• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal

ONE WEEK TO DOUBLE YOUR DONATION!

A generous CounterPuncher has offered a $25,000 matching grant. So for this week only, whatever you can donate will be doubled up to $25,000! If you have the means, please donate! If you already have done so, thank you for your support. All contributions are tax-deductible.
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

How Much Do Humans Pollute? A Breakdown of Industrial, Vehicular and Household C02 Emissions

James River mill, West Linn, Oregon. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

Each year, human beings release an increasing amount of carbon dioxide (C02) into the atmosphere; at present, around 40 billion tons per annum. According to NASA’s Earth Observatory, 8.4 billion tons are attributed to the burning of fossil fuels; primarily coal, gas and oil. The European Commission and Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency lists the most polluting countries (including the EU as a whole and each of its member states). They are China, the US, the EU, India, Russia, Japan, Germany, Canada and Brazil. When measured in terms of per capita emissions, the US and Canada are the biggest culprits, with each Canadian and American emitting an average of >15 tonnes of CO2 per annum (“carbon footprint”). This is a result of commuting, consumption, domestic energy use, leisure and travel.

CO2 accounts for approximate 76 percent of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. The US Environmental Protection Agency says that combustion (of coal, gas and oil) is the main human activity that releases CO2. Electrical production, which uses coal combustion for its generation, accounts for 32.9% of US CO2 emissions. Transport accounts for 34.2%, which is where oil comes in, as most transport (cars, trucks, planes and ships) relies on petroleum. Industry is responsible for 15.4% of emissions and residential/commercial for 10%.

One barrel consists of 42 gallons (159 liters) of oil. Each day, 96 million barrels of oil and liquid fuels are consumed worldwide. This equates to 35 billion barrels a year. Vehicles are significant C02 emitters. The majority of vehicles run on oil. There are 800 million cars in the world. According to Automotive Industry Solutions, there are 253 million cars and trucks in use in the US. There are 234 million cars on the roads of Western Europe in a sector that employs 13 million people. The Union of Concerned Scientists reports that half of all carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides and a quarter of aromatic hydrocarbons, released each year can be attributed to transport. The Union further notes that much of the pollution could be easily reduced by clean vehicle fuel technologies. It’s not just the use of vehicles which causes pollution. The Union also points out that from design, to manufacture, to disposal, vehicle-related pollution is significant.

China’s global CO2 emissions are twice those of US emissions. China equalled and surpassed US emissions more than ten years ago. China’s emissions are largely due to the use of coal and are disproportionately larger than US emissions because of the size of China’s population (there are 1.3 billion Chinese compared to 327 million Americans). Despite having a quarter of China’s population, American per capita CO2 emissions more than double China’s. Personal energy consumption is a major factor. The average Chinese person uses 3,500 kilowatts of energy per hour (kWh) compared with the average American, who uses over 12,000. Personal transportation is another factor. By 2011, in China, there were 68.9 motor vehicles per 1,000 people. In the US, were 786 per 1,000. Consider also the impact of food consumption on emissions. By 2008, the average daily calorie intake in China was 2,900. In the US, it was 3,750.8

Among the poorer countries, the biggest polluters (Brazil, China and India) have the lowest per capita emissions compared to the “developed” nations. By far the least polluting continent is Africa, with some of the most Westernized countries (Algeria, Egypt, Nigeria and South Africa) emitting the most C02. It is also worth remembering that the poor countries serve as providers of resources, including oil and other raw materials for the West. Factories and assembly plants that use a lot of energy pollute because they produce goods for export to Europe and North America, making shipping and air travel big CO2 emitters. Liberia’s shipping exports, for instance, make it a significant polluter.

The more Westernized countries become, the more likely they are to pollute. In the 1980s, China adopted US-style privatization programs, agreeing to huge inflows of US capital. Within twenty years, China had equalled America’s record on annual CO2 emissions. By the year 2000, US corporations were investing $11.14 billion in China. By 2007, they were investing $29.71bn. This leapt to $53.93bn in 2008 and climbed to $65.77bn by 2014.

Much of the so-called investment is internal to US corporations, as companies looking for cheap labour outsource to China and other poor countries. For example, in 2010 the trade journal Manufacturing and Technology News reported that “[h]undreds of major American corporations are shipping thousands of jobs overseas,” where workers’ rights, pay and health and safety standards are lower. Some foreign countries offer huge tax breaks and foreign direct investment. Big companies and their subsidiaries and divisions offshoring to China, Mexico and other poor countries with low environmental standards, include: AT&T, Boeing, General Dynamics, Hewlett Packard, IBM, International Paper, Kingston Technology, Motorola, Nordex, Rockwell Automation, Sony Pictures Imageworks, Staples, Tenneco Automotive and Tyco Electronics.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) estimates that air pollution kills 200,000 Americans every year. MIT’s Laboratory of Aviation and the Environment tracked emissions at ground-level, from industrial smokestacks, vehicles, railways and residential heating. Road vehicle emissions alone kill 53,000 and power generators kill 52,000. California has the worst air quality, with 21,000 persons dying prematurely each year. On average, sulphur, carbon monoxide and other pollutants shorten the lifespans of those affected by a decade. Researchers found that congestion is one of the reasons for large numbers of vehicle-related deaths. Where traffic flows in less populated areas, fewer people are affected. Commercial and private pollution was highest in the Midwest, from the industrialized cities and stretching down to or across Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia and LA.

