We are in 2022 and climate change is real. We are witnessing climatic changes all around the world. Despite the continued warnings, the emission of more greenhouse gases has not been stopped. The temperature across the world has surged more than ever. The drastic effects of climate change are also visible with the frequently occurring natural disasters.
Every action has an equal and opposite reaction!
Mankind has been disturbing the natural habitat with rising pollution. Global warming, forest fires, earthquakes, and many more disasters have been on the high for a long time. Our actions are impacting the earth on several levels. The biggest contributor to this has been the increase in the emission of greenhouse gases.
What are greenhouse gases?
Greenhouse gases trap the heat in the atmosphere leading to rising temperature and global warming.
Three key factors of greenhouse gases that influence global warming,
- The number of greenhouse gasses present in the atmosphere: With the concentration or abundance of a particular gas in the air can be hazardous to the environment. The large emissions of greenhouse gases lead to rising concentrations in the atmosphere. You can measure greenhouse gas concentration in parts per million, parts per billion, and even parts per trillion. For instance, one part per million is equal to one drop of water diluted into about 13 gallons of liquid—a fuel tank of a compact car.
- The duration of greenhouse gases being present in the atmosphere: Greenhouse gases can stay in the atmosphere from a few years to thousands of years. All the gases that are present in the atmosphere long enough get mixed. This means that the amount measured in the atmosphere can roughly be the same across the globe, even with a different source of emissions.
- The effect on the planet: Some of the greenhouse gases can be more hazardous for the planet and make it warmer. This affects the ozone layer. The Global Warming Potential (GWP) calculated each greenhouse gas and reflected how long it remains in the atmosphere, on average, and how strongly it absorbs energy. Each gas with a higher GWP absorbs more energy, per pound, than gases with a lower GWP and contributes more toward global warming.
What are the types of greenhouse gases?
Carbon Dioxide is emitted when we burn coal, oil, natural gas, and other carbon-rich fossil fuels. It is not one of the most powerful greenhouse gases. Also, carbon dioxide can be reduced by reforestation, improvement in soil, and other activities. Carbon dioxide emitted in the atmosphere tends to stay for a long period. After 100 years, 40% remains in the atmosphere, after 1,000 years, 20% and after 10,000 years, 10% remains in the atmosphere.
The major contributing factors to Methane are the production of fossil fuels, agriculture, and municipal solid waste landfills. As compared to CO2, methane remains less time in the atmosphere, but it is more harmful. In the last 100 years, methane impact has been 25 times greater than CO2. The methane gas contributes to 16% of human-generated greenhouse gas emissions.
Commonly known as the laughing gas, Nitrous Oxide has a hazardous impact on the planet. The gas is emitted from fertilizer application, fossil fuel, biomass combustion, and industrial processes. The gas can stay in the atmosphere for 121 years.
Fluorinated gases can stay in the atmosphere for a few weeks or thousands of years. The gas contains fluorine, including hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride, among other chemicals. The fluorinated gases are emitted from industrial processes or commercial and household uses. It is not available naturally.
Earth’s atmosphere majorly contains the constituents of Nitrogen (N2)-78%, Oxygen (O2)-21%, and Argon (Ar)-0.9%. These are non-greenhouse gases because the molecules contain two atoms of the same element such as N2 and O2 that have no net change in the distribution of their electrical charges when they vibrate and monotonic gases like Ar do not have vibrational modes.
Effect of greenhouse gases?
The industrial revolution brought several changes to the world. It caused both positive and negative impacts on mankind. From 1750 to 2011, it is estimated that the atmospheric concentration of CO2 increased by 40%, nitrous oxide by 20%, and methane by 150%.
In the last few years, greenhouse gases emission has increased significantly. The biggest share of CO2 emission has been contributed by human activities and it is also one of the longest-lasting. Due to the industrial process and combustion of fossil fuels, almost half of the carbon dioxide was generated in the last 40 years alone. Though the global greenhouse gases have been occasionally plateaued or dropped from year to year, the rate is increasingly rising again. The planet is heating up, compared to the preindustrial times and now, the average temperature has increased by 1.0 degrees Celsius.
