We hear a lot these days about climate change, the biggest issue facing the planet. People, animals, and the environment are all at risk. But do we really know what causes it? Carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases are the main drivers of climate change. While climate change cannot be stopped, it can be slowed.
Carbon dioxide is the most common greenhouse gas, responsible for about three-quarters of emissions. It can remain in the atmosphere for thousands of years. Methane, the main component of natural gas, doesn't stay in the atmosphere as long as CO2 - about 9 to 12 years - but it is at least 84 times more potent than CO2 in a 20-year time frame.
Reaching net-zero carbon emissions as soon as possible is needed to avoid the worst consequences of climate change. It means that, on balance, no more carbon is dumped into the atmosphere than is taken out.
What do we need to reach net-zero carbon emissions?
The world needs a massive transformation in how it produces and consumes electricity. We need a newer and better transportation system, stop deforestation, plant new forests, a climate-friendly agricultural system, and finally, federal policies that put a price and limit on carbon emissions.
To reach net-zero emissions, more than simply reduction is needed. We need to actively remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or offset its effects.
Due to human activities, the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide has been rising extensively since the Industrial Revolution and has now reached dangerous levels not seen in the last 3 million years.
87 percent of all human-produced carbon dioxide emissions come from the burning of fossil fuels like coal, natural gas, and oil. The remainder results from the clearing of forests and other land-use changes (9%), as well as industrial processes such as cement manufacturing (4%).
Burning these fuels releases energy which is most commonly turned into heat, electricity, or power for transportation.
The oceans absorb a third of humanity’s carbon dioxide emissions and 90 percent of the excess heat generated by increased greenhouse gas emissions; it’s the largest carbon sink on the planet. If warming seas melt the ice at the poles - where there is a huge amount of carbon stored -, there’s a danger that the oceans will become big carbon emitters instead, with grave consequences for climate change and sea-level rise.
Is there a solution?
The Commission’s proposal to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030 sets Europe on a responsible path to becoming climate neutral by 2050.
Most gas emissions are released when oil, coal, and other fossil fuels are burned for energy - the energy we use to power our homes, transportation facilities, industries, etc. Below are 8 ways we as individuals can do to help mitigate climate change:
1. Power your home with renewable energy.
Heating and air-conditioning account for almost half of home energy use. Make your space more energy-efficient: switch to a renewable energy provider if is possible, or, if you have the possibility, install solar panels.
2. Invest in energy-efficient appliances.
3. Drive a vehicle powered by renewable energy, go by bike or use public transportation.
4. Avoid plastic wherever you can.
Almost every plastic is produced from fossil fuels - and in every single phase of its life cycle, plastic emits greenhouse gases.
5. Sharing is caring.
If we own less and use more things collectively, we need to produce fewer things - and that saves on resources. What can you share? Bikes, cars, clothes, tools, etc.
6. Protect our forests and plant more trees - they absorb and store carbon dioxide.
7. Urge the government to take bold, ambitious climate action now.
8. Eat more plant-based meals. Choose local and organic food when is possible.
The climate is changing - but are you?