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The Same Story for 40 Years

The Same Story for 40 Years

A photo looking up a bike lane.

Individual Impacts on Greenhouse Gas Emissions 

By Emmett Pennington-Guthrie 

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the largest source of greenhouse emissions from human activities comes from burning fossil fuels for electricity, heat, and transportation. [1] 

As such, these would be the best places to cut down on personal emissions. If you, dear reader, want a lighter carbon footprint, you can drive less, turn off lights when you leave a room, and put on a sweater. 

However, how much does that actually do for the environment? After all, 100 energy companies are responsible for 71% of global greenhouse gas emissions. [2] 

The top 15 U.S. food and beverage companies generate nearly 630 million metric tons of greenhouse gases every year, more total emissions than all of Australia. [3] 

Additionally, as of 2019 the U.S. military alone has produced an estimated 1.21 billion metric tons of emissions since 2001. If it were its own country, a Brown University report finds, the Pentagon would be the world’s 55th largest CO2 emitter. [4] 

How, then, can the individual make a difference in emissions when corporations and sectors like the military already cause so many? 

This question is somewhat loaded, because no one person can make a significant difference on their own. 

Instead, change must come from lifestyle changes en masse, through entire populations becoming accustomed to less consumption and fossil fuel use. 

One person riding their bike to work won’t make a noticeable difference, but if a significant portion of the U.S. population cut down on driving, there could be a marked decrease in the amount of fuel consumed for transportation. 

It’s not just riding bikes that will reduce emissions, however. Road transport and aviation produce only 13.8% of global emissions, leaving much more to other causes. [5] 

For the year 2016, 24.2% of emissions were from energy used in industry, 17.5% from energy used in buildings, and 18.4% from agriculture and other forms of land use. [6] 

With this in mind, where can people cut down on their own impacts? 

Beyond transportation, individual emissions come largely from energy use in residential buildings and consumer consumption, such as from eating meat. 5.8% of total emissions come from livestock and manure, therefore a vegetarian or vegan diet is immediately helpful for reducing the meat industry’s impact. [7] 

Put succinctly, the best way to reduce your impact is to consume less overall. 

Less driving or flying, less meat, less shopping that drives the energy use of industry. Currently, mass consumption fuels the need for energy, and reducing consumer demand is necessary to decrease emissions. 

See Also

Don’t misunderstand; it’s not just the consumers’ responsibility to decrease emissions. 

There will always be a demand for energy, so one aspect of mitigating greenhouse gas emissions lies in finding alternative sources of energy, which is something corporations and governments both hold responsibility for. 

Governments such as ours can promote green energy by looking more to windmills (easy to spot around these parts), hydropower, solar, and other sources of renewable energy. 

Currently, Washington state is an example of how this might look with a 2019 bill having been signed into law calling for the state to be 100% carbon-free in its electricity by 2045. [8] 

While the majority of Washington’s electricity already comes from hydropower, another option that could work better for the rest of the country could be nuclear power. [9] 

Nuclear power, which is more prevalent in other countries (making up 70% of France’s electricity), made up 52% of the U.S.’s carbon-free electricity in 2020. [10] 

Moving towards renewable energy would be a major step in fighting climate change and reducing emissions. 

References 

  1. Source of greenhouse gas emissions. (n.d.). EPA. https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/sources-greenhouse-gas-emissions 
  1. New report shows just 100 companies are source of over 70% of emissions. (2017, July 17). CDP. https://www.cdp.net/en/articles/media/new-report-shows-just-100-companies-are-source-of-over-70-of-emissions 
  1. Axelrod, J. (2019, February 26). Corporate honesty and climate change: Time to own up and act. NRDC. https://www.nrdc.org/experts/josh-axelrod/corporate-honesty-and-climate-change-time-own-and-act 
  1. McCarthy, N. (2019, June 13). Report: The U.S. military emits more CO2 than many industrialized nations [infographic]. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/niallmccarthy/2019/06/13/report-the-u-s-military-emits-more-co2-than-many-industrialized-nations-infographic/?sh=510b06bb4372 
  1. Ritchie, H., & Roser, M. (2020). Emissions by sector. Our World in Data. https://ourworldindata.org/emissions-by-sector 
  1. Ibid. 
  1. Ibid. 
  1. Specht, M. (2019, March 6). 100% clean electricity in Washington state: Everything you need to know. UCUSA. https://blog.ucsusa.org/mark-specht/clean-electricity-in-washington-state/ 
  1. Ibid. 
  1. Bhutada, G. (2022, January 17). Ranked: Nuclear power production, by country. Visual Capitalist. https://www.visualcapitalist.com/ranked-nuclear-power-production-by-country/ 
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