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  • Writer's pictureGunnar Garfors

Fido and Facebook Filthier than Flying

Approaching Ushuaia, the world’s southernmost city, in Argentina.

Yes, so I fly. A lot. Does that make me a bad person? The reason why island nations around the world are “sinking“? One of the most wanted people alive for crimes against climate?


But some so-called environmental activists take pride in claiming so. Why? Well, flying is an obvious target. Everyone can see the exhaust on the sky, planes are noisy and aviation is booming. 2014 was for instance the first year in history with over 100,000 commercial flights. Per day.

But let us look at the numbers. I am using Ecofys’ flowchart of emissions from 2010 (the last one available) plus some other sources. Numbers tell us that the total output of emissions was 48,629 million tons. A number so high it is pretty much only beaten by the US national debt.

Do note that to get totally accurate numbers is impossible, as figures are from various reports made at different times, and that some only look at CO2 and not at the other less know greenhouse gasses. The overall picture should still be fairly representative, although not scientific.

1. The Industry 29% The industry is the worst perpetrator, as far as emissions go, contributing by almost a third. Probably not surprising to most. And aviation is not considered an industry, in this case. But the internet is. The ICT industry emitted 830 million tons of CO2 in 2013, according to Centre for Energy-Efficient Telecommunications (CEET) and Bell Labs. And let us not forget pets. They pollute a hell of a lot more than you might imagine, although there aren’t much info on this available. There are a billion cats and dogs on the planet, I won’t even start to try count canary birds, turtles and hamsters. German Bild refers to a report by Climate Partner, saying that each cat emits 2.2 tons of CO2 every year, a dog a little less, while The Guardian compares dogs to much driven Land Cruisers (dogs are worse). Let us be conservative and say that pets account for half of this, given that many of them live in developing countries and that they are not fed industrialized pet food. That is still over a billion tons of CO2 a year.

Selected industries, split up (percentages in total of all emissions): Non-metallic minerals: 6.0% Iron and steel: 4.8% Chemical and petrochemical: 4.3% Pet industry: 2.2% Non-ferrous metals: 1.4% Internet (ICT): 1.7% Food and tobacco: 1.1% Paper, pulp and printing: 1.0%

2. Buildings 18% Next out, number two on who to blame for global warming, are buildings. Yeah, you know, those places where we live and work. To keep them warm (heating), cold (air conditioning), or just about average (heating and air conditioning) takes a lot of energy. Almost a fifth of all emissions, in fact. Which means that we have already isolated almost half of emissions.

Buildings. split up (percentages in total of all emissions): Residential buildings: 11% Commercial buildings: 7%

3. (shared) Land-use change and Transportation 15% each Third place is shared between transport and emissions from land-use change. Both contribute to 15% of emissions. Land-use change includes deforestation and emissions from agricultural soils. Whereas transport naturally includes planes. Aviation accounts for 10% of all transport emissions, almost half of that of shipping, whereas road transport is to blame for 70% of transport emissions. The remaining is divided between others mode of transport, such as rail. You can of course argue that there are many more people travelling by road than by air, and that ships transports much more goods than planes, but it just isn’t realistic or even feasible to transport people and goods everywhere without planes. Those of us that travel a lot may not even have a car. I don’t.

Land-use change, split up (percentages in total of all emissions): Deforestation/Afforestation and Land Use CO2: 10.3% Agricultural soils: 4.4%

Transportation, split up (percentages in total of all emissions): Road: 10.5% Shipping: 2.7% Aviation: 1.5%

5. Energy supply 13% To get hold of that oil, gas and coal, not to mention processing it, takes a lot of energy on its own. And there is a fair amount of losses too.

Energy, split up (percentages in total of all emissions): Energy industry own use & losses 8.3% Oil and gas extraction, refining and processing 3.1% Coal mining 1.8%

6. Agriculture 7% Yes, those nice cows, elegant horses and cute pigs do fart a lot. To eat steak pollutes a lot more than you think. Do also take into account that the meat must be processed, kept cool and transported to you too.

Agriculture, split up (percentages in total of all emissions): Livestock and manure: 5.5% Agricultural energy use: 1.4%

7. Waste 3% Getting rid of everything that has contributed to emissions won’t help either. Landfills emit a lot on their own. So does waste water.

Waste, split up (percentages in total of all emissions): Waste water and others: 1.6% Landfills: 1.3% I will repeat some of these, to better pinpoint and compare various emission sources that are familiar to most.

Road transport: 10.5% Livestock and manure (meat production) 5.5% Maritime transport: 2.7% Pet industry: 2.2% Internet: 1.7% Aviation: 1.5% Food and tobacco industry: 1.1% Paper, pulp and printing industry: 1.0%

Airplanes still the worst? I do certainly fly a lot, and I don’t mind being verbally attacked by wannabe environmentalists over it. Unfortunately many of them are hypocrites, being much bigger contributors to emissions than me.

Of course maybe they just forgot to look at the numbers before seizing the opportunity to criticise a frequent flyer and globetrotter. Or perhaps they didn’t have time in between driving their car, feeding their pet, enjoying a delicious steak, surfing the internet or buying groceries or food produced in a country far, far away.

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