Hint: look in the mirror.
People, not Industry, are Biggest U.S. Energy Consumers
It’s probably no surprise to most of us that the burning of fossil fuels to generate energy is the primary cause of global climate change. However, you may be surprised to learn that the biggest consumers of energy, and thus the greatest polluters, in the United States are not factories, trucks, jets, or ships, but rather, individuals. At home, traveling by car, and at work, Americans collectively are responsible for more than 50 percent of all energy consumption in the United States: 21 percent at home, 18 percent at the office and almost 15 percent in their cars. Industry accounts for around one-third of energy usage. The remaining 13 percent is used in the transportation of goods and for leisure travel.
The figures below explain in detail where Americans use energy.
Fossil Fuels Dominate U.S. Energy Sources
Nearly 90 percent of the energy consumed in the United States comes from fossil fuels: petroleum, coal, natural gas and propane, with petroleum being America’s largest energy source. The United States consumes 24 percent of the world’s total petroleum output. However, it produces only 10 percent of the world’s oil. Because of this, around 58 percent of U.S. petroleum is imported. Most comes from the Western Hemisphere, mainly Canada and Mexico. However, we import oil from the Persian Gulf, other OPEC members and Russia. The chart below shows reports U.S. energy consumption in 2007 by source.
For additional information on US energy use and sources, see http://tonto.eia.doe.gov/energy_in_brief/major_energy_sources_and_users.cfm
Energy Combustion Creates Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Nonrenewable fossil fuels, which supply nearly 90 percent of U.S. requirements, are the primary source of carbon dioxide emissions. CO2 is the most prevalent greenhouse gas, and greenhouse gas emissions are a learing cause of global warming (link). Because U.S. consumers are the biggest users of energy, collectively their impact on global warming cannot be ignored.
Figure 1 below shows which sectors and which fuels emit the most CO2.
|Figure 1||Figure 2|
Figure 2 notes that electricity production is dominated by coal, which emits the highest CO2 levels per BTU of all fossil fuels. For that reason, large research and development programs, both public and private, are directed towards developing a “clean coal process,” i.e. a coal that burns without a carbon footprint. It is hoped that “clean coal” will be created through the process of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS). (See “Clean Coal Controversy”) However, the promise of this concept is subject to much controversy.
United States Leads the World in CO2 Emissions
It is no surprise that the world’s developed countries are the largest per capita sources of carbon dioxide emissions. (See Figure 1 below.) Modern economies rely on energy production for most features of modern life, including electricity, transportation and manufacturing.
However, many developing countries, especially China, have also emerged as large CO2 emitters. (See Figure 2 below.) China relies heavily on coal for energy production, and, since coal is the most-polluting of fuels, China ranks first in CO2 emissions, slightly ahead of the United States. Together, China and the United States account for more than 60 percent of CO2 emissions worldwide.(US Energy Information Administration, “Table E.1 ( World Primary Energy Consumption (Btu), 1980-2006”)
This information might lead to the erroneous conclusion that China is a greater polluter than the United States. The truth is closer to what Figure 1shows; China ranks near the bottom in CO2 emissions on a per capita basis.
On a per capita basis, the United States far exceeds China in CO2 emissions;, Americans individually emit more than four times as much CO2 as the Chinese. Also, while China has been developing as an industrial nation over the last 20 years, the United States has been a major industrial power and polluter for the last 100 years. Thus the USA and other developed countries are largely responsible for most of the manmade CO2 that already threatens our climate.
And U.S. residents, , having grown accustomed to the conveniences of modern living, have become the world’s greatest consumers of energy and, thus, the greatest contributors to global warming.
Figures 3 and 4 below give a more accurate image of how the United States compares with China. They also show how the United States and China compare with the other OECD countries and non-OECD countries with respect to CO2 emissions in the past, as well as projected into the future. (The OECD countries are the 30 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, established in 1960. It includes the United States, but not China.)
So, what can you do?
You can become an ambassador to help prevent climate change.
- Support appropriate legislation.
- Think locally, act locally
- Think individually. Be a role model. Be Green. See section.