The Proposed Goal
It is not a pipe-dream to think we can dramatically cut our national and individual (or per capita) greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions. “Drastic” reductions of at least 30 percent, 50 percent or more within the next decade is doable and well within our individual capacities to realize. We need to know where to start. Let’s first review total emissions of GHGs for the U.S and the rest of the world.
How Are We Fairing Globally?
Globally, GHG emissions have climbed a near continuous upward trajectory since 1900. For the exception of the Global Great Recession Years (2007-2009) where GHG emissions took a noticeable decline (in large part due to depressed economies and high unemployement rates), global GHG emissions have been starting to flat line. That’s true for 2016, where GHG emissions grew but at a slower rate. The technical term for that is declining growth. In 2017 however, that slowing rise in GHG emissions took a dramatic turn, growing by 1.4 percent and reaching a historic highwater mark for the world at 32.5 gigatonnes (Gt). This renewed uptick of atmospheric GHGs directly relates to increased demand for fossil fuels last year; by some 2.1 percent, driven in large part by the growth economies of China and India.
For the exception of last year, global GHG emissions growth had been recently trending downward mainly due to three parallel factors in play including:
- Households are consuming less coal* than in previous years and total consumption has been on the decline.
- A switch to and greater reliance on Natural Gas** for energy supply, substituting electricity produced from coal.
- The growth of the renewable energy^ industry particularly wind and solar but also geothermal and tidal and its broader commercial availability and use.
The Who’s Who of GHG Culprits
The U.S. had long held the dubious distinction of being the country that produced the most GHG emissions globally. Fortunately, the U.S. no longer holds that top position. But, we as a nation, are far from innocent. The U.S. still ranks^^ second in the world for emitting the largest amount of GHGs into the atmosphere, with China taking over the top emitting position just a short decade ago (2007). Yes, China is the leader in world emissions with nearly double the amount the U.S. emits as a nation. But the third largest global emitter of GHGs is India, and their emission levels are less than half of the U.S. We have much room for improvement.
Talking About the U.S.
Total U.S. GHG emissions for the year 2015 was 6,586 million metric tons of CO2, an overall decline of just over two percent from 2014 emissions. Of the total U.S. GHG emissions:
- 82 % is CO2 from fossil fuel combustion,
- 10 % is Methane mainly from the breeding of livestock,
- 5 % is Nitrous Oxide (N2O) predominantly from the use of fertilizers and pesticides in agricultural production, and
- 3 % is the release of Fluorinated Gases (i.e., gases released from the use of air-conditioners in vehicles and refrigeration units).
Although all of these GHG types are fueling the growing surface temperature increases of the planet globally, most of what we can affect as individuals is the output of CO2 within our home dwellings, in the ways we use our personal automobiles, and in how we consume products we need and want.
To further understand what we can personally affect to reduce the GHG gases we individually emit into the atmosphere, let’s look at the total U.S. GHG emissions in 2015 broken down by economic sector.
Those emissions’ splits include the following:
- 29% total emissions are from electricity production and supply
- 27% total emissions are from transportation of goods and services
- 21% total emissions are emitted by for-profit manufacturing industr
- 9% total emissions are from crop agricultural production and breeding livestock
- 7% total emissions are from the use and maintenance of commercial buildings
- 6% total emissions are from residential houses and other home dwellings
What’s Our Responsibility?
Clearly, six percent of all U.S. GHG gases emitted falls under our individual purview: Residential emissions. Six percent out of 100 percent does not seem like a lot, right? Ok, but do we have any influence over any of the other economic sectors that play a very large part in GHG emissions into the atmosphere? Yes, we surely do.
Breaking Down Our Buying Power to Make it Powerful
Within the Electricity Sector (producer of 29% of all GHG emissions), we have significant power to determine its level of annual GHG emissions. How? We have the ability to dictate how our power is generated and from what source? This is the purchasing power we hold over our energy needs and our utility suppliers. If you are purchasing electricity from a central utility in your area, tell them you want your electricity supply to be generated in part or in whole from renewable energy sources. With increased demand from electricity consumers for renewable energy generation and power, more utilities will add renewable energy to their power generation mix (e.g., coal, natural gas, solar and wind farms). Another option for about half of U.S. citizens, is to askew purchasing power from a central utility and to source power directly from a competing electricity market company. These companies usually specialize in one or more renewable energy sources such as Natural Gas (a non-renewable energy source but a cleaner-burning fossil fuel), Solar, Wind, Geothermal, and Tidal); lawfully compete with a state or region’s entrenched utility provider, and both generate and supply renewable energy to residents in the area. A third purchasing power is to install your own, distributed (the opposite of centralized) energy source in your community, neighborhood or on your private property such as earlier mentioned options of PV solar panels, geothermal underground loop, and even windmills. Lastly, if none of these options are available to you, Green Certificates (a.k.a.: “green tags”, “renewable energy certificates” and “tradable renewable certificates”) are available for purchase as a way to support renewable energy generators in their mission to gain power in the energy marketplace. Think of green certificates as gift certificates bought by you and given to the renewable energy industry for the purpose of realizing two goals: first: to support competitive renewable energy pricing to that of inexpensive fossil fuel options, and second: to drive demand of renewable energy from both the consumer- and generation-sides of the equation, making renewable energy more abundant, available, and affordable across the whole swath of the U.S.
Consuming is Not So Groovy
We also hold indirect sway over the GHG emissions from the Transportation sector. Remember, this sector produces a whopping 27 percent of all GHG emissions into the atmosphere within the U.S. How, you may ask? If we dive deeper into the make-up of the Transportation sector, there are three categories or types of vehicles that drive the majority (92%) of this sector. They include:
- 60% are light-duty vehicles
- 23% are medium and heavy-duty vehicles
- 9% are aircraft
Much of the activity of these types of transportation types are utilized for the transport and delivery of products to the end-consumer, either in the last mile to one’s home, or to the various entities that make-up the consumer supply chain including warehouses, distributors, retailers and third-party service providers who help with product builds and installation. The GHG emissions by the transportation sector can be significantly, indirectly impacted by our relationship to products and what, where, why and how often we purchase goods of all types to consume. It is a well-articulated argument by the manufacturing industries (e.g., clothing, textiles, technology) that their production life-cycles and how they design products are dictated by the wants and demands of consumers. When consumers ask for change, they will deliver. Well, in no-small way, we can kick-start the consumerism conversation by what and how much we purchase from manufacturers and retailers that commit themselves to long-lasting, durable, recyclable product design, sustainable packaging, green transportation means, and have implemented supply chain processes that support and prioritize material revalorization.
Tallying the Totals for Individuals
Now, if we tally the sectors we have direct (residential) and indirect (electricity and transportation) influence over, the number comes to 62%. It is worth articulating loud and clear: our personal decisions, actions and deployment of appropriate technology can substantially impact the growth or decline of the global climate change trajectory. The devil is in the details or in this case, the nitty-gritty of our life choices.
**Natural Gas is a cleaner-burning fossil fuel emitting half the CO2 than coal and petroleum.
^Renewable energy sources emit zero carbon into the atmosphere.
^^Ranking based on data from the European Commission, Joint Research Center/Netherlands Environmental Agency, and Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research for 2012.
Contact Kate Gaertner today to see what Triple Win Advisory can do to help your business and industry increase sustainability to result in a “triple win” for company profit and long-term competitive advantage, societal well-being, and successful environmental pollution mitigation.