Here in California, where the climate crisis is literally hanging in the air, we are looking at ways to limit the remarkable damage that humans are doing to the environment. While individual responsibility is popular as a feel-good activity that makes some small positive difference (and which we should obviously all do), we could get ‘more bang for our buck’ by making big, systemic shifts. The usual obstacle is the business world and those who profit from polluting sectors. (We all know who those are.)
It’s always nice to look at data, though, and see whether the political battles over things like water use between the cattle farmers (VERY polluting & water sucking) and the almond farmers (less so, but they have a smaller lobbyist fighting force) are what should be taking up our attention.
Let’s walk through each of the sectors and sub-sectors in the pie chart, one-by-one. Energy use in industry: 24.2% Iron and Steel (7.2%): energy-related emissions from the manufacturing of iron and steel. Chemical & petrochemical (3.6%): energy-related emissions from the manufacturing of fertilizers, pharmaceuticals, refrigerants, oil and gas extraction, etc.
It’s nice to look at the breakdowns of this data, because something like “energy” isn’t just about the oil and gas companies operating in isolation: they have customers, and those industries are co-responsible. (Yes, this has been the oil industry’s go-to position for years, and I am reluctant to agree with them on anything, but they are selling their dirty products to other industries, and those buyers are also to blame.)
Our World In Data also has a breakout, which they link to here, about food. Food is a subject that is dear to my heart, and the environmental impacts of food have contributed to my commitment to a plant-based diet. When you look at this data, the reasons for this are obvious.
When it comes to tackling climate change, the focus tends to be on ‘clean energy’ solutions – the deployment of renewable or nuclear energy; improvements in energy efficiency; or transition to low-carbon transport. Indeed, energy, whether in the form of electricity, heat, transport or industrial processes, account for the majority – 76% – of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Human food production deserves so much more scrutiny. The industry is rife with politics and waste, and has a major impact on the health of the planet AND on our health. My government has a history of subsidizing tobacco, regardless of the cancers smoking causes, because it is a US agricultural product, and all such products were worthy of promotion with tax money! (Gaaaah!) The “four food groups” concept was not about human health, it was about product promotion OVER human health! (Gaaaah!) And then there are these animal-agriculture-sourced diseases, like bird flu and swine flu and COVID-19, or the terrible (and often fatal) e. coli outbreaks when plant foods are contaminated by animal waste, which threaten humans because some humans eat animals. We are all paying for that.
These visualizations are useful and informative.