Home » Climate Change » It’s the Fossil Fuel, Stupid

It’s the Fossil Fuel, Stupid


How do Missourian’s create greenhouse gas emissions? It’s the fossil fuel, no doubt about it.

Per Capita by SourceThe graph at right shows GHG emissions by source for 12 Missouri communities that have conducted GHG inventories. Each column represents a community, and within each column, the colors represent a different GHG source. Blue represents electricity, and it is the largest source of GHG emissions in most communities. Red represents gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel, and it is the next largest source of GHG emissions. Green represents natural gas, and it is the third largest.

We generate electricity mostly by burning coal, which is a fossil fuel. Thus, burning fossil fuel in different ways constitutes the first, second, and third largest sources of GHG emissions. Combined, they total as much as 99% of emissions in some of the communities.

Electricity was the largest source of GHG emissions for every community except Kirkwood and Richmond Heights, where gasoline and diesel represented the largest source.

Why so much GHG from electricity? There are several reasons:

First, we use tremendous amounts of it. For instance, in 2009, Missourians used about 79.7 billion kWh of electricity. How much is that? Enough to drive a Prius around the world 3.8 million times! Electricity is very flexible. We use it to power everything: air conditioning, elevators, lights, stoves, ovens, industrial processes, electric motors, pumps, phones, computers, TVs, sound equipment, medical equipment – everything.

Second, we use it inefficiently. The energy efficiency of coal-burning power plants has averaged 33% over the last decade, and that’s before the electricity leaves the plant. More energy is lost during transmission, and still more is lost by the equipment that consumes it. Only a small part is used for its intended purpose.

Third, in Missouri we generate about 80% of our electricity by burning coal, and coal is the most GHG intense of the fossil fuels. (Missouri Electricity Profile, May 2012, EIA,  http://www.eia.gov/electricity/state/missouri.)

You may have heard various rumors about where GHG emissions come from – just the other day I heard a city official propose that it came from cows. But in the communities that conducted GHG inventories, it’s the fossil fuel, no doubt about it.


For links to the GHG inventories from the 12 jurisdictions, see my previous posts on each one. Here’s a link to a list of previous posts.

Missouri population is from Part 1. Population of the United States and Each State: 1790-1990, http://www.census.gov/population/www/censusdata/Population_Part1.xls.

County populations are from Table 1. Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for Counties of Missouri: April 1, 2000 to July 1, 2009, http://www.census.gov/popest/data/counties/totals/2009/tables/CO-EST2009-01-01.xls.

Municipal populations are from Table 4. Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for Incorporated Places in Missouri: April 1, 2000 to July 1, 2009, https://www.census.gov/popest/data/cities/totals/2009/SUB-EST2009-4.html.

Missouri’s total electricity consumption: Missouri’s Total State Electricity Bill at a Glance, Missouri Department of Natural Resources, www.dnr.mo.gov/energy/utilities/eia-electricity.htm.

Convert kWh of electricity to gallons of gasoline: 2012 Nissan Leaf, http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/noframes/32154.shtml.

Energy efficiency of power plants: Frequently Asked Questions, Energy Information Agency, http://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=107&t=3.

Geographic areas are from the Wikipedia article for each location.

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