The Car & Australia's Official Greenhouse Inventory

Where does Australia really stand on greenhouse?

A definitive reality check on Greenhouse emissions is embodied in the Federal Government’s National Greenhouse Inventory (NGI), which is produced by the Department of Environment and Heritage. The report uses the official Kyoto accounting provisions to quantify Australia’s total Greenhouse emission and its predominate sources dating back to 1990. All this can be yours for the princely sum of a Google search and a PDF download (which is one of the really neat things about living in the information age). But be warned: when you open it, cue the Twilight Zone theme music on your MP3 player, because its truths are stranger than any fiction Stephen King could dream up. Try these 2004 Greenhouse emission highlights from left-field:

Passenger cars manage to emit just seven per cent of Australia’s total Greenhouse emissions. That’s right – cars are just one-fourteenth of the Greenhouse problem.

Down Under, cows and sheep fart almost 60 per cent more Greenhouse gas than passenger cars. (For credibility’s sake the official NGI report uses the term ‘enteric fermentation’ rather than ‘fart’, but the cumulative, inelegant rear-end emissions of methane remain unadulterated.) This is despite the drought and the massive decline in livestock numbers over the past 15 years.

Nationally, de-forestation releases more carbon-dioxide into the air than cars do – almost 30 per cent more.

Electricity generation is revealed as the real dark overlord of Australian Greenhouse emission, accounting for more than one-third of total Greenhouse gas production (195.2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide annually) – almost one-third of the problem overall.

Greenhouse emissions from passenger cars make up a little more than half of all transport-related emissions.

Greenhouse is a serious problem, but passenger cars tend to punch well above their weight in the perceived responsibility stakes. Australia’s Greenhouse emissions in 2004 were equivalent to 564.7 million tonnes of carbon-dioxide (CO2). Passenger cars emitted ‘just’ 41.7 million tonnes of CO2-equivalent – comprising just 7.4 per cent of the problem. (All the non-carbon-dioxide Greenhouse emissions – like methane and oxides of nitrogen – are equated to CO2 in the report, so apples can be compared with apples.)

When you add electricity generation (195.2 million tonnes) to the Greenhouse gasses released when coal is mined (21.3 million tonnes) you get a massive 216.5 million tonnes of Greenhouse emissions – 38 per cent of the Greenhouse problem. Coal-fired electricity, formerly touted as ‘clean’, is anything but. Its contribution to Greenhouse is five times greater than the car.

As a nation we love our cars, but it seems we are also having a mad, passionate, caution-to-the-wind affair with our air conditioners, our night lights, dishwashers and an endless supply of hot water.

If the recent past is anything to judge the future by, this disparity is set to become even greater. According to the NGI report, Greenhouse emissions from electricity generation have risen sharply in the past 15 years. In 2004, electricity generation emissions were up 50.8 per cent compared with 1990. In the same time, however, passenger car Greenhouse emissions rose just 18 per cent – in large part thanks to the car industry’s commitment to cleaning up its emissions act.

The web is knee-deep in Greenhouse-reduction advice, most of it well-intentioned; much of it ill-conceived. If you want to enjoy your motoring and do the right thing, Greenhouse-wise, it’s some comfort to know that the two objectives are not mutually exclusive. The bottom line: if we can collectively cut passenger-car Greenhouse emissions by one-third (by driving hybrids instead of SS Commodores, by walking to work or catching the train, whatever) we will make a 2.5 per cent dent in our national Greenhouse output. However, the same reduction could be achieved simply by reducing our consumption of electricity by just seven per cent – something many of us could do merely by nudging our thermostats up a smidge in summer and down in winter, by turning off lights in unoccupied rooms (and CBD offices), by powering down those unused appliances and by taking shorter showers.

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John CadoganComment