New Online Mapping Tool From U.S. EPA Provides Line-of-Sight Into GHG Data
A new online tool from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency provides quick access and visual presentation of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions data across the country. Released on Jan. 11, 2012, the tool (creatively called GHG Data) lets you slice and dice according to the various GHGs, by range of emissions, and by type of facility. It lets you drill down to examine GHG emissions at the state and county levels, and even down to the individual facility.
Gina McCarthy, assistant administrator for EPA’s office of air and radiation, calls GHG Data “a transparent, powerful data resource available to the public” and “a critical tool for businesses and other innovators to find cost- and fuel-saving efficiencies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and foster technologies to protect public health and the environment.”
The online tool provides a visually-based window into newly-available GHG data. Thanks to EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program, launched in 2009, large GHG sources and relevant suppliers have to report their emissions yearly. The most current data available come from 2010 reporting. EPA set up the reporting program in response to the 2008 Consolidated Appropriations Act (H.R. 2764, Public Law 110-161). The EPA rule establishing the program allows the collection of “accurate and timely GHG data to inform future policy decisions.” While having little influence on policy decisions, humble environmental bloggers also appreciate the availability of this data and the accompanying visualization toy.
The 2010 dataset provides emissions data for nine industry groups:
- Power plants
- Metals manufacturing
- Mineral production
- Petroleum refineries
- Pulp and paper manufacturing
- Chemicals manufacturing
- Government and commercial facilities
- Other industrial facilities
For 2011 data, EPA is adding reporting requirements for 12 more groups:
- Electronics manufacturing
- Fluorinated gas production
- Magnesium production
- Petroleum and natural gas systems
- Use of electric transmission and distribution equipment
- Underground coal mines
- Industrial wastewater treatment
- Geologic sequestration of carbon dioxide
- Manufacture of electric transmission and distribution
- Industrial waste landfills
- Underground injection of carbon dioxide
- Imports and exports of equipment pre-charged with fluorinated greenhouse gases or containing fluorinated greenhouse gases in closed-cell foams
The dataset does not cover 100 percent of GHG emissions for the country. Only direct emitters of 25,000 metric tons or more of CO2 equivalent per year are required to report, along with suppliers of certain fossil fuels and gases. Requiring these suppliers to report allows the inclusion of fuels that don’t get burned at a single facility but that get distributed around the country and burned locally. One example would be gasoline. GHG data incorporates reporting from over 6,700 entities.
GHGs that are included in the data include carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide (N2O), methane (CH4), and several fluorinated industrial gases: PFC-14, PFC-116, and HFC-23. The online tool allows you to investigate emissions of each gas. CO2 accounts for by far the largest share of GHG emissions at 95 percent, followed by methane at 4 percent.
The data show that power plants make up by far the largest type of emitter, with 72.3 percent or 2,324 million metric tons (MMT) CO2e. (GHG measurements are often bundled together in one “carbon footprint” expression referred to as “carbon dioxide equivalent,” or “CO2e.”) The next largest group of emitters is refineries with 5.7 percent or 183 MMT CO2e, followed by chemical facilities with 5.4 percent or 176 MMT CO2e.
This is a long-awaited moment—we can track where and which are the biggest producers of carbon pollution, especially carbon dioxide (CO2) and other GHGs, right in our backyards. You can now find out some of the major sources of carbon pollution and other GHGs in your state in 2010 – and see the relative contributions of power plants and other large facilities.
Worldwide GHG Emissions Growing Rapidly
According to Glen P. Peters and colleagues at the Global Carbon Project, writing for Nature, worldwide CO2 emissions leaped by 5.9 percent in 2010, after a 1.4 percent drop in 2009 due to the 2008-2009 financial crisis. (See “Rapid growth in CO2 emissions after the 2008–2009 global financial crisis,” Glen P. Peters, Gregg Marland, Corinne LeQuéré, Thomas Boden, Josep G. Canadell, and Michael R. Raupach, Nature Climate Change, Dec. 4, 2011.)
For the first time, CO2 emissions reached 9.1 petagrams (Pg, or 1015 grams) yearly, they write in their article. They write that “This is the highest total annual growth recorded, and the highest annual growth rate since 2003 (and previously 1979).”
Peters attributes the increase to post-crisis conditions: “strong emissions growth in emerging economies, a return to emissions growth in developed economies, and an increase in the fossil-fuel intensity of the world economy.”
Global Warming Attributed to GHG Emissions
By far the majority of climate scientists are convinced that increasing GHGs in Earth’s atmosphere are causing the global temperature to rise. The 2007 Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) from Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) says that
Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level… Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic [human-caused] greenhouse gas concentrations.
According to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, several factors point to the reality of global warming:
- Land surface temperature is rising.
- Sea surface temperature is rising.
- Air temperature over the oceans is rising.
- Lower troposphere temperature is rising.
- Ocean heat content is increasing.
- Sea level is rising.
- Specific humidity is rising in tandem with temperatures.
- Glacial ice is decreasing.
- Northern hemisphere snow cover is decreasing.
- Arctic sea ice is shrinking.
A recent study from the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project (BEST, or Berkeley Earth) confirmed that global surface temperature is rising. Richard Muller, scientific director of BEST and principal author of the study, was previously a skeptic about global warming because of questions about the accuracy of temperature monitoring stations. However, the new study corrected for the suspected errors. BEST announced in October 2011 that “global warming is real” and that the study “finds reliable evidence of a rise in the average world land temperature of approximately 1º C since the mid-1950s.”
Muller wrote in the Wall Street Journal,
When we began our study, we felt that skeptics had raised legitimate issues, and we didn’t know what we’d find. Our results turned out to be close to those published by prior groups. We think that means that those groups had truly been very careful in their work, despite their inability to convince some skeptics of that. They managed to avoid bias in their data selection, homogenization and other corrections.
Global warming is real. Perhaps our results will help cool this portion of the climate debate. How much of the warming is due to humans and what will be the likely effects? We made no independent assessment of that.
I’ve written previously here at ThomasNet Green & Clean about the controversy over human-caused global warming. To review previous articles, take a look at:
Have you used the new EPA GHG Data tool? What do you think? How might it be useful? Please feel free to use the comment space below to express your ponderings, measured opinions, thoughtful reflections, or demented ravings.