Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

Fall 1998


Published in Great Plains Research 8 (Fall 1998): 231-53. Copyright © 1998 The Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska – Lincoln. Used by permission.


Recent international agreements for controlling emissions of greenhouse gases have focused the attention of both the climate research and policy communities on strategies for reducing the production and emission of these radiatively active substances. Most approaches have adopted a "top down" perspective, where mitigation strategies are framed at the level of national governments. However, emissions occur at local, rather than national scales. We describe a study aimed at documenting greenhouse gas emissions from a local area in the High Plains of southwestern Kansas that is currently undergoing marked economic change and population increase in response to restructuring of the meat packing industry. We estimate volume and source of emissions for three greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide, and contrast the relative importance of gas emissions at the local, state, and national level. The relative amounts of greenhouse gas emissions and the processes that produce them were found to vary considerably across these three geographic scales. In the study area, agribusiness is the leading source of methane and the greatest overall contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Utilities and the natural gas industry contributed the largest amounts of carbon dioxide, ranking second and third in overall contribution to greenhouse gas levels, respectively. The proportion of total global warming potential (GWP) contributed by CH. is somewhat higher at the local level than at the state or national levels. Contribution to total GWP by N2O in the local area is roughly equivalent to the larger geographic areas. Overall, the relative importance of various emission sources shows considerable contrasts across scale.