Global warming miscellany

So last weekend I spent far too much time going to blogs that mentioned the IPCC report on global warming and leaving comments like this:
probably the single biggest thing thing we can do as individuals to fight global warming is to go vegetarian. a recent UN report found that the livestock industry accounts for 18 percent of human-induced greenhouse gases (more than cars!), and a university of chicago study concluded that switching from a typical american diet to a vegetarian diet reduces your contribution to global warming more than if you switched from a regular car to a hybrid. not to mention all the other environmental damage done by the meat industry, or the horrific suffering of the animals.
The media literally haven't reported on either of these studies (the only thing a Lexis-Nexis search turns up is a half-assed New York Times editorial), so I thought it was a good chance to try and educate people about meat's role in global warming.

I was really surprised by the strong presence of global warming deniers. On any thread that discussion got going, they seemed to be as numerous as those who believe in science. And I only visited blogs that seemed concerned about global warming, so there was a significant number of denier bloggers that I didn't even bother with. The deniers seem particularly strong in the USA, Australia, and Canada. Those three also happen to be numbers 1, 2, and 3 in per capita carbon emissions among large industrial countries (there are a handful of island nations and oil-producing kingdoms with higher levels, plus Luxembourg).

But I don't think the deniers are our biggest problem. I suspect popular complacency and resistance to reducing our consumption will prove much bigger obstacles.

Some interesting numbers I've come across:
Carbon emissions per capita, 1990-2003. The USA, Australia, and Canada are the worst by far. Deutschland/Germany, 日本/Japan, 한국/South Korea, and the UK all emitted only 1/2 the carbon of the those three, slightly less than Россия/Russia. I was a little surprised that Japan, with its amazing public transit system, was almost as bad as Germany and worse than Britain. Among the rich countries, the two standouts are France and Sverige/Sweden, both emitting less than 1/3 of the carbon of the USA and 2/3 that of Germany. 中国/China's output in 2003 was 1/6 that of the USA. Tho that figure is increasing rapidly, it will not even rival France's any time soon. Brasil emitted less than half as much as China, and India and Indonesia slightly less than Brasil.

Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2004. There's a lot of good information on US greenhouse gases in here. Carbon is responsible for 85 percent of the total share (all numbers are weighted according to how powerful each greenhouse gas is), with methane and nitrous oxide accounting for most of the rest. An overwhelming majority of the carbon is, of course, produced by burning fossil fuels. The biggest sector consuming fossil fuels is transportation (33 percent), with private vehicles accounting for over 60 percent of the total. The other fossil fuel culprits: industrial (28 percent), residential (21 percent), and commercial (17 percent). Burning oil for mainly transportation uses and burning coal to produce electricity are the main carbon producers, each accounting for around 40 percent of the total.

From these numbers and the UN and U Chicago studies above, it should be clear that the two main things Americans can do as individuals to fight global warming are to stop eating meat and other animal products, and to stop driving. But it remains the case that these two have small shares in the total production of greenhouse gases, together accounting for perhaps 25 percent of greenhouse gases. The solution to global warming must involve an organized political movement to force much stricter emissions standards and much higher prices for greenhouse gas-producing consumption, as well as more efficient and less individual consumption.

1 comment:

Vino S said...

I also always assumed that, because of its large-scale use of public transport, Japan would indeed have much lower carbon emissions than most other developed countries. it seems not. I wonder why.