As discussed last week, life on Earth depends on energy coming from the Sun. The greenhouse effect has protected life on Earth from unlivable cold conditions for as long as life has been here. To keep greenhouse gases in perspective, we need to remember greenhouse gases are a good thing, but only as long as there are not too much of them. The purpose of this article is to simply describe which greenhouse gases are most likely to get out of balance with nature. Up until recently, nature has kept things in balance.
The main greenhouse gases described last week are water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, ozone, and nitrous oxide. The last three are the most potent and pose the greatest threat at a molecular level but, fortunately, there is not much concentration of them in the atmosphere. The culprit growing the fastest and upsetting the balance which nature has maintained is carbon dioxide (CO2). See the graph below which shows the growth.
The atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide has been rising since the Industrial Revolution. Data collected by NASA’s orbiting satellites and other measurements indicate the level of CO2 has reached a dangerous level not seen in the last 3 million years. Some of the data is debatable but very large numbers of scientists have reached a consensus about the impact and the role of humans. Human sources of CO2 emissions are much smaller than natural emissions but their growth has upset the natural balance which had existed for many thousands of years before the Industrial Revolution.
The natural sources of CO2 added to the atmosphere include when organisms respire (exhale) or decompose, carbonate rocks (mostly limestone) break down by weather, from forest fires, and eruption of volcanoes. The human sources of carbon dioxide emissions include the burning of oil, coal, and natural gas, cement production, and deforestation (3.5 to 7 billion trees cut down per year). Almost 90% of all human-produced carbon dioxide emissions come from the burning of fossil fuels.
Multiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals show at least 97 percent of actively publishing climate scientists agree the climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities. The 3% have a voice and they get heard, but mostly not believed. Most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing the consensus position. (I wasn’t so sure some years ago, until I read some books on the subject).
Many global issues, perhaps most, don’t have consensus. On the subject of emissions and global warming, the consensus is very solid. If you go along with the consensus, the logical question is what can you or your organization do to reduce carbon emissions.
One individual, Jeff Bezos, the wealthiest man on Earth, has made a number of statements on what to do. In September 2019, he announced a massive new commitment to fight climate change called The Climate Pledge. He said Amazon will work to drastically reduce its carbon emissions with the ultimate goal of becoming carbon-neutral by 2040. In other words, for every ton of CO2 the company’s trucks and warehouses and other activities emit, the company will do things to equally reduce emissions by the company or assisting others to do so. He is one of a growing list of business leaders who believe rising greenhouse gases will have catastrophic effects on climate change. His $10 billion pledge is 10 years earlier than the most ambitious version of the Paris agreement.
The pledge doesn’t mean Amazon will have zero carbon emissions. Part of the pledge will be met by offsetting emissions, by planting trees or using other carbon capture technologies. Amazon is transitioning to electric delivery vans and tapping renewable energy to power its operations.
In addition to a $2 billion fund for “decarbonizing” technologies, Amazon announced on Thursday of this week it had acquired the naming rights to KeyArena, which will play home to a new Seattle based NHL hockey team and the Seattle Storm professional basketball team. Most stadiums are named after the company who bough a sponsorship (e.g. Verizon), but Jeff Bezos wanted to highlight the importance of fighting climate change.
The plan is to convert the arena into an all-electric building powered by renewable energies, including solar. Ice for NHL games will rely on reclaimed rainwater. All events will use durable and compostable containers enabling the arena to divert 95 percent of trash away from landfills.
But what about us individuals? What can we do to reduce our personal carbon emissions, known as our carbon footprint? And how can we determine the size of our footprint? Next week, I will explain the answers.