numbers, here's the short version: Between two-thirds and three-quarters of all carbon dioxide emissions in the United States come from electrical generation and transportation.

What to do about it? A few ideas are to find ways to cut your electric bill, drive less or in a more fuel-efficient car, and minimize long-distance travel.

For folks who like numbers, here are some: In 2006—the most recent year for which there are data—the nation is calculated to have produced 5,983.1 teragrams of CO2 and CO2 equivalent greenhouse gases. It's a big number—nearly 6,000 grams with 12 more zeros after it: 5,983,100,000,000,000.

If my calculations are right, that amounts to 6.6 billion tons. (Does your car weight a ton? Imagine the weight of 6.6 billion cars. And incidentally, 6.6 billion was the July 2007 estimate for the number of humans on the planet, but we digress.)

Of that total, the burning of fossil fuels represents 5,638 teragrams, more than 94 percent.

And of the fossil fuel burning, electrical generation is 2,328 teragrams or 41 percent and transportation is 1,856 teragrams or 33 percent.

Together, electrical generation and the fuel in your cars and planes represent 74 percent of all fossil fuel emissions, and 70 percent of all CO2 emissions from all sources.

Industrial fossil fuel emissions come in a poor third after power plants and motor vehicles.

As an aside, let's talk about a natural source of CO2.

Every now and then, you may run into someone who minimizes the human impact on climate, with the argument that volcanoes put lots more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than humans.

That argument is laughably off the mark. See a U.S. Geological Survey. Hawaiian Volcano Observatory post of last year: http://hvo.wr.usgs.gov/volcanowatch/2007/07_02_15.html.

It says, in part, that all the volcanoes in the world produce less than one percent the CO2 that human activities do. All the volcanoes in the world produce less than a fifth of greenhouse gas emissions of the United States alone.

© 2008 Jan W. TenBruggencate