One of the most commonly used words in relation to climate change is ‘CARBON’. But it’s used in many forms, sometimes as part of the problem and sometimes as part of the solution. Let’s take a look at all the ways in which it’s involved with climate change.
1. Carbon Compounds
The earth’s atmosphere contains certain greenhouse gases (GHGs) that help maintain the earth’s temperature of 16°C. Without them, the earth’s temperature would be 0°C, not ideal for human beings. The trouble is human activity is increasing the levels of some GHGs. Gases like carbon monoxide (CO), carbon dioxide (CO2), methane are increasing in the atmosphere and reversing the function of what GHGs are meant to do. Instead of keeping the earth’s temperature at a good average, it’s now driving it up and causing climate change. This makes carbon (and its compounds) the most valuable player in the climate change process.
2. Carbon Emissions
It all started when we started industrializing in a BIG way back in the late 1800s. We started requiring energy to run our cars, our factories, and night lamps. All this energy came from burning fossil fuels like coal and natural gas and when fossil fuels burn, they release carbon compounds. Now in the 21st century, with our larger population and exponential industrialization, an average person emits about 35,000 – 45,000 pounds of CO2 in a year! If we continue to emit carbon at the rate that we are now, humanity won’t make it to the 22nd century. The emissions need to go down ASAP.
3. Carbon Footprint
Reducing your footprint just means using less non-renewable energy. On an individual level, there’s a lot you can do. Vehicles like cars and buses emit about 4.7 metric tons of CO2 every year. Meanwhile, an average home refrigerator and air conditioners consume 20% of the total electricity responsible for individual carbon footprints. But these are things that directly contribute to your footprint, and probably ones you’ve already heard about. There are indirect contributors too. Eating meat vs. being vegetarian, wearing cotton vs. wool, living in a house made of stone vs. cement. Every little thing matters. So measure your footprint and make some lifestyle changes.
4. Carbon Credits
In 1997, at the Kyoto Protocol, the international community came together to create a system where each country could reduce their footprints without compromising on their development goals. According to this system, each country issued a budgeting number of credits, each of which allows them to emit one ton of carbon. Countries can then trade these credits with each other if they need to exceed their allowance. This way, at least the overall global emissions can be controlled. This tradable permit system for carbon emission has been great for companies and individuals looking to check their footprints as well. Thus this credit system is definitely a solid solution.
5. Carbon Sequestration
This is the opposite of carbon emission. If we were to find ways to absorb carbon at the same rate as we are emitting it, the net effects of climate change would reduce. One way of sequestering carbon is by using carbon sinks. Forests are the best natural expandable sinks. Due to photosynthesis, trees absorb CO2 and release oxygen, the ideal natural way of cleansing the atmosphere. Countries are actively expanding their sinks in order to sequester as much as possible. India has promised to cover 33% of its area with forests to sequester 2.5 billion tonnes of carbon by 2030.
Also, read an explainer on the market of carbon credits.