Saturday, October 29, 2016

90 companies accountable for more than 60 percent of greenhouse gases

Just 90 companies are accountable for more than 60 percent of greenhouse gases

Dan Drollette, Jr. is a science writer/editor and foreign correspondent who has filed stories from every continent except Antarctica.

There’s a tendency to think that when it comes to climate change, we’re all equally at fault—and if everyone is to blame, then no one is to blame. But now it’s possible to identify the contributions of individual companies, thanks to the work of researchers such as Richard Heede. What he found is revealing: A handful of companies bear a lot more responsibility for climate change than others, having pumped much more carbon into the atmosphere.

And Heede proved this by spending nearly 12 years collecting and analyzing data from a variety of publicly available sources, pinning down which companies have contributed what percentage of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution—and then named names. Sometimes working alone for long periods while squirreled away in a houseboat on San Francisco Bay, Heede laboriously put together a sort of enormous jigsaw puzzle of facts, painstakingly chasing down obscure skeins of data to come up with the big picture.

Some of the results were astonishing, such as that the number of companies responsible for the majority of the carbon in the atmosphere was so small that “[Y]ou could take all the decision-makers and CEOs of these companies and fit them on a couple of Greyhound buses.” He’s found that although there are thousands of oil, gas, and coal producers around the world, just 90 entities are responsible for 63 percent of all the industrially produced carbon dioxide and methane being emitted into our atmosphere.

And nearly half of that carbon was pumped into our atmosphere in just the past 30 years.

Read more in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

… but I would say that there are actually more like 83 companies that are responsible for the bulk of climate change, plus seven countries for which we didn’t have any corporate data—for things such as Chinese, Polish, and North Korean coal production, for example. I called these companies and countries the “carbon majors” in my paper for Climactic Change. But our focus was really on the corporate sector, whether it be state-owned oil companies—such as those in Saudi Arabia, Norway, Venezuela, to name a few—or investor-owned companies.

I do this in part by drawing upon a corporate history we have built of fossil fuel production converted to carbon dioxide emissions by consumers who buy the products that ExxonMobil, Chevron, and everybody else distributes and markets.

Obviously, the focus was on oil, gas, and coal companies, but we also included six cement companies.

BAS: Cement companies?

Heede: Oh yes, definitely. Their emissions were certainly large enough to meet the minimum threshold to be included in our study, which was 8 million tons of carbon per year.

BAS: How do cement-makers pump carbon into the atmosphere?

Heede: In the industrial cement-making process, you heat calcium carbonate to make cement, which drives off carbon dioxide as an industrial waste product. And I’m only counting the carbon that is driven off in the cement-making process as an industrial waste product; that’s not including the considerable energy input it takes to get and keep the kilns hot enough to make cement, whether it be the burning of coal or tires or the use of electricity or what have you to create the heat.

The cement-making companies contribute a significant amount. I forget the exact ratio but it’s about a ton of CO2 for each ton of cement. And they’re making millions of tons of cement per year, so you’re obviously talking about cement-making companies producing millions of tons of carbon. Globally, the cement companies account for 3-to-4 percent of global industrial emissions.

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