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8.32: Reducing Greenhouse Gas Pollution

Difficulty Level: Basic Created by: CK-12
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What can the polar bear do?

Polar bears evolved to hunt from ice. As arctic ice melts polar bears are having a harder time finding food. Polar bears can adapt to finding food in other locations, like garbage dumps. But they can't do anything about reducing global warming. Humans create greenhouse gas emissions and so humans can reduce those emissions. It's not too soon to get started.

Climate Regulations

The Clean Air Act of 1970 was crucial for reducing air pollution in the United States. The Clean Water Act of 1970 did the same for reducing water pollution. The Montreal Protocol was even more important in some ways. This treaty was the first time many countries came together to solve a problem. They created a good plan for reducing substances that destroy the ozone layer.

A treaty similar to the Montreal Protocol is needed for regulating greenhouse gases. The Kyoto Protocol was passed in 1997. The Protocol focuses on controlling greenhouse gas emissions. Many nations have signed the protocol. One that did not and has not is the United States. The U.S. is currently the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases after China. Kyoto is set to expire and must be replaced.

At the 2011 United Nations Climate Change Conference, agreed to create a legally binding treaty. The terms will be defined by 2015 and the treaty will go into effect in 2020. There are many organizations that think that this is too vague and too slow.

A stricter agreement must be reached very soon. By doing nothing we are doing something - continuing to raise greenhouse gas levels and failing to prepare for the coming environmental changes. Efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions are mired in politics. Meanwhile, crucial time is being lost.

Ways to Reduce Carbon Dioxide Emissions

There are several possible ways to encourage organizations to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. They include cap-and-trade systems, carbon taxes, and carbon sequestration

  • In a cap-and-trade system, each nation is given a cap on carbon dioxide emissions. This is the most carbon dioxide the country is allowed to emit. Sometimes a nation may need to go over its cap. In that case, it can trade with another nation that is below its cap. Figure below shows how this works.
  • Carbon taxes are taxes placed on products that produce carbon dioxide. An example of this is gasoline for your car. The taxes encourage people to use less fossil fuel. This naturally reduces carbon dioxide emissions.
  • Carbon sequestration removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The carbon dioxide is then stored in another form. Carbon is sequestered naturally by forests. Trees take in carbon dioxide for photosynthesis. Artificial methods of sequestering carbon underground are being researched. This is just one of the geoengineering methods that are being researched for reducing carbon dioxide.

This diagram shows how a cap-and-trade system works.

New technologies can be developed. Renewable energy sources emit fewer or now greenhouse gases. These sources were discussed in Concept Natural Resources.

What You Can Do

Reducing the amount that temperatures will rise will take all nations working together. But individuals can make a difference. What can you do? Many of the same things that you do to reduce air pollution.

  • Walk, ride a bike, or take a bus.
  • Turn electrical appliances off.
  • Reduce consumption of products and packaging.
  • Unplug cell phones and other chargers when not in use.
  • Use compact fluorescent light bulbs.
  • Use directed lighting.
  • Be aware: take shorter showers, do not use more boiling water than needed, etc.
  • BE INVOLVED! Learn more about climate change. Talk with people about the problem and what they can do. Write letters to the editor or to politicians. It's your world and your future.


  • cap-and-trade system: Using money to encourage conservation and the development of alternative energy sources. A cap is put on a nation's allowed carbon emissions. Nations can trade for rights to emit carbon pollution. Cap and trade can also work locally.
  • carbon sequestration: Removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
  • carbon tax: A tax placed on energy sources that emit carbon. This discourages their use and raises funds to research alternative energy sources.


  • A cap-and-trade system gives nations a cap on the greenhouse gas emissions. Those that have a higher cap than they need can trade with a nation that needs more.
  • A carbon tax taxes carbon emissions to encourage conservation.
  • Carbon capture and sequestration is a geoengineering solution. This method removes excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and stores it.


Use this resource to answer the questions that follow.

Intro to Carbon Sequestration at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OtfuYlhDjw4 (8:30)

  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 is a treaty between nations needed so that we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions?
  2. How does a cap-and-trade system work? Could it work for cities or businesses in the same way as for nations?
  3. What is carbon sequestration? Does it prevent carbon dioxide from being emitted? Does it take carbon dioxide from the atmosphere?

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cap-and-trade system

Using money to encourage conservation and the development of alternative energy sources; a cap is put on a nation's allowed carbon emissions; nations can trade for rights to emit carbon pollution; cap and trade can also work locally.

carbon sequestration

Removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

carbon tax

Tax placed on energy sources that emit carbon; this discourages their use and raises funds to research alternative energy sources.

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