Friday, April 18, 2008

Harris County #1 CO2 Emitter

I was a bit sad, but not surprised, to see that the results of a first ever county by county comparison of CO2 emissions showed Harris County (Houston) to be the number one CO2 polluter in the country. Harris County was able to just beat Los Angeles for the top spot. This is applicable for me as I have recently accepted a job in downtown Houston starting next fall.

The Houston Chronicle article does point out that industry is a large part of these emissions (54%) from petroleum and chemical manufacturing. 26% of the emissions are from vehicles. This is favorable when compared to Los Angeles as more than half of LA’s emissions are from vehicles.

I did think one of the quotes in the article was pretty humorous and unfortunate. Bill White’s (mayor of Houston) health policy director (Elana Marks) was quoted as saying “People [Houston residents] shouldn’t feel guilty about this…but they should pay attention to the data and realize that we all have a part to play in reducing our carbon footprint”. I’m guessing that what she means is that since most of Harris County’s CO2 comes from industry, the fact that Harris County is #1 is out of people’s control and thus is no fault of Harris County residents – it’s just a result of the fact that industry is located in the Houston area. While I do partially agree that residents can’t control the location of refineries, it’s pretty irresponsible to suggest statements like these from a political leadership position. Residents need to be more than just mindful of their CO2 emissions, they need to be proactive and political leaders need to reinforce the message that CO2 emissions need to be controlled/reduced in the interests of our environment. Everyone plays a role in this responsibility from driving vehicles to using electricity in homes, etc.

1 comment:

Ross Tomlin said...

I am a former Houston resident and have spent some time working in the Texas Medical Center and volunteering with the Sierra Club to raise awareness about the cornucopia of pollutants that run amuck, due partly to industrial pollution and also to vehicular pollution: ozone, particulate matter, CO, NOx, sulfur dioxide, lead, volative organic compounds, and hazardous air pollutants (HAP). We've got it all!

One of the nastier HAPs out there is 1,3 butadiene, which is 6X more prevalent in the Houston region than in Los Angeles. 1,3 butadiene is a carcinogenic byproduct of synthetic rubber manufacturing, which happens quite a bit along the Houston Ship Channel, not far from residential neighborhoods. More research is apparently needed to gauge the human reproductive and developmental effects from this HAP, but animal studies have shown 1,3 butadeine indeed leads to birth defects.

On a related note (if not so much energy-related), just a bit south, on Galveston island, researchers are taking note of the abormally high preponderance of lead. Children who live in Galveston have 4-5X higher blood-lead levels (largely as a result of contact with contaminated paint) than the national average, putting them at increased risk of neurological disorders and other long-term effects.

Connecting the health ramifications with energy generation is one that isn't made enough, I fear. Partly because policymakers get so hung up on the economics of energy options, and partly because the diffuse health effects are difficult to pin on the culprit. The numbers are staggering, however: Asthma alone accounts for over two million emergency room visits, 5000 deaths, and 14 million missed school days per year in the United States, totaling more than $14 billion in health care costs and lost productivity -- numbers that are going nowhere but up and coming at a time when the health care system is already strained to a breaking point (EPA). How much sicker do we need to get before we begin putting 2 (energy) + 2 (health) together?