CO2 in the atmosphere is at an all-time high since reliable measurements began 63 years ago. We haven't had this much CO2 in about 4.5 million years.
CO2 in the atmosphere
Carbon dioxide is the most abundant greenhouse gas emission.
The production of carbon dioxide emissions is a combination of human activities and natural processes.
Once emitted, it can stay in the atmosphere for up to 1000 years since it does not decay easily.
CO2 is a major contributor to climate change, especially now that the level of CO2 in the atmosphere is the highest that has ever been recorded.
The earth has already faced the severe consequences of this high level of CO2, and actions must be taken more seriously and quickly to prevent further consequences.
Anthropogenic activities have increased around 47% of the CO2 in the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution era.
And to this day, carbon emissions are still increasing despite the Paris Climate Agreement.
The COVID-19 pandemic caused a significant slowdown in carbon-emitting activities such as commuting and commercial activities.
And although this reduction in activities resulted in a slower rate of carbon increase compared to previous years, its impact was not enough to cause a decrease or even zero net carbon emissions.
This is possibly due to natural processes such as wildfires and the natural behavior of carbon cycles in the atmosphere, which also release carbon.
The world counts website provides the live counts of several interesting numbers, such as the total carbon emitted to the atmosphere, temperature increase, etc. Through this website, we can visualize how GHG emissions are increasing very rapidly.
Direct and indirect carbon emitters
Research has found that the top 5 carbon-emitting countries are China, the USA, India, Russia, and Japan.
Most of the top emitters are developed countries with a large population, which are usually associated with more economic, urban, and industrial centers.
Direct causes are carbon produced from fossil fuel burning such as coal, oil, and gas, carbon from electricity, transportation, manufacturing, etc.
Without proper waste management, these activities emit an abundance of carbon and other GHG emissions to the atmosphere.
The Paris Climate Agreement was created to solve direct carbon emissions by mitigation and finding alternative solutions such as accelerating the adoption of renewable energy to reduce the rate of increase with aims to reach zero net carbon emission.
However, despite the accords and the pandemic, carbon emissions are still increasing, which might be caused by the indirect causes of carbon emissions.
The indirect causes are related to natural carbon cycles and natural events that are exacerbated by climate change.
The first indirect cause is deforestation.
Over a trillion tonnes of carbon is stored in the world’s forests, which is over 42% of all carbon emissions from anthropogenic activities from preindustrial times.
Deforestation causes the stored carbon to be released and emitted into the atmosphere.
Additionally, forests are a major source of a sink for carbon, and deforestation leads to less carbon that can be taken from the atmosphere since there are no trees/forests to store them.
Climate change can exacerbate this indirect cause due to the warming temperature that can lead to wildfire hazards, for example, the Australian wildfires last year.
The next indirect cause is the melting permafrost.
Permafrost refers to permanently frozen grounds as ice, like in the Arctic. Just like forests, permafrost in the poles also stores more than trillion tonnes of carbon.
Because of global warming, the permafrost has been melting, resulting in a release of the stored carbon in the ice into the atmosphere.
Besides storing carbon, permafrost also plays a role in global cooling by reflecting solar energy from the earth’s surface.
Therefore, this is one of the examples of how climate change heavily impacts the natural cycles and exacerbates the consequences.
Lastly, the meat industry is both a direct and indirect cause of carbon emissions.
The meat industry produces a total of 14.5% of the global GHG emissions, both from the direct causes such as the production, transportation, and processing of feed, and the indirect cause from the gases (mainly methane) that is released from the digestion of the animals (animal farts!).
Research has found that every four pounds of meat we eat contribute the same to global warming as flying from New York to London.
Reducing carbon footprints
Efforts to reduce carbon footprints require the contribution of all parties.
While scientists and developers are finding mitigating solutions and innovations, we as a society can reduce our carbon footprints in three significant ways.
The first way is by implementing the 6Rs
method; rethink, refuse, reduce, reuse, repair, and recycle.
Any small action can contribute to the recovery of our planet. Hence, we should rethink what our small gestures could impact.
We should refuse to continue our same old damaging habits and tweak our lifestyle to a more sustainable one, starting from small things such as bringing our own grocery bag, reducing the use of plastic, bringing our lunch, and ordering less takeout.
As the fast fashion industry emits a significant number of emissions, we should try to buy clothes at thrift stores, donate our unused clothes, and reduce unnecessary shopping.
As a quick reflection activity, we can calculate our carbon footprint and decide what tweaks are necessary for our lifestyle. Good luck!
The next thing we could do is to eat less meat.
Since now we know that the meat industry produces even more GHG emissions than transportation, we should eat more seasonally, locally, and more plants. Not to mention that eating more plants can also benefit our health.
Lastly, we should try to use more renewable energy, such as solar, wind, water, etc.
Solar energy is the most recommended as the sun has unlimited power, so we should use the most out of it.
Especially if we are using technologies that have the intention of sustainability (like electric cars/cryptocurrencies), we should educate ourselves in optimizing the sustainable properties of the technology to save our planet!
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Olivia Eugenia is an Environmental Science student at the University of Western Australia. She is also an activist and a content writer at the International Youth Organization for Peace and Sustainability.
Inputs and Edits by Aswin Raghav R.