Global warming is primarily blamed on human actions. Our activities have contributed greatly to the increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The thing that’s most alarming to environmentalists and scientists is the unprecedented rate of increase of greenhouse gases over the last few decades. This is what is referred to as the Carbon Footprint. It is now vitally important to find ways to reduce our Carbon Footprint over the Earth.
Greenhouse gases have the tendency of trapping heat within the Earth’s atmosphere, creating the greenhouse effect. Ordinarily, that’s not really a bad thing because without the greenhouse effect, we would be freezing. The Earth’s atmospheric temperature would be in negative digits (around -18 degrees Celsius) and covered in ice.
The problem comes in when there’s excess production of the greenhouse gases, and when Earth’s natural gas-absorbing mechanisms that help ‘sponge up’ the excess gases are not functioning as they’re supposed to.
Excess quantities of greenhouse gases distort the natural balance of the Greenhouse Effect, trapping more and more heat within the Earth’s atmosphere.
When heat trapped within the Earth’s atmosphere doesn’t get released as it’s supposed to, the result is higher temperatures over the Earth. This in turn leads to Global Warming, affecting marine, terrestrial and aerial ecosystems all around the world. Eventually, it also affects humans at the top of the food chain.
Effects of Global Warming
- Climate change: Global warming has affected weather patterns and distorted seasons all over the world. Summers are getting hotter; winters are not as cold; rainy seasons are either starting later or running for shorter durations than normal.
Predictability of seasons is no longer possible, affecting food security in agrarian societies and agriculture-dependent economies. Wildlife are also affected, because if they bear their young too early when food is not available to support them, survival rates of the young go down.
- Extreme weather patterns occur, such as:
2.1. Heavier rainsThese extreme weather conditions are occurring more frequently than they did 50 years ago.
2.2. Severe flooding
2.3. Heat waves
2.4. Cold Fronts
2.5. Prolonged or more severe droughts
2.6. Forest fires
2.7. Typhoons and hurricanes
- Ice is melting all over the Earth: Glaciers are melting, the polar ice caps are shrinking and snow caps on the mountain-tops are receding rapidly as well. Wildlife that are dependent on ice and snow habitats are becoming endangered, as their natural habitat, breeding grounds and food sources get depleted. Polar bears, Arctic foxes, Narwhals and the Pacific walrus are listed as endangered due to the effects of climate change on their natural habitats and breeding grounds. (See point  below)
- Ocean levels are rising, mainly due to the melting glaciers and polar ice caps. Rising sea levels increase the potential for more frequent storms, due to increased water vapour in the atmosphere.
- Extinction of species: Animals and plants that are not able to adapt to rising temperatures, habitat changes, habitat loss and distorted seasons either move or die out. In fact, in 2019, the UN put the figure at around 1 million plants and animals that are in danger of extinction.
- Ocean warming and Ocean acidification: Heat re-emitted back to the Earth’s surface gets absorbed by land and water bodies. So ocean water temperatures have also been on the rise over the years.
In addition, Ocean Acidification is on the rise because of the carbonic acid derived when CO2 is absorbed by the ocean. About 30% of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere gets absorbed by the oceans.
Temperature increase and ocean acidification affect marine ecosystems and marine life, which are sensitive to even the slightest changes in their environment.
What has Carbon, Carbon Dioxide and Carbon Footprint got to do with Global Warming?
This is the crux of the Global Warming discussion. Why is there so much focus on carbon and carbon dioxide in the whole Global Warming debate?
It’s because carbon dioxide is the most important greenhouse gas for controlling the Earth’s temperature. Any change in the level of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere directly impacts the amount of heat trapped by the atmosphere, and re-emitted back into the Earth.
Let’s break it down into figures to get a clearer picture. This is the contribution to Global Warming by each component of the greenhouse effect:
- Water Vapour – 50%
- Clouds – 25%
- Carbon Dioxide – 20%
- Aerosols & minor greenhouse gases – 5%
When carbon dioxide levels drop, water vapor reduces and the Earth cools down. Conversely, when carbon dioxide levels rise, temperatures rise, water vapor concentrations rise, trapping more heat in the atmosphere. So if we are able to reduce the quantity of CO2 released into the Earth’s atmosphere, then we can bring Global Warming under control.
Human activity is causing release of more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, in higher quantities and faster rates than it can be naturally ‘mopped up’. How? Let’s look at the Top 5 ways CO2 gets released into the atmosphere.
- We are driving more cars, and cars burn fuel. With worldwide population growth, the number of fuel propelled vehicles being manufactured and driven has increased significantly.
