Sources Of Greenhouse Gases

It seems to me….

A more robust approach to global warming is needed if we are to avoid catastrophe. Unlike the recent financial crisis, there is no bailout option for the earth’s climate.” ~ Jose Angel Gurria[1].

A global warming of just 3 degrees Celsius could render much of the world unrecognizable and vulnerable to mass starvation (a number of studies predict yield declines of up to 70 percent for produce if the world warms beyond 2 degrees Celsius). The probability of environmental catastrophes – global warming, deforestation, ocean acidification, biodiversity extinction… – is rapidly increasing. While any single weather-event cannot conclusively be considered a harbinger of climate change, the planet is experiencing an increasing cascade of non-normal weather and climate incidents. 16 of the 17 warmest years in the 136 years of recorded weather data have all occurred since 2001 with 1998 being the only exception.

While it now is too late to eliminate the most deleterious effect of climate change, there are numerous options at all levels of both government and the economy that can mitigate its worst consequences. To prevent the most severe effects of climate change, it is necessary to reach zero net greenhouse gas emissions in every sector of the economy within 50 years and as the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently found, we need to be well on that path within the next 10 years[2].

Electrical power generation is currently responsible for a quarter, 25 percent, of all greenhouse gas emissions each year and rising temperatures coupled with a growing world population and economic growth will drive an increase in overall demand for energy. Even if electrical generation without emitting a single molecule of greenhouse gases was possible, it would only reduce total emissions by just a quarter; by itself, not nearly sufficient. Although there has been progress in the renewable energy market, additional breakthroughs will still be needed. For example, wind and solar need zero-carbon backup sources for windless days, long periods of cloudy weather, and nighttime. It also is necessary to make the electric grid considerably more efficient so clean energy can be delivered where it is needed, when it is needed.

Very few people normally associate food production with greenhouse gases but it is responsible for 24 percent of all such gases. Deforestation; e.g., clearing land for crops; removes trees that pull carbon dioxide (CO₂) out of the air, and when the trees are burned, release of all their carbon back into the atmosphere.

Apart from CO₂, there are two other main greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming, methane (CH₄) and nitrous oxide (N₂O) – both of which are both more potent than CO₂. The global warming potential of methane and nitrous oxide is 28 and 265 times respectively greater than that of CO₂.

Methane is produced by ruminants (livestock), rice cultivation, landfills, and manure among other sources[3]. Cattle are a huge source of methane (and would be the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases if they were a country). Other human-induced emissions of methane come from changes in land use and the effects of climate change on wetlands, both of which are major producers of global methane.

Nitrous oxide emissions are associated with excessive use of fertilizers and burning plant and animal waste. To understand the effects of excess nitrogen in agriculture, consider that only 17 of 100 units of nitrogen applied to the crop system ends up in the food being eaten.

It is necessary for countries to increase food but greenhouse gas emissions attributable to food production continue to also increase. The role of food systems in climate mitigation is not receiving the attention it urgently needs[4].

Manufacturing is responsible for 21 percent of greenhouse gases; especially production of plastic, steel, and cement; further contributing to climate change. Making cement and steel requires significant energy, mostly from fossil fuels, and involves chemical reactions that release carbon as a byproduct. Other carbon producing manufacturing processes that are highly energy intensive include paper and chemicals operations. High-tech manufacturers; those producing medical supplies, aerospace equipment, and computer parts; are just as sensitive to global warming as low-tech sectors such as apparel and textiles. Even if everything could be made using zero-carbon energy, it would still need to deal with the byproducts. Climate change rules are likely to result in upward pressure on energy prices meaning that operational efficiency improvements will have greater benefit than in the past as a basis for competitive advantage. The impact on manufacturing supply chains will be equally significant.

The U.S. economy depends on the personal and freight mobility provided by the country’s transportation system. Essential products and services like energy, food, manufacturing, and trade all depend in interrelated ways on the reliable functioning of these transportation components. Disruptions to transportation systems could result in large economic and personal losses. Transportation generates 14 percent of all greenhouse gases primarily attributable to personal motor vehicle travel from passenger cars, sport utility vehicles, pickup trucks, minivans, and motorcycles. Low-emission vehicles are beneficial but personal vehicles, in general, currently account for slightly less than half of transportation-related emissions but that percentage will decline in the future as additional emissions come from airplanes, cargo ships, and trucks for which there presently are not any viable practical zero-carbon options. The frequency and intensity of extreme weather events attributable to climate change will increase the risk of delays, disruptions, damage, and failure across land, air, and marine transportation systems.

An Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report[5] concluded that climate change is likely to damage transportation infrastructure through higher temperatures, more severe storms and flooding, and higher storm surges affecting the reliability and capacity of transportation systems. Coastal roads, railways, ports, tunnels, and airports are vulnerable to sea level rise possibly leading to delays as well as temporary and permanent closures. Climate change impacts also will likely increase the cost of the nation’s transportation systems.

