Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

In Oregon, what we buy emits more greenhouse gases than what we do

Posted by on November 2nd, 2011 at 2:31 pm

In the shop with Joseph Ahearne

The shop of a local bike builder.
(Photo © J. Maus)

A new report issued by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality shows that there are more greenhouse gas emissions from products we buy than through driving, making electricity, or other activities. This “consumption-based” analysis of GHG emissions seems like yet another great example of why we should buy bikes made in the U.S.A. and why local and state politicians should work even harder to promote local bicycle manufacturing. (OK, even if I’m stretching to link this report to bicycling, I still think it’s interesting, so hopefully you’ll read on…)

The report, Consumption-Based Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory for Oregon – 2005 (PDF), is the first ever study to estimate the carbon emissions footprint from all products consumed by one state — ranging from food and beverages to clothing and appliances.

Here’s more from a story yesterday on OPB (emphasis mine):

“The most common way to track greenhouse gases looks at what’s emitted within a state’s borders. The latest analysis suggests that products created out-of-state account for more than half of Oregon’s carbon footprint.

The new inventory finds that local sources of emissions make up less than half of the carbon Oregon consumers are responsible for.

The rest consists of imported products – coffee from South America, clothes and toys from China, cars made in Japan or Tennessee… the study suggests local products have smaller carbon footprints – but maybe not for the reason that people would assume.”

The OPB story goes on to quote a DEQ spokesperson who says the reason isn’t because of shipping distances, but that it’s about the much cleaner production processes used in the U.S. and that fuel used in U.S. manufacturing contains less carbon than in other countries.

“In short,” reads the report, “because Oregon imports more goods and services (particularly emissions-intensive products, such as vehicles) than it exports, its share of global greenhouse gas emissions is greater than the emissions released within the state.”

This is an important new way to look at GHG emissions. the researchers recommend that states and local governments, “should adopt methods of counting greenhouse gas emissions that allow them to assess the emissions implications of consumption-related decisions over which they have influence.”

While there are always limitations and exceptions to reports like this, it could add momentum to “buy local” efforts. And in Portland, where we have a thriving industry of locally-made bicycle frames, parts, and accessories, perhaps local leaders will use this report as leverage to do more to promote and support them.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you — Jonathan

  • Antload November 2, 2011 at 7:22 pm

    Thanks Jonathan. Great topic.

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  • Rainfish Umbrella November 2, 2011 at 8:32 pm

    I agree, that while it is nice to have things from afar. We neglect our own capacity to meet our needs localy stifled by the mire of regulation foisted by city, county, and state governments.

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    • joe adamski November 2, 2011 at 9:59 pm

      Really believe that?

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  • 9watts November 2, 2011 at 10:39 pm

    Buy used, buy local, or better yet don’t buy it. Barter, make, fix, share. Bikes fit this approach much better than cars, cause there ain’t no local or used gasoline.

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  • GlowBoy November 2, 2011 at 11:08 pm

    With bicycles though, wouldn’t most of the energy and GHG footprint be in the production of the components (generally not done here) and of the tubing (also generally overseas) rather than in the welding together of the tubing?

    Not to demean locally made products — just speculating, and there are plenty more good reasons to buy local, both in terms of bikes and other products and services. (And for the record, I am the proud owner of a welded-in-Oregon bike myself).

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  • Mike November 3, 2011 at 1:09 am

    Locally made bikes aren’t affordable. Why would I want to spend several thousand dollars on a retro looking bike?

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    • Hugh Johnson November 3, 2011 at 6:25 am

      yeah buy local and spend two grand on a frame alone. Would be nice but a little out of most people’s budgets. Perhaps a Occupy movement is in order.

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  • Al from PA November 3, 2011 at 4:26 am

    Sorry to say it, but you would have to factor into the carbon footprint calculation the per capita carbon consumption of all the workers who make the product. Workers in the US, thank goodness, have a much nicer lifestyle and a corresponding higher energy consumption per capita than do workers in China. Unless a factory in the US is much more productive–turning out, say, way more bikes per capita than a factory in China–this will have a marked negative effect on the carbon footprint of the US product.

    Unfortunately, as we all know, bike factories in the US are much less productive than those in China. We tend to produce high zoot hand crafted bikes that require many person hours. Compare, say, the person-hours that go into a Seven or a Waterford–or a Richard Sachs!– to the number involved in manufacturing an entry level Giant.

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    • kevin November 3, 2011 at 10:39 pm

      factories in china have no environmental regulations. keep that in mind.

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  • Hazel November 3, 2011 at 8:25 am

    Most locally made bike frames use parts made overseas. Besides manufacturing practices and shipping , all these parts come with lots of packaging and almost every part comes shipped in its own plastic bag.

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    • 9watts November 3, 2011 at 8:29 am

      you folks are funny. Why tie yourselves in knots over the fact that new bikes/bike tubing is made abroad? Craigslist is full of used bikes that, it could be argued, have already amortized (much of) their carbon footprint before you get a chance to buy them. If that isn’t good enough, stick with the bike you already have. If you’re concerned with the environmental cost of purchases, there are a lot of readymade (& cheap) solutions out there, folks.

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      • kevin November 3, 2011 at 10:41 pm

        if people actually end up supporting your utopian mass exodus from driving that advice has zero value.

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  • GlowBoy November 3, 2011 at 12:21 pm

    Good point, 9watts. There was a time just a couple years ago where decent, used, non-stolen bikes could not be had for reasonable prices on Portland craigslist. Haven’t kept an eye on the used market lately myself, but maybe things have calmed down now.

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  • Bill November 3, 2011 at 7:32 pm

    many of the local builders are using tubing made here in the good ol USA. there are several medium sized bike frame manufacturers that send tubing to China from US tubing manufacturers to have their frames built with to ensure better quality raw materials.

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  • was carless November 4, 2011 at 1:20 pm

    Although, per dollar GDP, Japan uses about half the energy the US does when making stuff. [source]

    Still, industrial processes in the USA only consume 22.7% of energy [source]

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  • Shozo November 6, 2011 at 8:22 pm

    Just so we don’t defraud anyone, according to the legal definitions of “bicycle” and “Made in the USA”, there are no new bicycles which are made in the USA. In fact, there have probably not been any for 30 years.

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