Take the example of Milan in Italy; it is one of the most car-dependent cities in the world, and consequently, is alleged to have one of the highest levels of air pollution in Europe.
- Industrialization has grown extremely rapidly in many parts of the world. These industries also operate using diesel and other fossil fuels.
- Deforestation – trees and plants absorb carbon dioxide, helping to ‘mop up’ excess from the atmosphere. Sadly, logging and deforestation have wiped out huge tracts of forests all over the world to make room for agriculture, real estate or industries.
- Aerosols,especially in the form of CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons). CFCs are used in refrigerator cooling systems, and fire extinguishing mechanisms.
- Cement manufacturing: The cement industry is responsible for approximately 5% of man-made global carbon dioxide emissions. With the real estate industry a key driver in many economies worldwide, cement manufacture & use for real estate has seen a significant rise in CO2 emissions internationally.
It is estimated that for every 1000kg of cement produced, 900kg of CO2 are emitted into the atmosphere. Clearly a heavy contributor to global warming, especially if you consider the infrastructure coming up every year.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Animal Husbandry
Animal Husbandry does not necessarily emit carbon dioxide, but is notorious for its contribution to the release of methane and nitrous oxide gases into the atmosphere.
The United Nations estimates that livestock farming is responsible for producing 18% of the world’s greenhouse gases, especially methane and nitrous oxide.
Nitrous oxide is particularly worrisome because it has 296 times more warming potential than carbon dioxide. Methane has 23 times more warming potential than carbon dioxide, ranking it 2nd in severity after Nitrous oxide.
10 Easy Ways to Reduce your Carbon Footprint
In one way or another, each of us has experienced the effects of Global Warming, no matter what part of the world you live in. We have seen that it’s actually human activities that are making the situation worse daily, through activities such as deforestation and burning fossil fuels.
Let’s look at 10 Easy Ways to Reduce your Carbon Footprint.
- Plant more trees: Reafforestation is really important to help reduce the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, because trees absorb CO2 from the air. Support and participate in forest conservation initiatives too, because this goes a long way in protecting existing forest cover.
- Plant a garden at home: It does not matter if it’s a potted garden, hanging garden or kitchen garden. Limited space should not hinder you from having plants, herbs and shrubs around your home. There are many creative ways to tuck little pots into available space so that they add a touch of beauty, and also clean up the air. The idea is to have more plants around to absorb excess CO2 from the atmosphere.
- Buy locally sourced products such as food and clothes, to reduce the carbon footprint created by imported goods. This works in reducing the ‘food miles’ to put a meal on your plate. The closer the source of the products you consume, the lower their carbon footprint.
- Unplug your electronic devices when not in use. Electronics that remain plugged into sockets continue to consume power even when powered down. Estimates of ‘vampire power’ losses in the US, for example, are approximated at $19 billion worth of energy each year.
- Make the switch to renewable/ clean energy sources like solar energy, wind and water for lighting and heating your home and office.
- Reduce the amount of cement used in construction and explore green/ non-cement alternatives (like Ferrock and recycled plastic) for construction, such as the ones discussed here. This is rather controversial – what are your thoughts on this? We would love to hear from you.
- Use public transport systems instead of driving your car. This reduces the number of vehicles on the roads, and consequently the level of CO2 emissions released through burning fossil fuels.
- Cycle and walk more: Let’s reduce the number of cars being used on our roads, so as to lower CO2 emissions from burning fuel. If your city has infrastructure conducive to walking or cycling, take advantage of this. It’s not only good for your health, but it also reduces the carbon footprint over the Earth.
- If you have sunny weather, opt to line-dry your laundry instead of running the clothes dryer. This actually saves you significantly on electricity – upto 5 times LESS electricity than running a dryer.
- If you fly for work, leisure or business, explore alternatives that will enable you to fly less. For example, you could opt for direct flights instead of those with multiple connections. If frequent flying is unavoidable, you could choose to offset your carbon miles by donating to sustainable energy projects. For example, you could consider supporting projects that supply solar systems to communities in developing countries, and train local communities on sustainable agriculture and reforestation.
To be honest, the gravity of Global Warming should be a huge concern for all of us. But it does not mean that nothing can be done. If each person in the world committed to making Conscious Living decisions to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions, we can make a difference.
When combined with government policies that support sustainable carbon-reduction practises, if we all deliberately do our part, then it might be possible to slow down the ravages of Global Warming over the Earth.
Have you started living consciously? Are you involved in any Eco activities? We would love to know: Drop us a line on any of our Social Media handles, and share your thoughts and experiences with us.
Let’s Do this Together!