According to the World Health Organization, 7 million people die each year as a result of exposure to air pollution. This equates to one in eight global deaths. Air pollution is the single biggest environmental health risk and more than doubles previous estimates. Indoor and outdoor pollution are linked to cancer, ischaemic (artery) heart disease and strokes. Poor and less developed countries have the worst air quality, with particularly toxic air in South and East Asia and the Western Pacific. 3.3 million deaths in those regions are attributed to indoor pollution (including work-related air quality) and 2.6 million to outdoor pollution.

Dr. Flavia Bustreo, WHO’s Assistant Director-General of Family, Women and Children’s Health, says: “Poor women and children pay a heavy price from indoor air pollution since they spend more time at home breathing in smoke and soot from leaky coal and wood cooking stoves.” Coal is a particularly bad pollutant, hence its contribution as the second largest cause of air pollution-related deaths in the US. Dr. Carlos Dora, WHO’s Coordinator for Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health, says: “Excessive air pollution is often a by-product of unsustainable policies in sectors such as transport, energy, waste management and industry.”

The pollutants that drive anthropogenic climate change are not only bad for global temperatures and weather, they are bad for human and animal health, too. But hope is not lost. There are major and important changes occurring among grassroots activists, like the Extinction Rebellion, and the possibility of a Green New Deal at the political level. These movements need to endure and expand.

This article is a modified excerpt from my new book, Privatized Planet: “Free Trade” as a Weapon Against Democracy, Healthcare and the Environment (2019, New Internationalist).

More articles by:

Dr. T. J. Coles is director of the Plymouth Institute for Peace Research and the author of several books, including Voices for Peace (with Noam Chomsky and others) and the forthcoming Fire and Fury: How the US Isolates North Korea, Encircles China and Risks Nuclear War in Asia (both Clairview Books).

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
October 16, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
How Turkey’s Invasion of Syria Backfired on Erdogan
Chitrangada Choudhury – Aniket Aga
How Cotton Became a Headache in the Age of Climate Chaos
Jack Rasmus
US-China Mini-Trade Deal: Trump Takes the Money and Runs
Michael Welton
Communist Dictatorship in Our Midst
Robert Hunziker
Extinction Rebellion Sweeps the World
Peter A. Coclanis
Donald Trump as Artist
Chris Floyd
Byzantium Now: Time-Warping From Justinian to Trump
Steve Klinger
In For a Dime, in For a Dollar
Gary Leupp
The Maria Ramirez Story
Kim C. Domenico
It Serves Us Right To Suffer: Breaking Down Neoliberal Complacency
Kiley Blackman
Wildlife Killing Contests are Unethical
Colin Todhunter
Bayer Shareholders: Put Health and Nature First and Stop Funding This Company!
Andrés Castro
Looking Normal in Kew Gardens
October 15, 2019
Victor Grossman
The Berlin Wall, Thirty Years Later
Raouf Halaby
Kurdish Massacres: One of Britain’s Many Original Sins
Robert Fisk
Trump and Erdogan have Much in Common – and the Kurds will be the Tragic Victims of Their Idiocy
Ron Jacobs
Betrayal in the Levant
Wilma Salgado
Ecuador: Lenin Moreno’s Government Sacrifices the Poor to Satisfy the IMF
Ralph Nader
The Congress Has to Draw the Line
William A. Cohn
The Don Fought the Law…
John W. Whitehead
One Man Against the Monster: John Lennon vs. the Deep State
Lara Merling – Leo Baunach
Sovereign Debt Restructuring: Not Falling Prey to Vultures
Norman Solomon
The More Joe Biden Stumbles, the More Corporate Democrats Freak Out
Jim Britell
The Problem With Partnerships and Roundtables
Howard Lisnoff
More Incitement to Violence by Trump’s Fellow Travelers
Binoy Kampmark
University Woes: the Managerial Class Gets Uppity
Joe Emersberger
Media Smears, Political Persecution Set the Stage for Austerity and the Backlash Against It in Ecuador
Thomas Mountain
Ethiopia’s Abiy Ahmed Wins Nobel Peace Prize, But It Takes Two to Make Peace
Wim Laven
Citizens Must Remove Trump From Office
October 14, 2019
Ann Robertson - Bill Leumer
Class Struggle is Still the Issue
Mike Miller
Global Climate Strike: From Protest To Power?
Patrick Cockburn
As Turkey Prepares to Slice Through Syria, the US has Cleared a New Breeding Ground for Isis
John Feffer
Trump’s Undeclared State of Emergency
Dean Baker
The Economics and Politics of Financial Transactions Taxes and Wealth Taxes
Jonah Raskin
What Evil Empire?
Nino Pagliccia
The Apotheosis of Emperors
Evaggelos Vallianatos
A Passion for Writing
Basav Sen
The Oil Despots
Brett Wilkins
‘No Friend But the Mountains’: A History of US Betrayal of the Kurds
John Kendall Hawkins
Assange: Enema of the State
Scott Owen
Truth, Justice and Life
Thomas Knapp
“The Grid” is the Problem, Not the Solution
Rob Kall
Republicans Are Going to Remove Trump Soon
Cesar Chelala
Lebanon, Dreamland
Weekend Edition
October 11, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Becky Grant
CounterPunch in Peril?
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail