What We Fail to Get About Greenhouse Gases What We Fail to Get About Greenhouse Gases

What We Fail to Get About Greenhouse Gases

by Andrew Price

April 7, 2010
A new inventory of the Portland metropolitan area shows that the bulk of the region's greenhouse gases come from the production of stuff, not from cars and transportation. From Oregon Live:
According to the inventory, manufacturing products and food, moving freight and managing waste produce an estimated 14.9 million metric tons of greenhouse gases annually, or 48 percent of the emissions produced in the tri-county Portland area.Natural gas and fossil fuels account for 27 percent, and emissions from transit, cars and light trucks accounts make up 25 percent of the total.
Oregon Metro, which conducted the inventory, says that these numbers were more or less in line with the national average (the Portland area has a slightly lower transportation impact, and a slightly higher materials impact). And this inventory actually underestimates the percentage of greenhouse gases that come from the area's appetite for goods and food, because it excludes international imports.This analysis is interesting because it highlights our lopsided thinking about climate change. The media tends to focus a lot on solutions like hybrid cars and CFLs, but transportation and energy use are relatively small parts of the problem.
The stuff we consume accounts for nearly half of the greenhouse gases in an area like Portland. And of that, it's the extraction of raw materials and the manufacturing processes for consumer goods that are the biggest culprits. (Food and long-distance freight are second and third.)When you get down to it, the biggest thing any of us can do to reduce our impact is just to buy less stuff, especially stuff with a big upstream carbon footprint.I think this doesn't get talked about as much as it should for two reasons. First, a lot of the media power is behind commercially-driven "green" solutions. So you'll hear a lot more about the benefits of buying a pair of jeans that's marginally better for the environment than the benefits of just not buying another pair of jeans.But second, our economy is driven by people buying stuff. Consumer spending accounts for 65 percent of economic activity. And that poses a real question: Could we drastically pare down the volume of stuff we buy without settling into much, much longer recession? That's a scary question.
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What We Fail to Get About Greenhouse Gases