Study: Most greenhouse gas emissions come from elsewhere

March 13, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

Officials said greenhouse gas emissions produced by goods and services from outside King County double the collective carbon footprint for the region.

The study, titled “Greenhouse Gas Emissions in King County” and released Feb. 8 by County Executive Dow Constantine, said emissions related to the production of food, goods and services from outside the county pose a challenge. Emissions from local sources increased 5 percent in King County between 2003 and 2008, but per-person emissions decreased during the same period, in part due to reduced driving and vehicles’ increased fuel efficiency.

In King County, per-person sources of greenhouse gas emissions amount to half the national average, due to clean energy sources and the types of industry in the region.

Overall, greenhouse gas emissions from producing goods and services, including materials and manufacturing, comprise more than 60 percent of all emissions related to consumption. Then, using goods and services — such as fueling a car or powering a refrigerator — represents more than 25 percent of consumption-based emissions.

Combined, transporting, selling and disposing of goods and services represent less than 15 percent of consumption-based emissions.

On the Web

Read the study, “Greenhouse Gas Emissions in King County,” at www.kingcounty.gov/environment/climate.

The largest sources of emissions rank almost equally — personal transportation contributes 16 percent of overall emissions and food contributes 14 percent. Services — such as banking and health care — contribute 14 percent. Goods — such as furniture and electronics — also contribute 14 percent. Meanwhile, home energy usage contributes 13 percent.

Though buildings and transportation infrastructure remain key sources of greenhouse gas emissions, production and consumption of food, goods and services also influences the region’s carbon footprint.

“This new study changes the way we look at our carbon footprint,” Constantine said in a statement. “The bottom line: Buying local is not only good for our economy. It’s good for the planet as well.”

The study also outlined the role King County and other local governments play in curbing emissions. Local officials call most shots on land use, recycling and transportation planning. The study lauded the county for enacting policies to encourage more sustainable practices.

Officials adopted policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prepare for the effects of climate change in long-term county plans. The effort includes a program to capture methane gas from decomposing garbage at Cedar Hills Regional Landfill near Issaquah and sell emissions credits to Puget Sound Energy.

K.C. Golden, policy director for Seattle-based Climate Solutions, a nonprofit organization focused on practical and profitable solutions to climate change, called the emissions study a significant step forward.

“How can any single community take meaningful responsibility for the ultimate global challenge: climate change? With these new inventories, King County is breaking new ground in answering that vital and difficult question,” he said. “This report represents a genuine breakthrough for communities that want to deeply understand — and seize — their opportunities to deliver effective climate solutions.”

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