Big Data and Climate Change

Big Data continues to march forward by touching an increasing number of segments of business and science so it should be no surprise that climate science researchers are now using these technologies to gain better insight into anthropogenic sources of climate change. A new paper was recently published in the journal Climatic Change that uses historical data all the way back to 1854 in order to identify the biggest producers of fuels driving climate change. The author, Richard Heede of Climate Accountability Institute in Snowmass, CO, reported that just 90 companies worldwide produced fuels that generated two-thirds of industrial greenhouse gas emissions from 1854-2010. The companies include investor owned corporations and state-owned oil companies. The top five producers over the last 150 years are Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Saudi Aramco, BP and Gazprom (the Russian company that is the world’s largest natural gas producer). Two major U.S. coal and natural gas companies, Peabody Energy and Consol Energy, were among the top 20.

The study attributes 914 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases to the fuels extracted by the companies, which is 63% of the total 1,450 billion metric tons of emissions since the mid-19th century. In addition, the study found that of the 914 billion metric tons, half was pumped into the atmosphere since 1986.

These are the companies and institutions that have created the products – used as intended – by billions of consumers that have led to persistently higher levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide and methane,” Heede said.

Heede and his research team spent eight years tracing data about companies using a variety of data sources -   annual production data on crude oil and natural gas liquids (NGLs), natural gas, coal, and cement were gathered from company annual reports, or were supplemented with data from company 10-K filings with the SEC, company histories, entity websites, annual compilations, trade journals, publications from many nation-state governments, international agencies, and numerous other sources.

The plot below summarizes the findings by showing emissions by ownership category over time.

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