Encyclopedia Britannica describes climate change, or ‘global warming’ as it’s often referred to, as: “Global warming, the phenomenon of increasing average air temperatures near the surface of Earth over the past one to two centuries.” (Mann, M. E., & Selin, H.). The description doesn’t offer any insight into the significance of climate change, but the reality is that global warming is quite impactful to our everyday lives. Simply put, and what the Encyclopedia Britannica description leaves out, is that climate change is caused by an increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. According to the Environmental Protection Agencies (EPA) government website, the top three sources of greenhouse gasses include emissions from transportation, electricity production, and industry. This paper will take a deeper look at these three areas and explore their part in the overall climate change phenomenon.
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Transportation can include a wide variety of options, including cars, trucks, trains, ships, airplanes, as well as other types of vehicles. The way in which transportation influences the increase in greenhouse gases is through emissions from these vehicles producing carbon dioxide (CO2). Combustion-based passenger vehicles are the largest source of greenhouse gases inside the transportation category. The remaining sources of these gases come from various other modes of transportation, such as commercial aircraft, ships, boats, and trains. According to the IPCC, “In 2017, greenhouse gas emissions from transportation accounted for about 28.9 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, making it the largest contributor of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.” (IPCC, 2014) This report goes on to include other factors, including the increase in the total annual miles in families with combustion passenger vehicles and the overall decrease in fuel economy among passenger vehicles since 2005; although the latter does appear to be improving. While these causes are important to discuss, there also needs to be a conversation on how to reduce the amount of emissions in the transportation sector. These reductions could include switching fuel types, improving fuel efficiency in vehicles with advanced design, improving operational practices, and reducing travel demand.
In the electrical sector, most of the greenhouse emissions come from carbon dioxide, although there are smaller amounts of nitrous oxide and methane that can be emitted. The causes for these greenhouse gases are mostly from the release of fossil fuels through combustion, such as coal, oil, and natural gas. All of this is to produce electricity for consumption. In terms of greenhouse gas increase, coal combustion is the most egregious offender. It is far more carbon intensive than burning natural gas or oil for electrical production. Interestingly, coal combustion accounts for more than a majority of the electrical sector’s CO2 emissions, even though it produces yields in the 30 percent range. By comparison, the combustion of natural gas also produces yields in the 30 percent range but contributes the least to the increase of greenhouse gases. There are a variety of options available to reduce emissions from electrical production sources. Some examples include, increasing the efficiency of fossil fueled power plants and/or switching fuel, switching to renewable energy sources, and increasing development into clean nuclear energy.
As for the industry sector, it is producing raw materials and goods that are used in everyday lives. The greenhouse gas emissions during this type of production could be categorized into direct emissions and indirect emissions. Direct emissions occur on site and are produced mainly by fuel combustion to power or control industrial systems. Indirect emissions occur offsite and are typically associated with the facility and the use and production of electricity or the disposal of waste. Most industry emissions come from the combustion of fossil fuels to gather enough energy for production. Much of the time, these additional on and off-site power production facilities produce additional waste, which also has a part to play in increasing greenhouse gases. According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) energy start program website: “As of 2017, 21 diverse industrial sectors work with ENERGY STAR to strategically manage their energy use.” (Facts and Stats, n.d.) The Energy Star program at the EPA allows industrial sector leaders to reach out and learn to manage their energy use, while also increasing their responsibility for greenhouse gases from production. It is a low risk way that the government is trying to impact and reverse industry emissions.
To conclude, while Encyclopedia Britannica’s description of climate change isn’t by any means incorrect, it does leave out the fundamental reasoning behind climate change, which is the increase in greenhouse gas emissions. This is what needs to be talked about and addressed, not the increase in our temperatures, but what is truly causing this climate change. As discussed, the biggest offenders are in the transportation, electrical production, and industry sectors. While some examples provided do help reduce emissions in those sectors, more must be to slow down these causes and find solutions to the climate change problem. Without immediate action, it may be too late to keep our most valuable resource, planet Earth, alive and healthy.
- Mann, M. E., & Selin, H. (2019, September 20). Global warming. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/science/global-warming.
- Facts and Stats. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.energystar.gov/buildings/about-us/facts-and-stats.
- IPCC, 2014: Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Edenhofer, O., R. Pichs-Madruga, Y. Sokona, E. Farahani, S. Kadner, K. Seyboth, A. Adler, I. Baum, S. Brunner, P. Eickemeier, B. Kriemann, J. Savolainen, S. Schlömer, C. von Stechow, T. Zwickel and J.C. Minx (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA. Retrieved from https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2018/02/ipcc_wg3_ar5_full.pdf