So, everyone knows that energy sources, or more precisely, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from them, are the biggest contributors to climate change. But “biggest” does not mean GHGs are the only ones to blame.
According to statistics, around 30% of all CO2 emissions, carbon monoxide, and all the rest of the usual suspects, come from power plants. The remaining 70%, however, goes to another five major sources of pollution, which somehow often do not receive the necessary attention. Here they are:
1. The runner up for the title “the biggest GHG contributor” is deforestation. Around the world, thousands of hectares of forests are removed to be replaced by agricultural fields, to provide timber or to be turned into grazing fields for cattle ranching. The first one is a common practice in Indonesia, among other places, where forests are turned into palm oil fields. Although the oil from the crop can be used in many ways, from cooking to biofuel production, it does give the wrong incentive to farmers to remove the precious natural “green lungs.” On the other hand, in Brazil, deforestation is triggered by the need of grazing land. Shocking statistics indicate that only in the Amazon, the removal of trees for this particular purpose accounts for 3.4% of the total global GHG emissions.
2. Cows, as sweet-looking as they are, produce incredible amounts of methane, one of the most potent GHGs around. Agriculture in general is found to generate up to 18% of the global emissions, out of which 80% comes from livestock.
3. Now, moving on to soils, or more precisely soil carbon. When trapped in peatbogs, soil carbon is a precious resource. Some particular soils can store large amounts of the GHG for centuries, but this is only until they get disturbed. Due to wrong agricultural practices, around 4.4% of the total carbon emissions are released, only by machinery disrupting the top soil.
4. Permafrost, the permanently frozen layer of soil found in the most northern parts of the hemispheres. These are known to contain enormous amounts of stored carbon dioxide, which is to be released as soon as the soil melts. With the rise of temperatures, scientists predict that as much as 35% of these areas could be melted and all carbon and methane could end up in the atmosphere.
The scariest part here is that none of the climate models actually includes this scenario, meaning that the worst prediction has not even been announced yet. The reason for this is that there is no definitive evidence that this melting has started, due to difficulties in data collection and inadequate measuring techniques.
5. Lastly, the top 5 is rounded off with landfills and wastewater. These two combined account for around 3% of the total GHG emissions. The careless dumping of organic waste in landfills generates huge amounts of carbon dioxide and methane through the process of rotting of organic matter. This, coupled with GHGs released by wastewater treatment plants, present a significant threat to our environment, and should definitely not be underestimated.
Image (c) EPA