The 5 big sources of CO2

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One of the biggest hurdles in reducing carbon emissions is that there are so many different sources of CO2. Our entire economy is built around fossil fuels, so the only way to fully reduce our carbon emissions, is to address each and every one of these sectors. There are roughly five sectors, which contribute in comparable amounts to carbon dioxide emissions:

  1. Energy production. Producing electricity is responsible for around a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions. So while we need to switch to renewables, this alone will not solve the climate crisis.
  2. Industry. Another quarter of the green house gases emitted come from industry. This is a very diverse family of polluting processes, such as manufacturing, waste treatment, mining, food processing, construction and concrete usage. 
  3. Transport. Both individual transport (cars, passenger planes) and the transport of goods (international shipping, trucking, ...) contribute significantly to carbon emissions.
  4. Buildings. Heating and cooling buildings is a very energy-intensive activity. In large part, better performing buildings are needed to limit these costs.
  5. Agriculture. Agriculture is a massive source of carbon emissions. Large contributors here are meat production, deforestation with the purpose of agriculture, and food transportation. 

Reducing emissions

An effective climate policy must address all these different sectors equally, not just one. There is no one-size fits all solution for these different sources of carbon emissions. On the other hand, some sectors are easier to address than others, simply because their clean alternatives are more affordable. For the five sectors mentioned above:

  1. Energy production is one of the 'lowest hanging fruit' when it comes to climate action. Renewable energy has in many cases already passed the point of being cheaper than using fossil fuels to produce electricity. The largest hurdles is therefore not really financial, but more political. Investment into clean energy is needed, and an end must be made to the fossil fuel lobby that keeps pushing to use polluting, more expensive fossil fuels for the production of energy.
  2. Industry pollutions are so diverse, that a carbon tax is probably the best way to gradually push these different sectors towards cleaner alternatives. Another approach is to redistribute the revenue of this carbon tax amongst citizens as a small but universal monthly income. Called either "climate income" or "carbon fee and dividend".
  3. Transport. Clean transport is actually close to being possible at the same cost as fossil fuels. For individual transport, electric cars are at the point of being cheaper than gas cars if maintenance and fuel costs are taken into account. Electric trucking will probably be solved next, while aviation and shipping still face significant obstacles before clean alternatives become viable.
  4. Better insulated buildings allow to drastically reduce heating and cooling costs, with the added benefit of higher comfort and living quality. The cost reduction of better insulated buildings is significant, so this is another sector where climate action actually is profitable. So here too, the largest hurdle is not cost but simply good policy. Governments have to facilitate the needed renovation works, put in place the right regulations, train skilled workers, and make initial capital available to make this investment.
  5. One of the significant opportunities for agriculture is to reduce meat consumption. The reason is simply that the largest share of agricultural activity (majority of land usage, energy usage, deforestation) serves to produce meat. Most food is simply grown to feed animals for consumption, while meat provides a relatively minor share of the nutritional energy intake of the global population. Here again, a powerful lobby acts behind the scenes to prevent a change in the status quo. 

Asking politicians for change

So many solutions exist to drastically reduce carbon emissions. Oftentimes the real thing preventing a transition to clean alternatives are the strong lobby forces acting behind the scenes. These lobbyists do everything they can to slow down and prevent change, or to convince people and politicians that green alternatives are more expensive or not achievable. 

There is no one-size-fits all to address these issues. If citizens define the most powerful policy proposals per sector, and push these proposals one by one, the climate movement will become more powerful, more goal-oriented and less easily misled by vague promises or political actions that makes little difference.

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