“The chance of averting catastrophic climate change is slipping through our hands with every passing year that nations fail to agree on a rescue plan for the planet.” — Greenpeace International director Kumi Naidoo, at the Durban, South Africa Climate Change Conference in 2011.
Reducing Greenhouse Gases
Climate scientists agree that climate change is a global problem that must be attacked by a unified world with a single goal. All nations must come together to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, getting nations to agree on anything has proven to be difficult. A few ideas have been proposed and in some nations are being enacted.
The first attempt to cap greenhouse gas emissions was the Kyoto Protocol, which climate scientists agree did not do enough in terms of cutting emissions or in getting nations to participate. The Kyoto Protocol set up a cap-and-trade system. Cap-and-trade provides a monetary incentive for nations to develop technologies that will reduce emissions and to conserve energy. Some states and cities within the United States have begun their own cap-and-trade systems.
The United Nations Climate Change Conference meets in a different location annually. Although recommendations are made each year, the group has not gotten the nations to sign on to a binding agreement. By doing nothing we are doing something - continuing to raise greenhouse gas levels and failing to prepare for the coming environmental changes.
The easiest and quickest way is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to increase energy efficiency. One effective way to encourage efficiency is financial. A carbon tax can be placed on CO2 emissions to encourage conservation. The tax would be placed on gasoline, carbon dioxide emitted by factories, and home energy bills so people or businesses that emit more carbon would pay more money. This would encourage conservation since when people purchase a new car, for example, they would be more likely to purchase an energy-efficient model. The money from the carbon tax would be used for research into alternative energy sources. All plans for a carbon tax allow a tax credit for people who cannot afford to pay more for energy so that they do not suffer unfairly.
New technologies can be developed, such as renewable sources that were discussed in Concept Natural Resources. Biofuels can replace gasoline in vehicles, but they must be developed sensibly (Figure below). So far much of the biofuel is produced from crops such as corn. But when food crops are used for fuel, the price of food goes up. Modern agriculture is also extremely reliant on fossil fuels for pesticides, fertilizers, and the work of farming. This means that not much energy is gained from using a biofuel over using the fossil fuels directly. More promising crops for biofuels are now being researched. Surprisingly, algae is being investigated as a source of fuel! The algae can be grown in areas that are not useful for agriculture, and it also contains much more usable oil than crops such as corn.
A bus that runs on soybean oil shows the potential of biofuels.
Carbon Capture and Sequestration
If climate change becomes bad enough, people can attempt to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere after they are emitted. Carbon sequestration occurs naturally when carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere by trees in a forest. One way to remove carbon would be to plant more trees, but unfortunately, more forest land is currently being lost than gained.
Carbon can also be artificially sequestered. For example, carbon can be captured from the emissions from gasification plants and then stored underground in salt layers or coal seams. While some small sequestration projects are in development, large-scale sequestration has not yet been attempted.
This type of carbon capture and sequestration comes under the heading of geoengineering. There are many other fascinating ideas in geoengineering that people have proposed that are worth looking at. One wild example is to shadow the planet with large orbiting objects. A large mirror in orbit could reflect about 2% of incoming solar radiation back into space. These sorts of solutions would be expensive in cost and energy.
Just as individuals can diminish other types of air pollution, people can fight global warming by conserving energy. Also, people can become involved in local, regional, and national efforts to make sound choices on energy policy.
biofuel: A fuel made from living materials, usually crop plants.
cap-and-trade system: A monetary system that encourages conservation and development of alternative energy sources. A cap is put on a nation's allowed carbon emissions and nations can trade for rights to emit carbon pollution.
carbon sequestration: Removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, so that it does not act as a greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.
carbon tax: A tax placed on energy sources that emit carbon to discourage their use and to raise funds to research alternative energy sources.
- A cap-and-trade system gives nations a cap on the greenhouse gas emissions they're allowed and allows them to trade allowances with other nations so that they can meet their cap.
- A carbon tax taxes carbon emissions to encourage conservation.
- Carbon capture and sequestration is a geoengineering solution for removing excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Use this resource to answer the questions that follow.
1. What is the purpose of carbon sequestration?
2. What are the three pillars of the Global Climate Change Initiative?
3. What is CCS?
4. What is CCS being used for today?
5. What type of stone is carbon dioxide pumped into? Why?
6. What are cap rocks? Why are they important?
1. Why would a carbon tax be effective at reducing greenhouse gas emissions?
2. How does a carbon tax not penalize people who can't afford to pay more for fuel and other items?
3. What are the advantages and disadvantages of using geoengineering solutions to reduce climate change rather than things like cap-and-trade or a carbon tax?