The Earth’s climate has changed throughout history. Just in the last 650,000 years there have been seven cycles of glacial advance and retreat, with the end of the last ice age about 7,000 years ago, at the beginning of human civilization. Most of these climate changes were gradual and attributed to very small variations in Earth’s orbit that change the amount of solar energy our planet receives .
Sadly, that is not what is happening today. The warming trend we are experiencing has been proceeding at an “unprecedented rate” since the mid-20th century according to NASA, and is “extremely likely” (higher than 95% probability) the result of human activity .
Global warming is a result of an excessive amount of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere. The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen by 34% since the 17th century. Carbon dioxide, being nearly transparent to solar radiation emitted from the sun, but partially opaque to the thermal radiation emitted by the earth, traps heat in the atmosphere. That is why it has been described as a greenhouse and that is why warming due to excess carbon dioxide trapping heat in our atmosphere is commonly called “the greenhouse effect”.
One indication of global warming is the rising sea level. Globally, the sea level rose about 8 inches in the 20th century. And in the last two decades, the sea has risen at a rate nearly double of the last century. This is because the oceans are absorbing more than 90% of the increased heat caused by carbon dioxide emissions from human activity. This increased heat causes the water to expand. Secondly, it is rising due to ice melting from glaciers and ice sheets .
But what is causing such a dramatic increase in greenhouse gas emissions in the first place?
The greatest contributors to climate change
Oil, coal and natural gas used to produce electricity and heat are responsible for more than 25% of global greenhouse gas emissions . Generous subsidies continue to support fossil fuel investment, despite growing evidence that clean energy can be lower-risk and often lower-cost.
Clean energy is an essential alternative considering that more than 1.2 billion people in the world do not yet have electricity and it is very likely that soon they will also need to have an access to this modern age necessity .
Emissions from transport sector account for almost 25% of carbon dioxide release . Sustainable low carbon mobility options must be developed to reduce them.
Developed countries are making efforts to increase low-carbon public transportation and developing countries are implementing initiatives to reduce emissions both in freight transport and personal transportation through urban mobility planning.
However, despite these efforts, emissions are still very high. More actions to tackle this issue need to be taken and more quickly.
Manufacturing and construction
Manufacturing and construction accounted for over 19% of emissions in 2014 . The outcry from industry and their Congressmen fighting clean air legislation which would impose curbs on their emissions, declaring that they will have to shut down factories and jobs will be lost, is used to rally support from unaware people through the use of fear.
For over 80% of U.S. manufacturers, the annual cost of all current environmental controls is less than 1% of their value of product shipments.
A case in point of just the opposite being true is WRI’s study of Midwest pulp and paper mills, finding that facilities could save $240 million per year in total energy costs by improving their performance to existing ENERGY STAR® levels. These savings could help preserve the 370,000 jobs associated with Midwest pulp and paper mills .
Agriculture is responsible for over 11% of the emissions globally and 20% of carbon emissions in the United States . If figures were added in for the components of modern industrial agricultural practices of spraying pesticides and fertilizers, that figure jumps to 30%.
Deforestation for agriculture land use means the forests can no longer absorb the carbon dioxide. And although organic agriculture can remove from the air and sequester 7,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per acre per year , industrial agriculture land farmed with pesticides and fertilizers cannot.
Two of the biggest culprits in the agriculture sector making headlines today for inordinate releases of another greenhouse gas, methane, are the cattle industry in the United States and the rice paddies in Asia.
- Buying locally translates into reduced emissions from transportation.
- Eating organic food will reduce demand for food that is grown using heavily polluting modern industrial practices.
- Reducing meat and rice consumption will reduce the demand for two products that contribute heavily to greenhouse gas emissions.