Economic progress is a boon, but global warming is no less than a bane that concerns us all.
If it exceeds a certain threshold, it’s safe to say every progress made by humankind will become futile.
Global warming is the phenomenon wherein the Earth gradually becomes warmer as a result of the emission of greenhouse gases. What are greenhouse gases? Well, those gases are by-products of igniting fossil fuels for economic activities.
Global warming affects the planet, its people, and has significant adverse effects towards our health and ultimately everything that makes our survival possible.
To tackle global warming, it’s important to know which sectors contribute the most to it. Here are the top five:
1. Electricity Generation and Heat Production
The first sector on our list is electricity generation and heat production, which accounts for approximately 28% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Electricity generation occurs mainly in thermal power plants. Thermal power plants produce electricity by burning coal and/or its derivatives.
Unfortunately, in this process, a lot of greenhouse gases are produced.
These are the sub-sectors which produce the most emissions after those from electricity consumption are added.
Residential and Commercial
The combined emissions of this sector are the highest, implying that a significant GHG are produced providing electricity for these activities.
The industrial sector produces enough emissions as it is, and the figure only rises when account for the electricity it consumes.
We were surprised to find that transportation consumes just as much electricity as industries since most vehicles run on fossil fuels.
However, we must distinguish them from the vehicles which use electricity to power themselves.
For instance, public transportation systems (subway trains, light rail, etc.) and personal electric vehicles (think Tesla) do consume a lot of electricity.
Also, we must not forget the colossal amount of energy that is spent on making batteries for cars and other vehicles.
Lastly, we have agricultural activities, which account for 10% of the U.S’. GHG emissions (including those caused by electricity emissions).
Electricity is needed to run various irrigation methods used in farming. These methods are often implemented on a large scale, resulting in a lot of power consumption.
Sharing the spot with electricity generation as the most significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions is the transportation sector, accounting for 28% of them.
It is common knowledge that motor vehicles which use an internal combustion engine utilize fossil fuels to propel themselves.
Due to natural and technological constraints, these fuels do not combust completely, leading to the production of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide.
These gases are ejected directly into the atmosphere, and due to the presence of a large number of automobiles (17 million vehicles were sold in the U.S. in 2018), the emissions quickly reach an alarming level.
Several countries and global institutions are trying to keep automobiles’ emissions under check. The European Union sets the example in this regard as its emission norms are the strictest (the current standard is Euro VI).
The United States began tightening emission and fuel consumption norms in the early 1970s with the passage of the Clean Air Act, which was followed up with the establishment of the EPA.
Accounting for 22% of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. is the industrial sector.
Industrial activities include manufacturing, refining, food production, etc. and they emit greenhouse gases when fossil fuels are utilized on-site for heat, power or chemical processes.
The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions estimates oil and gas production in the United States to be the largest manmade source of methane, the second-biggest driver of climate change.
Moreover, this figure does not include the indirect emissions industrial processes cause. If you were to add the electricity these processes consume, the figure would rise to 29%, making this sector the second biggest contributor to climate change.
To curb industrial emissions, the U.S. federal government and state governments have passed several legislations, prescribing certain norms for corporations to follow.
The effect is apparent, as emissions have gradually decreased.
In 1990, industries emitted about 2300 million metric tons of carbon dioxide whereas, in 2016, the figure was below 2000 million metric tons, despite an increase in industrial activity.
4. Commercial and Residential Emissions
The penultimate sector on our list is the commercial and residential sector, which comprises households and businesses.
Together, they account for approximately 11% of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.
As was the case with the industrial sector, the commercial and residential sector is responsible for direct as well as indirect emissions.
If we were to include the indirect emissions as well, the commercial and residential sector tops the list, being responsible for 32% of GHG emissions in the U.S.
Residential activities such as cooking, heating, using an air-conditioner and poor treatment of waste contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.
Commercial activities are similar to residential activities, except each commercial unit carries them out on a larger scale, but commercial units are lesser in number, offsetting the operations against the residential sector.
Emissions from this sector have remained reasonably constant over time. CO2 emissions from 1990 to 2016 have stayed around 750 million metric tons.
Lastly, the sector which (literally) puts food on our table, agriculture accounts for 9% of the U.S’. greenhouse gas emissions.
Farming takes a toll on the environment by releasing N2O (a.k.a. Nitrous oxide or laughing gas), a greenhouse gas.
This occurs when farmers employ various soil and crop management techniques, resulting in an increase of nitrogen in the soil and consequently, an increase in nitrogen emissions.
Further, livestock and cattle release methane (CH4) as part of their digestive process, which is also a greenhouse gas.
Alarmingly, emissions from the agriculture sector have been increasing gradually, with CO2 emissions rising by approximately 80 million metric tons over the last 26 years.
Global warming is a cause for concern not only for the authorities but for all of us. In the short-run, it impacts our climate, and in the long-run, it jeopardizes our existence.
But through consistent efforts of improving sustainable living, we might have a shot at changing the world for the better.