If global warming continues at the current rate, analysts have estimated that the temperature will reach 1.5 degrees Celsius above the preindustrial levels between 2030 and 2052.
Greenhouse gases are not only impacting the temperature but equally disrupting the climate system of the earth. Some of the recent highlights of global warming disasters are:
- Frequent extreme weather conditions like a heat waves, hurricanes, droughts, and floods.
- Worsening precipitation makes wet regions wetter and dry regions drier.
- Melting glaciers and sea ice causes a rise in sea levels.
- The ecosystems and natural habitats are significantly altering changing the geographical ranges, seasonal changes and also affecting the animal species.
These are threats to not only the wildlife but also the humans. Warm temperatures can easily spread diseases like dengue fever and the Zika virus. The changes are also affecting the crops and can result in food insecurity on a global scale.
Which are the countries with the highest greenhouse gases emission?
Since the start of the Industrial Revolution, around 2,000 billion tons of CO2 have been emitted into the atmosphere. Emerging economies like China and India have contributed 14% to the emission while North America and Europe are responsible for nearly half of the total. Apart from them, 150 countries share the responsibility for the emission of greenhouse gases.
The 20 countries with the highest carbon dioxide emissions (in million tons (Mt)) are:
- China (9,300 Mt)
- The United States (4,800 Mt)
- India (2,200 Mt)
- Russia (1,500 Mt)
- Japan (1,100 Mt)
- Germany (718.8 Mt)
- Korea (600 Mt)
- Iran (567.1 Mt)
- Canada (547.8 Mt)
- Saudi Arabia (532.2 Mt)
- Indonesia (496.4 Mt)
- Mexico (446.0 Mt)
- Brazil (427.6 Mt)
- South Africa (421.7 Mt)
- Australia (384.6 Mt)
- Turkey (378.6 Mt)
- United Kingdom (358.7 Mt)
- Italy (321.5 Mt)
- France (306.1 Mt)
- Poland (305.8 Mt)
Major contributors to Greenhouse gases
Several factors affect the emission of greenhouse gases like the population size, economic activity, energy use, lifestyle, technology, climate, and land-use patterns. If we take a closer look, the major contributors to greenhouse gas emissions are,
- Electricity and Heat Production: The combustion of coal, oil, or natural gas to produce electricity contributes to 1/4th of global greenhouse gases. It is also the largest single source responsible for large-scale emissions.
- Agriculture and Land Use Changes: Agriculture and deforestation can also affect the planet drastically. For instance, U.S. agricultural activities like primarily raising livestock and crops for food accounted for 8.4% of emissions in 2017. Deforestation, reforestation, and afforestation can affect the carbon rate in the atmosphere.
- Industrial Activities: The industrial sector is responsible for 1/5th of the global human-driven greenhouse gases emission. The industrial sector includes manufacturing goods or raw materials, food processing, and construction.
- Transportation: The global transportation industry accounts for 14% of the global greenhouse gas emissions. The combustion of petroleum-based fuels leads to producing CO2 and small amounts of methane and nitrous oxide. Additionally, the air conditioning systems of the car and refrigerating systems lead to emitting fluorinated gases.
- Residential Buildings: Around 6.4% of global greenhouse gases emission are caused by residential buildings. These emitted gases are mostly made of carbon dioxide and methane generated by cooking and heating.
- Others: the energy-related activities like combustion of fossil fuel, extraction, refining, processing, and transportation of oil have and coal, all contribute to around 9.6% of emissions.
What can we do?
Earth’s natural forces and natural changes in greenhouse gases concentration have led to affecting how much energy is consumed by the earth. With the rising temperature since the mid-20th century climatic warming is occurring but not due to natural causes alone.
To build a comfortable life, mankind has severely harmed the environment. Before global warming becomes irreversible, we have to make a significant effort to restore the planet. An IPCC report outlined that we should decrease greenhouse gas emissions by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050. These efforts include less fossil fuel production, consumption, pollution, and a shift to renewable energy. We must protect the forests and work towards carbon-cutting in our daily lives.
Quoting Jens Martin Skibsted, “The challenge of pollution and global warming is no longer the science, or the rate of innovation, but the rate of implementation: We have the clean solutions; now let’s bundle them and install them.”