More than half of the world’s population lives in urban areas; over 80 percent of that population lives in developing countries. 6 percent of greenhouse gases come from buildings. With construction activities now being more intense than ever due to population growth and economic development; areas of key concern include energy use with associated greenhouse gas emissions, waste generation, construction materials use and recycling, water use and discharge, and integration of buildings with other infrastructure and social systems. The building and construction sector accounts for the largest share in the use of natural resources, by land use, and by materials extraction. Energy use, liquid and solid waste generation, transport of construction materials, and consumption of hazardous materials are other examples of negative environmental impacts from this sector. Considerable energy is required just to run air conditioners, heating, lights, and other appliances though more-efficient windows and insulation help (even the refrigerant inside AC units is a greenhouse gas). Building efficiency will be increasingly important as the global population moves to cities over the next few decades necessitating the world’s building stock to double in area by 2060.

Over 95 percent of the world’s energy requirement is currently met by fossil fuels: coal, oil, and natural gas. A remaining 10 percent source of greenhouse gas emissions is a miscellaneous category that including items such as the energy it takes to extract oil and gas. Extraction processes can generate air and water pollution and harm local communities. The move towards more energy-intensive production of oil and gas from unconventional sources such as shale and tight gas reserves, production requiring greater energy inputs at mature fields, mining of coal from deeper mines, and longer transportation distances may increase this contribution. E.g., petroleum extracted from tar sands, which is an extremely viscous oil (bitumen) with the consistency of peanut butter, requires significantly more energy to mine and refine emitting up to three times more greenhouse gases than conventional oil in the process. These and other additional emissions mean that the dirtiest sources of oil can add as much as an extra ton of pollution per year for the average car.

There are intense partisan differences over a number of global concerns but the widest gap, by far, is over the threat to the U.S. from global climate change. Nearly eight-in-ten Democrats (77 percent) view global climate change as a major threat to the U.S. compared to only 26 percent of Republicans. Too often, debates about global warming have involved conservatives and liberals talking past one another with conservatives standing up for individual rights and liberals looking to hold corporations accountable.

Reasons for optimism remain. While the Trump administration has mistakenly announced its intent to abandon the Paris climate change accord, many U.S. states, cities, and companies have stepped into the void pledging commitments of their own. Successes in Bonn and Paris, combined with near-unanimous international support for the Paris Accords, indicate that multilateral cooperation on climate change will continue even without U.S. leadership.

That’s what I think, what about you?


[1] José Ángel Gurría Treviñ, (also known as Ángel Gurría) is a Mexican economist and diplomat and has been Secretary-General of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

[2] Gates, Bill. Climate Change And The 75% Problem, Gatesnotes, https://www.gatesnotes.com/Energy/My-plan-for-fighting-climate-change?WT.mc_id=10_17_2018_06_EnergyClimateChangePlan_BG-EM_&WT.tsrc=BGEM, 17 October 2018.

[3] Canadell, Pep, and Hanqui Tian. Global Food Production Threatens To Overwhelm Efforts To Combat Climate Change, The Conversation, https://theconversation.com/global-food-production-threatens-to-overwhelm-efforts-to-combat-climate-change-55946?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Latest. 9 March 2016.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Climate Impacts on Transportation, Environmental Protection Agency, https://19january2017snapshot.epa.gov/climate-impacts/climate-impacts-transportation_.html, 1 January 2017.

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About lewbornmann

Lewis J. Bornmann has his doctorate in Computer Science. He became a volunteer for the American Red Cross following his retirement from teaching Computer Science, Mathematics, and Information Systems, at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, CO. He previously was on the staff at the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, Stanford University, and several other universities. Dr. Bornmann has provided emergency assistance in areas devastated by hurricanes, floods, and wildfires. He has responded to emergencies on local Disaster Action Teams (DAT), assisted with Services to Armed Forces (SAF), and taught Disaster Services classes and Health & Safety classes. He and his wife, Barb, are certified operators of the American Red Cross Emergency Communications Response Vehicle (ECRV), a self-contained unit capable of providing satellite-based communications and technology-related assistance at disaster sites. He served on the governing board of a large international professional organization (ACM), was chair of a committee overseeing several hundred worldwide volunteer chapters, helped organize large international conferences, served on numerous technical committees, and presented technical papers at numerous symposiums and conferences. He has numerous Who’s Who citations for his technical and professional contributions and many years of management experience with major corporations including General Electric, Boeing, and as an independent contractor. He was a principal contributor on numerous large technology-related development projects, including having written the Systems Concepts for NASA’s largest supercomputing system at the Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. With over 40 years of experience in scientific and commercial computer systems management and development, he worked on a wide variety of computer-related systems from small single embedded microprocessor based applications to some of the largest distributed heterogeneous supercomputing systems ever planned.
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6 Responses to Sources Of Greenhouse Gases

  1. auntyuta says:

    Reblogged this on AuntyUta and commented:
    This is a very timely article!

    Like

  2. auntyuta says:

    You say: Reasons for optimism remain.
    I am inclined to think this way too. Even though our Australian government does not give any leadership either, I also hope that as you say multilateral cooperation on climate change and commitments by certain states and companies and private initiative is going to make a bit of a difference.
    I reblogged you very timely article, dear Lew. Thank you so much for publishing it!
    Best wishes for Christmas and The New Year!
    Uta 🙂

    Like

  3. we are responsible for grew up warm warming all current weather problem facing already , if we cant take some action on time , its been big problem.

    Like

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