Since the Industrial Revolution and the use of the combustion engine in vehicles, soaring emissions of greenhouse gasses — including carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide — have been the main culprits behind climate change.
To identify the companies emitting the most greenhouse gasses, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the Political Economy Research Institute Greenhouse Index for 2019, the most recent year available, ranking companies by their emission of CO2 equivalent. All other data, including the share of people living below the poverty line and the share of people of ethnic/racial exposed to these greenhouse gas sources, is from the PERI report. (Here are 23 places where industrial air pollution is so bad it causes cancer.)
Major sources of carbon dioxide include fossil fuel combustion, deforestation, and cement production. The sources of methane emissions are fossil fuel production, agriculture, and landfills. Major sources of nitrous oxide are fertilizer application, fossil fuel and biomass combustion, and industrial processes. U.S. companies generate all of these greenhouse gas sources. (Here are foods with the worst environmental impact.)
The U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its sixth report in August 2021 and stepped up its appeal for urgent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Later that year, representatives from 197 nations met in Glasgow, Scotland, at a climate change conference to try and forge an agreement on the measures needed for humanity to avoid the catastrophe forecast by the IPCC if the world fails to limit warming to 1.5ºC, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, above pre-industrial levels.
While many companies are heeding the call to reduce their fossil fuel footprint, energy, mining, and chemical businesses are still running afoul with the Environmental Protection Agency. In 2021, the agency assessed $1.06 billion in penalties, the highest amount in four years. Last year, the EPA got commitments of over $8.5 billion to return facilities to compliance, also the highest total in four years, and 28% of those commitments were to address noncompliance in communities with environmental justice concerns.
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