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    Everything That's Causing Global Warming, In One Handy Graph

    Written by

    Brian Merchant

    Senior Editor

    Image: Wikimedia

    We're frying the planet; everyone but the end times rapturists and Republicans knows that much by now. We know we're spewing out so much carbon dioxide and methane that we've drastically amplified the greenhouse effect, and that we're not slowing down. We know global warming. 

    But most of us probably don't know the details. The ingredients that we're mixing up to make the mess. Like, how, exactly, we manage to emit so much planet-strangling, frankenstorm-birthing heat-trapping gas, anyway. This dandily informative flowchart from Ecofys, recently updated with 2010 emissions data, tells the sordid tale.

    (Here's the full-sized version, which is kind of a necessity)

    Coal and oil get the lion's share of the spotlight as our chief climate change problem children, and for good reason; both are deeply entrenched in our industrial society, both are fossil fuels, and both are probably the most difficult to pivot away from. Burning coal alone accounts for 25% of the planet's warming—it's closer to 50% of its total carbon emissions—and oil is 21%. 

    The useful thing about this graph, though, is that we're then treated to a window of how these carbon sources are tied to crucial industrial and social functions, and how closely interlinked and therefore how massively difficult to unlink they are. As David Roberts notes at Grist, "Industry uses coal for high-heat operations like coking for steel production and it’s difficult to replace that kind of thing with electricity." That's a tough one indeed.

    The vast majority of our oil is pumped directly into the vast majority of our cars, and that's another 15% of the problem. Energy-guzzling residences and commercial buildings are another 20%.

    And, as you can see here a full third of global warming is caused by "direct" emissions—methane emitted by agriculture and waste degradation, and our nasty habit of chopping forests down, which releases the CO2 they were storing before we ship them off to Home Depot. 

    Hope this is getting clearer: carbon is deeply entangled in every sector that runs our lives right now. Fighting this thorn-studded, planetary kudzu will mean hacking away at all of it. Obviously, that means killing coal-fired power plants, and replacing them with solar, wind, and/or nukes. But it means getting combustion engine cars off the road, too. And pivoting towards more sustainable agriculture. And stopping deforestation. And cracking down on power-draining houses. And.

    So there are a lot of planet-improvement projects that must be undertaken. But each of them is worth doing. Remember, we already live in a 400 ppm world—and that's a world on the brink. If we don't draw down those numbers rapidly and drastically, it's going to get worse. A lot worse