Where Do Greenhouse gases come from?


Where do greenhouse gases come from?
Global warming sounds pretty scary, right? It feels so monumental. How can one person make a difference?

Coral reefs are dying. The sea is getting warmer. Plastics are filling the ocean. Natural disasters are becoming more intense. Landscapes are shifting. Resources are becoming scarce.

Is there a point to even trying? Can we truly change the tides?

It seems so overwhelming to try and tackle global warming as one person, but I want to encourage you that one person can make a difference.

Everything you do is interconnected. Every decision you make is a ripple effect influencing both the environment and others around you.

Where do greenhouse gases come from?

But, where do you start?

Getting started is always the hardest part. Some of the easiest changes you can make are the Big Four.

For more information The Big Four: Read 10 Easy Ways to Live with Less Plastic

Individual action is so important. There are a lot of small changes you can make to live lighter on the planet, but it’s important to also talk about where the majority of greenhouse gases comes from. What industries are responsible for the lion's share of the problems?

Once we figure out where the problems are, we can start trying to solve them.

Where do greenhouse gases come from?

25% Electricity Production:

The majority of greenhouse gases come from electricity. While renewable energy is rapidly growing it still only accounts for 10-15% of the total energy supply.

The remaining 90-85% comes from burning fossil fuels like coal, oil, and natural gas. Coal is the most carbon intensive of all the fossil fuels. Coal accounted for 34% of the electricity generated in the US. 30% came from natural gas, 20% came from nuclear power, and less than 1% came from petroleum.

Electricity is the largest producer of greenhouse gases because it’s consumed by all of the other sectors as well. Of the 25% the Residential/Commercial, Industry, and Transportation all use a third of the electricity while the remaining 10% is used by the agriculture industry.

24% Agriculture:

Most of these emissions are from the cultivation of crops, livestock, and deforestation. The management of agricultural soils accounts for half of the emissions from the agriculture economic sector. Irrigation practices, synthetic fertilizers, and the breakdown of nitrogen in livestock manure and urine result in the emissions of nitrous oxide.

Nitrous oxide molecules stay in the atmosphere for 114 years, and they are 300x more powerful than carbon dioxide.

A third of the agriculture emissions come from methane. Livestock produce methane as a part of their normal digestive process. Their manure factors into both nitrous oxide and methane emissions.

The rest of the emissions are accounted for in the growth of other crops like rice and soybeans.

21% Industry:

This involves both direct and indirect emissions. The industry sector is responsible for delivering the goods and raw materials we use every day.  They’re responsible for extracting metals and creating alloys and altering a mineral’s chemical composition.

Direct emissions are produced on site. Indirect emissions are still vital for the production of goods, but occur off site at another facility.

The consumption of fossil fuel accounts for most of the direct emissions. Around a third of the direct emissions come from natural gas and petroleum leaks, chemical reactions, iron, steel, and the creation of cement.  

14% Transportation:

95% of the world’s transportation relies on petroleum based fuels like diesel and gasoline. The majority of the emissions are carbon dioxide. Transportation in this instance includes cars, busses, boats, trains, and planes.

This sector has been on the rise with the increased demand for travel, population growth, and urban sprawl.

6% Buildings:

This does not include electricity but rather the burning of fuel for heat, cooking, waste, wastewater, and refrigerants.

Heating and cooking accounts for two thirds of the emissions. Most of it comes from natural gas. Very little coal is used in these sectors.

Organic waste sent to the landfill emits methane. In fact, organics in landfills comprise 16% of the total methane emissions in the US. Wastewater treatment plants also account for methane and nitrous oxide.

A small portion also comes from fluorinated gases which are used in air conditioning and refrigeration. The gases can leak or can be released during machine maintenance.

10% Other Energy:

The remaining emissions that aren’t directly associated with electricity, transportation, refining, and fuel extraction.

Where do greenhouse gases come from?

This breakdown is a road map to where we can effect change the most.

Individual action plays a huge part in the overall grand scheme of creating a better planet, but so does group action, business action, and policy change. We cannot truly succeed without all pieces of the puzzle.

This is the first blog post in a series. I’ll be breaking down most of the areas and how we can help through individual action, group action, business action, and policy change.


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