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Johnson County reveals its first-ever greenhouse gas inventory
Report authors found a 28 percent decrease in emissions between 2010 and 2020, largely thanks to cleaner and more efficient energy usage
Greenhouse gas emissions decreased around 28 percent in Johnson County from 2010 to 2020, the first-ever county-wide greenhouse gas inventory revealed. The new report can serve as a baseline for further reductions.
Some human activities release greenhouse gases — such as carbon dioxide and methane — that rise into the atmosphere and trap heat. They are causing the climate to change faster than ever before in known history.
“They genuinely are a threat to life on Earth,” said Becky Soglin, the Johnson County sustainability coordinator and project co-lead. “Because of those effects, we want to be able to reduce the emissions.”
The report has been in the works for about a year. She worked with staff from the University of Northern Iowa Center for Energy and Environmental Education to complete the inventory. First, they collected data from different sectors — like energy usage and road travel. Then, they calculated emission total from the data. And they finished the project by reviewing and interpreting their findings.
They found that the more than quarter decrease in emissions was largely due to residential, commercial and industrial energy being generated more by wind power than coal. Energy equipment also became more efficient. Emissions from the commercial and industrial energy sectors — the top contributors in 2010 — dropped by about half by 2020.
Overall, most sectors saw their emissions decrease by at least 25 percent. Solid waste was the only sector that increased its emissions contributions. That increase was consistent with the county’s population growth and is a relatively small contributor to the emissions inventory.
Emissions from transportation only decreased about 2 percent, which is difficult to interpret since 2020 was the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, Soglin said. The sector became the new top contributor.
“When you look at what's most dominant, that tells you one thing. But you still need to address the other sectors,” Soglin said. “Just because the sector is a smaller piece of the pie relative to all the sectors measured, it doesn't mean there's no work to do in that area.”
There is a caveat to the findings: They can only speak to the available data, which didn’t include all emissions. Some calculations were too complex or time-consuming, or the data wasn’t available.
“It's harder to do at a county-wide level because you're dealing with a greater geographic area and multiple jurisdictions,” Soglin said. With the report’s breadth of data, it couldn’t differentiate emissions levels per jurisdiction.
She also helped calculate a target for reducing emissions in Johnson County.
Using science-based calculations and estimated population growth, the report authors found that the emissions in the county need to be reduced from 2020 levels by more than half by 2030. That’s a 56 percent decrease overall. The county board of supervisors will ultimately decide what target they will set for the county.
The report includes recommended next steps, like spreading awareness about the inventory and creating a climate action plan.
“We live at a standard of life that produces more greenhouse gases,” she said. “If we're going to look at what our fair share is in our heavily industrialized nation, then we would want to try to decrease (emissions) by 56 percent.”
Brittney J. Miller is the Energy & Environment Reporter for The Gazette and a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues.
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