Who are the Big Polluters?

By Dave Cromarty, retired forester and Landcare facilitator

One afternoon a couple of years ago, I was walking along King street in Sydney’s Newtown when I was approached by a young student campaigning for the Australian Conservation Foundation. My normal reaction in these circumstances is to be too busy to talk and walk on, but this was the first day of my retirement from a 40+ year career and I now realised I did have time and would quite enjoy a conversation with a bright young student.

Quickly our conversation fell to climate change and carbon emissions and he informed me that households are only responsible for 17% of emissions within Australia. He was a little vague around these figures, but the point was clear – it’s the “Big Polluters” that are responsible for most of our emissions. I remained a little uncomfortable, conscious of the fact that these big companies are also big potential employers of my children’s generation and, as a new retiree, probably also a big part of my superannuation portfolio.

So my new friend and I explored in a little more depth who these Big Polluters were, and how we could influence their behaviour. We weren’t sure of the figures at the time but we reasonably surmised that a big part of the problem was in the energy sector. In fact 33% is in electricity generation, 17% in stationary energy and a further 17% in transportation. Theremaining third is accounted for by fugitive emissions from mining, industrial processes, agriculture and waste.

While only a relatively small amount of the energy is consumed directly at the household level, we quickly agreed that all these emissions are driven by consumer demand. Nor can we avoid the issue by buying imported products. That merely shifts the emissions to another part of the globe and adds more transportation to the equation. Ultimately we all share the same atmosphere.

The conclusion we had to draw was that each of us, as consumers, need to look at the emissions being caused by ourdaily purchasing decisions. Of course we should continue to move to renewables, but in the meantime, if it took a lot ofelectricity or heat to produce or had to travel a long way to reach us, then chances are it caused more than its fair share of carbon emissions.

To borrow from a poster from the first Earth Day in 1970 – “We Have Met the Enemy and He is Us”.