Climate change is not a myth. The planet has seen stable environmental conditions over the last 10,000 years but with the evolution of humanity, the impact reflects irrefutably in our climate. As the average temperatures rise across the globe, a growing number of hazardous conditions have begun to emerge. Frequent large scale environmental disasters including floods and heat waves building up to droughts and rising sea levels, the side effects are becoming more and more dangerous.
As the world begins to take note and more aggressive action is being taken to counter the issue the important of data is becoming increasingly significant Understanding who the biggest contributors to climate change are and explaining the risks from a factual standpoint helps generate awareness around activities that need to be reduced, and for the sake of the planet, eventually phased out.
The top ten climate change contributors are;
1. The burning of fossil fuels to generate heat and electricity
One of the biggest contributors to rising temperatures are greenhouse gas emissions. Greenhouse gases contain heat within the atmosphere and warm up the planet. The rising heat levels contribute to melting glaciers and rising sea levels.
Fossil fuel burning contributes to this process further. A third of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions are caused by the burning of fossil fuels. The migration to more sustainable sources for energy is a hot topic issue for the UN and all global economies.
While more countries are becoming stringent with smog emission and petrol regulation, transportation currently accounts for 15% of climate affecting pollution as of 2021. It is also the second most significant contributor to global warming.
When vehicles (land, air or sea) are used, petrol is inherently involved. When petrol is burnt to power the vehicle, nitrous oxide and particulates are released through the exhaust, contributing to greenhouse gases. Technology has evolved to include electric vehicles that emit no GHGs (greenhouse gases) though a lot of the emissions are created higher up in the value chain where electricity is generated.
3. The Construction and Manufacturing Industries
The two industries are integral to infrastructural development but unfortunately cause concerns around GHG contribution. The manufacturing and construction industries are the cause of 13.3% of emissions and are the third biggest contributor to heat-containing gases.
Wondering how? The machinery needed for construction or manufacturing are powered by fossil fuels including diesel and gas. Machinery is an integral part of the process as large scale production is needed to cope with rising demand. With every construction project or product manufacture, large amounts of methane and carbon dioxide are released into the air further contributing to global warming.
4. Cattle Farming
A hot button issue with developed nations in particular is cattle farming. This affects the environment negatively in two key ways;
- Grazing Land
In order to provide area for the cattle to eat, large portions of ecosystems are destroyed. This includes, but is not limited to, the Amazon rainforest. Area spanning over a soccer pitch is cleared almost every minute in order to create “agriculture friendly” areas. The area is not used to grow crops but rather to create space for cows to feed. Growing meat demand sadly fuels this process destroying valuable natural environments.
An unfortunate side effect of raising and feeding livestock comes from their methods of digestion. The enteric fermentation process to assist cattle with breaking down their food creates large amounts of methane and ammonia when released through excretion. While grass-fed cattle is considered a sustainable solution, it cannot change the genetic structure required for cows to process food. As long as a cow is involved, the most powerful GHGs are released into the environment further contributing to global warming.
5. Fuel Burning
The burning of fuels is not limited to fossil fuels alone. To run both residential and commercial buildings as well as agriculture and deep sea-fishing activities, conventional fuel sources may not be used. Solid fuel including wood, coal, peat and dung, depending on the economy in question, are commonly used.
The burning of these fuels accounts for 8.2% of all GHG emissions.
Industrial production is machine intensive and the 5th most intensive contributor to GHGs. Especially within the production of cement; for every pound of concrete produced, 0.93 pounds of CO2 is released into the atmosphere and anywhere between 350 to 425 kgs of carbon dioxide per ton produced. The carbon dioxide takes shape when the calcium carbonate used for cement is thermally decomposed. This creates two byproducts; lime and carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide offers no use and is casually released into the environment without regulation or concern.
This means with every high-rise or small building, the problem of global warming gets a little more worse.
It is estimated that between the years 2015 and 2020, over 10 million hectares of forests were destroyed. Why? To make room for new settlements, to gather resources to fuel these settlements and sometimes to create routes to move from one settlement to another. As a result, large numbers of tropical forest trees are destroyed.
The trees act as guardians of clean air. Heavily forested areas are able to absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide and release oxygen into the air as a result of photosynthesis. With larger green areas sacrificed for development, less carbon dioxide is absorbed and as a result contributes to GHGs.
A growing number of ESG compliant organizations have instituted their own small contributions to restoring more flora and plant life to their community areas. This includes tree planting days or switching to paperless offices. These minor changes can have a strong impact at a grassroot level.
8. Gas Flares
Gas flaring explains the combustion process generated while gas and oil are extracted from the earth. These industries use the flare to collect unwanted gases that could potentially be dangerous and release them into the environment with as minimal harm as possible. The same process is also used with pressure regulation in chemical plants and with natural gas wells.
Whenever gas flaring is introduced, toxic pollutants such as sulphur dioxide are released into the air. The impact shows up in the form of environmental concerns including acid rain, but more importantly, on a global scale through contribution to greenhouse gases. This process contributes a hefty 5.3% of greenhouse gas emissions.
An unfortunate side effect of rapid development over the last century is the large amounts of waste. Most of the waste created is not biodegradable, and especially with developing economies, not recycled. Landfills are areas gently lined with clay with a flexible layer of plastic placed over it. Drains and drain pipes are also put in place to collect the liquid (leachate) that seeps out of the waste. Soil is then layered over the waste and another layer of clay and plastic is placed on top ready for the next waste deposit.
With every layer added to the mountain of waste, methane gas is released. Within the UK, landfills are the third-highest contributors to methane emissions. Methane gas is a heavy hitter in terms of GHG emissions and with every landfill that is not looking at more sustainable ways to handle waste, a contributor to global warming.
10. Bunker Fuels
International waters can be a space of safety and harm, especially for the ecosystems and environments it consists of. Bunker fuels are an industry term for ships and flights that traverse areas that are not as heavily monitored as land can be. The emissions from these boats and planes cannot truly be traced back to one country in particular. With lax regulations and monitoring, emissions from these activities contribute roughly 2.2% of worldwide GHG emissions affecting climate change.
If climate change is further neglected and stronger preservation measures aren’t put in place, the world is going to face:
- Erratic weather events caused by changing weather patterns. This in turn will lead to destruction of property and infrastructure, and on a more sensitive end, human life.
- Turmoil around the global economy caused by natural disasters (like tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and other extremes).
- The loss of biodiversity and ecosystems. A large number of flora and fauna are quickly becoming extinct due to activity fueling climate change.
It would be in any person’s best interest to watch their carbon footprint and encourage decision makers to pull together and help remedy the damage caused by rapid industrialization. If measures are taken now and dedication is exercised, there might be hope just yet.
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