Climate Primer #15: Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions – 3. Industry

To summarize, climate crisis is the defining issue of the century. Buildup of anthropogenic greenhouse gases (GHGs) in Earth’s atmosphere is driving global heating, while a convergence of global crises threatens to rupture key planetary boundaries beyond which organized human life on Earth would be threatened. Although the human activities which drive these converging crises (for simplicity: the climate crisis) are diverse and complex, the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) offers a high level categorization of the sources of anthropogenic emissions. Pieces thus far in this subset of primers have focused on the energy sector – the largest single contributor to anthropogenic GHG emissions (at 35% in 2010) according to the IPCC – and agriculture, forestry, and other land use (or AFOLU), the second largest contributor (at 24% in 2010).

Today’s piece will be short and sweet: The third largest contributor to anthropogenic GHG emissions in 2010 was industry which contributed (a word that sounds so positive!) 21% of all such emissions. The somewhat-dated WRI chart to which I’ve referred before includes the following chart:

Most people have never heard of adipic acid! The source for this chart was: http://pdf.wri.org/navigating_numbers_append2.pdf

More accessibly, William T. Vollmann, in his sweeping two-part Carbon Ideologies books, references “the “Big Five” materials, namely: Cement, Paper, Steel, Plastics, and Aluminum, in descending order of their emissions footprint, though of course industry encompasses a variety of activities varied almost beyond imagination. I highly recommend these long, dark, funny, humane books, and hope you’ll consider them today’s bonus material.

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