A Simple Question
Recently, there was a question asked very simply “What is the solution for global warming?”
The answer to this question is relatively simple: eliminate the use of fossil fuels in every area of society possible and stop greenhouse gas emissions from other sources such as deforestation and agriculture. However, the size of each of these pieces of the solution is often unclear, so here I will provide a breakdown of what climate change means and what the solutions are on a high level. In future posts, we will dig more deeply into the solutions themselves.
What is Climate Change
Climate Change is the general term for a complex set of changes happening to the environment of our planet.
These changes in the environment primarily include:
- More heat energy trapped in the atmosphere
- More heat energy trapped in the oceans
More heat energy trapped in our planet means that the average overall temperature of the planet is rising over time, and thus the term “global warming.”
The reason for the additional heat trapped in the atmosphere and in the oceans is the creation of greenhouse gasses by humans. Greenhouse gasses prevent heat from escaping the Earth. Planet Earth has always had a greenhouse effect, however human activities have increased the amount of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, leading to an increased amount of heat being trapped – this warms the planet.
Main causes of greenhouse gas emissions are:
- Burning and extraction of fossil fuels
- Deforestation, land use and agriculture
A graph from NASA observations of the planet’s atmosphere shows the levels of Carbon Dioxide from the last 400,000 years:
Consequences of Climate Change
According to NASA, climate change has several main effects:
- Increased average global temperatures
- Warming oceans
- Sea-level rise
- Increased extreme weather events such as extreme disasters
- Ocean acidification
- Shrinking ice sheets, shrinking glaciers and reduced snow cover
Climate Change is driven primarily by the use of fossil fuels and secondarily by greenhouse gas emissions through deforestation, agriculture and other less prominent causes.
The primary way to solve global warming is to eliminate the role of fossil fuels in modern society wherever possible. This means transitioning to renewable and carbon-free energy sources such as solar, wind, and hydro which cause less than 3% of the greenhouse gas emissions of fossil fuel energy sources.
Secondarily, deforestation should be prevented and replaced with sustainable forestry and land-use practices. Because plants breathe in carbon dioxide and store it, they actually remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Therefore, in the simple sense, there are two ways to solve climate change.
- Reduce and stop emissions of greenhouse gases including Carbon Dioxide, Methane, and Nitrous Oxide
- Remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by allowing forests, the oceans and other natural systems to act as carbon sinks – which is what they naturally do. We can encourage this removal of greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere by ending deforestation, ocean habitat destruction and promoting sustainable forestry.
In practice, preventing the emissions of greenhouse gasses means that the following actions must be taken:
- Transportation must end reliance on fossil fuels – must be powered by clean electricity. 28.5% of 2016 emissions in the USA are from transportation.
- Electricity production must come from clean energy sources such as hydro, wind, and solar. 28.4% of 2016 emissions in the USA are from electricity production.
- Industry must learn to capture emissions from chemical production, cement production and utilize green energy for all energy needs. 22% of 2016 greenhouse gas emissions in the USA are from industry.
- Residential and Commercial owners must become efficient with heating and cooling of buildings, as well as utilizing green energy such as solar and wind. 11% of 2016 greenhouse gas emission in the USA are from residential and commercial users – primarily from heating and electricity use.
- Agricultural practices must be improved to use fewer fertilizers, less industrial production of beef, and better sustainable agricultural practices such as sustainable crop rotation and reduced tilling of the soil (which releases carbon). 9% of 2016 greenhouse gas emissions in the USA were from agriculture.
- Land Use and Forestry – cutting down trees not only releases the carbon stored in that tree and in the soil, but also prevents that tree from taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere during the course of its life. Sustainable forestry and land use lead to carbon dioxide being taken out of the atmosphere.
The solution to reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is a worldwide commitment that must be enacted across nearly every sector of industry and personal choice. Fortunately, the technology to switch to renewable energy such as solar and wind is readily available, and is now cheaper in most places than energy coming from fossil fuels such as coal and gas. The switch to renewable energy will solve a large piece of the puzzle, if we can act fast enough to implement.
In 2015, 195 parties signed the Paris Agreement, which is a commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to prevent the worst aspects of climate change from ever taking place.
Governments, companies and individuals all play a role in solving climate change.
- Governments can set effective regulations to reduce carbon emissions such as a carbon tax
- Companies can commit to sustainable sourcing (look at IKEA for inspiration on sustainable wood sourcing, or Apple for renewable energy use)
- Individuals can commit to reducing their carbon emissions through simple actions like: driving a well-maintained, fuel-efficient vehicle, putting good insulation on their homes and purchasing new heating systems, switching to low-cost energy efficient appliances and lights and turning every electronic device off when it’s not in use.
In addition to reducing our carbon footprints, we can all also take the additional step of offsetting the emissions we cannot prevent through carbon offsets. Carbon offsets projects are projects that prevent greenhouse gas emissions and provide a mechanism for individuals and companies to take direct action on climate change.
We can all play a role in solving climate change in many areas of our lives: citizen, worker, individual. The fundamental premise is: reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Sources used in this article: NASA, EPA, NOAA
Graham Majorhart is the founder of Carby Box, the first way to become carbon neutral in 1-click through Amazon.com.