Cars drive through water along Commercial Street Southeast on September 10, 2019. (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

More than half the greenhouse gases generated by Salem residents comes from either how they get around or what they eat, according to a new report that’s part of the city’s climate change effort.

Last month, the city released a consumption-based greenhouse gas inventory that looked at how much goods consumed, and services used by Salem residents contributed to climate change.  

DOCUMENT LINK: Consumption-based greenhouse gas inventory

Using 2016 data, the report looked at the greenhouse gases associated with the production, transportation and disposal or various goods and services.

Verdis Group, an environmental consultant, calculated that Salem residents purchased goods and services that contributed 4.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2016, the equivalent of 913,043 cars driving for a year.

The inventory comes as Salem is the process of creating a climate action plan. Understanding the sources of greenhouse gases is expected to help the city set goals aimed at reducing its carbon footprint.

The findings of the inventory were presented at Wednesday’s meeting of the Salem Climate Action Plan Task Force, a 40-member panel tasked with guiding the city’s initial efforts.

During the meeting, Brian Harmon with Verdis Group said each Salem resident’s consumption habits are responsible for 20 metric tons of carbon dioxide each year, equivalent to driving nearly 50,000 miles in a car in one year.

Harmon said local emissions track with other American and Western European cities that have to import goods and often don’t produce food within city limits.

Food waste is a significant source of greenhouse gases because of the emissions associated with producing, transporting and storing food that isn’t eaten, the inventory notes.

The inventory singles out beef production because of its large carbon footprint associated with feeding cattle and methane released in manure.

Meat and dairy account for 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization.

In 2019, the city looked at greenhouse gas emissions generated within city limits. That inventory found that more than half of Salem’s emissions came from vehicles.

Patricia Farrell, Salem's parks and natural resources planning manager, said the 2019 inventory is probably more important in guiding the task force. But she said the more recent inventory that takes into account emissions produced outside Salem city limits paints a more complete picture of the source of greenhouse gas emissions.

Vehicles and parts contributed to 29% of greenhouse gases and food and beverages another 22%, according to the most recent inventory.

The consumption-based inventory takes into account not just emissions from driving to purchase a new item but also those associated with manufacturing goods overseas and shipping them.

The inventory said that looking at emissions associated with goods and services is a less commonly used. But it is increasingly being used by local governments to better understand how the choices and behaviors of individuals affect climate change. 

Have a tip? Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected]

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