Climate Change - What does it mean?
When attempting to define something complex, sometimes it is helpful to understand what it’s not first. We often hear climate change and global warming used interchangeably. While certainly related they are not exactly the same thing. Let’s start by defining both in as simple of terms as possible:
Global Warming: The rise in the surface temperature of the Earth over time as a result of increasing greenhouse gases, primarily carbon, in the atmosphere.
Climate Change: The evolution of common weather conditions including precipitation, temperature, winds, natural disasters, etc. on Earth.
In other words, global warming is just one element of climate change. So as we think about the importance of taking a stand against climate change, we are not just talking about stopping the rise of Earth’s temperature to save the arctic and keep our summer utility bills lower. No, we are also talking about mitigating the risk of droughts, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and so much more.
What is my part in all this?
While some natural phenomena like volcanic activity and cyclical ocean patterns like El Nina contribute to climate change, the activity and consumption of humans is the primary contributor. We are generating greenhouse gases (especially carbon) at an incredible rate and removing the Earth’s natural defense against carbon with our deforestation activity.
Our residential, commercial and industrial lives since the early 20th century have largely been powered by the burning of fossil fuels which are the primary contributor of greenhouse gas.
What are Fossil Fuels?
Fossil fuels are formed from the remains of plants and animals from many years ago (at least 10,000) that remained buried and became fossilized over time. Some examples of fossil fuels include crude oil, coal, and natural gas.
These fossil fuels are utilized to fuel our transportation, and produce power for our homes, businesses and factories. According to the U.S. Energy Information Association, these forms of fossil fuels accounted for approximately 80% of the energy consumption in the U.S in 2019. Due to the way fossil fuels are formed, they have a high carbon content that is emitted into the global atmosphere when used - now being defined as greenhouse gas.
What are Greenhouse Gases?
Greenhouse gases are gases in the Earth's atmosphere that create an invisible blanket by trapping heat within the atmosphere. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in 2018 there were 6,677,000,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emitted into the atmosphere.
Of these emissions, carbon dioxide represented 81%, methane reflected 10%, nitrous oxide emitted 7% and the remainder was fluorinated gases. Much of the methane emitted comes from human activities such as commercial farming and landfill off-gassing.
These greenhouse gases know no borders. They stay in the atmosphere long enough to become well mixed, and essentially spread evenly around the globe. Meaning the amount measured at a point in time will be approximately the same all over the world, regardless of where the gas was emitted from.
In other words, the reduction of greenhouse gases should be a global focus that all of us work together to achieve. How can you help?
Can you make a difference by going Carbon Neutral?
By going carbon neutral, you are reducing and offsetting your emissions to the point of effectively emitting net zero greenhouse gases. The first step is reducing emissions to the extent possible.
Start by evaluating your activity and consumption by asking questions like; how much waste and I contributing to landfills? Do I burn off a lot of gasoline by driving my car? How can I reduce my monthly energy consumption in my home?
By becoming more conscious of your footprint and making changes to your daily activity and consumption you can reduce a large part of your footprint. Many of us will continue to rely on fossil fuel powered electricity in our homes and offices to stay warm, cook food, and do our jobs.
For any portion of your footprint that you cannot eliminate until renewable energy production and storage technology improves, you can offset it by supporting gas capture or renewable energy production with carbon offsets.
Every one of us has an important role to play in this global challenge. By better understanding and mitigating your personal contribution to climate change you not only reduce the amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, you set an example for individuals, businesses and governments to make climate risk a priority.