Types of Emissions
There are many different types of emissions released in industry, energy, transportation and agriculture. They are toxic at high levels and lead to global warming, climate change and disease from pollution in the air we breath and water we drink and bath in. By taxing these emissions, we can reduce their release, improving our environment and increasing sustainability of our social and economic systems worldwide.
The first step is to describe all the particles emitted and how they impact the world in which we live.
Most Common Emissions
The most discussed emissions are Greenhouse Gases from energy production (electricity, heating), transportation, industry and agriculture, in that order, with the largest being energy production. Less talked about particulate (smoke) and chemical emissions are detrimental to health and need to be addressed as well. Lets get started:
Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Carbon Dioxide – CO2, Carbon Monoxide
We all know about carbon emissions, and they are often considered the leading cause of global warming. Carbon Dioxide (CO2) and the highly toxic Carbon Monoxide (CO) are emitted from cars, trucks and other transportation, electricity generation, industry and heating through combustion.
Increased Carbon in the atmosphere increases the greenhouse effect, leading to global warming and climate change. Locally, Carbon Monoxide is toxic in lower concentrations when compared to CO2, which is toxic at much higher levels.
Methane – CH4
Methane is released in vehicle emissions, energy generation, and agriculture such as cattle production. Though rarely discussed as a Greenhouse Gas, Methane is 86 times more potent of a contributor to global warming than Carbon Dioxide over 20 years. (source: Wikipedia)
As Global Warming increases, more methane is released from permafrost, speeding up the heating effect. It is said that a reduction in methane emissions would have the biggest impact in reducing the threat of global warming, sea level rise and climate change.
Nitrous Oxide – N2O
If you thought Methane was bad, you for sure won’t like Nitrous Oxide. Pound for pound, it has a Global Warming Value of 298 times that of Carbon Dioxide, and lasts an average of 114 years before being removed from our atmosphere. That means that the first man made emissions from the Ford Model T’s gasoline engine are still in our air to keep us warm today. Lucky for us, it is only about 5 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.
Most N²O emitted from human activity comes from agriculture – animal waste decomposing and synthetic fertilizer creation. With the advent of catalytic converters in motor vehicles worldwide, nitrous oxide emissions have been greatly reduced per vehicle, but still grow due to an increase in automobile usage.
Nitrous Oxide has many commercial uses – as an anesthesia (laughing gas lol), as a fuel oxidizer for jet propulsion and racing, or as a food additive for aerosols or preservative in food packaging. Some people use it to get high, but that is just plain stupid. Use of N2O doesn’t necessarily remove it from the atmosphere. Burning it will leave nitrogen, and opening the packaging releases it into the air.
Fluorinated gases unnatural compounds and are not found in nature. They are used as a refrigerant in air conditioners, refrigeration units and commercial cooling. Though the least emitted greenhouse gas in volume, flourinated gases have a devastating impact on global warming, with multiples of up to 22,800 times that of Carbon Dioxide. Flourinated gases also stay in our atmosphere the longest, from several hundred years to 50,000 years for some PFCs (Perfluorocarbons).
Fluorinated gases are man made and only emitted through our devices – leaks, service and disposal of devices that use them. Because of the nature of their emission and high impact to the environment, many steps have been made to limit or ban their use worldwide.
Many types flourinated gasses exist, but the four main emissions are Hydrofluorocarbons (HFC’s), perfluorocarbons (PFC’s), Sulfur Hexafluoride (SF6) and Nitrogen Trifluoride (NF3) (source – EPA – Pre-Trump)
Smoke is caused by the inefficient burning of a fuel or substance. It is consists of fine and coarse particles of solids/liquids, toxic chemicals, and the greenhouse gasses described prior. Smoke turns to dust when it loses it’s heat energy, but can also come to the decomposition and dispersion of substances like paint, mining ect in addition to dust from ground surfaces.
Chemical emissions can be hazardous to human health at high concentrations and have been know to lead to respiratory conditions, heart disease and cancer. For our purposes we are not including greenhouse gases in this category of emissions.
Chemical emissions tend to concentrate around cities and industry where people live and work. Since these toxic chemicals are not taxed, much cost is subsidized by our healthcare system and environment.
Humans emit greenhouse gases and other types of pollution into our air, water and earth through industrial production, commercial and individual use. Here are the top sources of emissions in the US and most developed countries, in order from greatest to least impact on Global Warming.
Greenhouse gasses, particulate and other pollution (sulfur, lead, ect) is emitted by power plants burning coal, natural gas, and oil to generate electricity for homes, businesses and government organizations.
Transportation emissions are just under equal to electricity generation as a source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Because car and truck emissions are localized, urban areas have been plagued for over a century, causing health problems like the increase in asthma rates as urban areas propagate.
Emissions from Industrial activity account for 21% of all greenhouse gas emissions in 2014, according to data released from the Environmental Protection Agency. These numbers do not calculate the particulate and chemical emissions released from factories, refineries and mining processes.
Commercial and residential emissions consist of greenhouse gases, particulates and chemicals released into the air and water from heating, cooling, waste treatment and products used at homes and businesses such as solvents, refrigeration leaks and aerosols.
Along with stretching our fresh water supply, growing food emits a considerable amount of greenhouse gases and other pollution. Raising livestock, cattle being the most detrimental, emits a tremendous quantity of methane into the atmosphere. The fertilizer used in their feed and ours as well, emits a larger portion of agricultural greenhouse emissions in the US, accounting for more than half in that subcategory.
With emissions from agriculture on the rise, we should be implementing the currently available emission capture technologies to obtain fuel from the byproduct of livestock digestion.