OK, here’s a post that’s NOT about cars. Mostly.
As regular readers of this blog know, Eric and I have been obsessing about transportation fuels for months. Why? Well, because cars and trucks are far and away the biggest source of climate-warming emissions in Western US and Canada. As of 2004, for example, transportation represented more than half of all energy-related CO2 emissions in Washington, Oregon, and California—with cars and light trucks accounting for the lion’s share of transportation GHGs. By any measure, our vehicles have an outsized impact.
Yet globally, transportation isn’t nearly as big a deal. By one estimate (see chart below), global emissions from cars, trucks, boats, trains, and airplanes accounted for only about 14 percent of worldwide GHG emissons in 2000. Compared with other GHG-emitting sectors, transportation ranked 3rd, behind electric power and industrial emissions.
Moreover, while personal vehicles (cars and light trucks) dominate transportation emissions in North America, they represent a somewhat smaller share of transportation emissions in other nations. I’m not trying to say that that cars & trucks aren’t a big deal worldwide. They are. Still, other issues loom even larger.
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Also—looking more broadly at other data sources—transportation may fall to fourth place. According to some credible estimates, forest clearing and land uses changes account for a full 18 percent of global GHG emissions, not the 10 percent mentioned in the chart above. Globally, land use change is every bit as important as transportation, and probably moreso.
I don’t think this is going to put a halt to my obsession with transportation fuels. But it is worth remembering that our somewhat singleminded concern about cars and SUVs is, all things considered, more of a local phenomenon than a global one.
Image courtesy of Robert A. Rohde. Distributed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License, Version 2.5. See more here.
The pacific northwest is blessed with an abundance of hydro power. This is great because it is emissions free. However, there are significant ecological side effects from overusing this resource.The population of this region is expected to increase dramatically over the next 20 years, putting new power demands onto the region. We are already almost tapping out our hydro power (new dams are likely going to be more ecologically disruptive than older ones). Smaller run-of-the-river hydro facilities might have less of a footprint than larger conventional hydro facilities, but are far from benign.All this is to say that although personal transportation is currently the leading cause of emissions around here, we shouldn’t discount energy production as a potential bad guy. Already, BC (where I live) has become a net energy importer (from Alberta (dirty coal) and from Washington (“clean” hydro)). Here, just as everywhere else, we need to be considering only truly clean sources of energy as we go forward.My point is that in the northwest, the emissions numbers that you quote are downplaying the future impact of energy production.