One of the first steps to stopping human-influenced climate change is to lower, if not eliminate, the amount of global greenhouse gas emissions produced by our activities. Carbon dioxide is one that we need to be particularly aware of, mainly because we’ve been putting billions of tons of it into the atmosphere every year over the past 150 years. The vast majority of the CO2 comes from burning fossil fuels. Deforestation is also a problem. Forests are important because they naturally pull carbon dioxide from the air, so the fewer trees we have, the higher our carbon dioxide levels.
The two main ways to stop the increase of greenhouse gas emissions in our atmosphere are to stop producing them with greater energy efficiency or increase the earth’s ability to absorb them. The approach is referred to as climate mitigation. Fortunately, there isn’t one way to mitigate climate change; in fact, we must chain together several solutions to stop the planet from warming to the point where food security, economic security, and human health are no longer viable.
In this article, we’ll go into some of the methods developed and used to reduce or mitigate climate change. The good news is that many solutions are already being implemented worldwide. Some of these are used by individuals to reduce their energy footprint, riding a bike instead of driving, or switching to an electric car. Others involve getting the region and communities engaged in working together to switch from coal-burning and oil-burning power plants to solar and wind.
Natural Sources of Greenhouse Gases
Not all greenhouse gases are man-made. There is methane that is naturally sequestered as a result of cold temperatures near the poles. Methane is also locked in the seabed under very low temperatures. As the planet warms, this gas is being released and this in itself is a hazard as any increases in the earth’s temperature accelerate these natural greenhouse gas emissions. This can therefore only be controlled by limiting increasing temperatures on Earth.
There are many companies actively removing CO2 from the atmosphere and compressing the carbon dioxide for long term storage in the ground. While critically important, this atmospheric CO2 capture is really just offsetting and doesn’t resolve the underlying problem of reducing all of the emissions that we are generating.
Consuming Less Electricity To Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions
It has become imperative to reduce our electricity consumption, primarily if it is generated using gas and coal. Doing this will mean fewer greenhouse gas emissions. It is worth adding that worldwide electricity use is responsible for a quarter of our emissions.
Many steps to reduce our electricity consumption are simple and will also help you save money. For instance, replace incandescent bulbs with their LED counterparts, which consume less electricity. You will also want to insulate your home and raise the thermostat during summer and lower the thermostat during winter, especially when nobody is home.
Many new technologies can also help to keep your building energy efficient. For instance, use innovative windows to reflect heat, smart thermostats, low flow water fixtures, and a new air conditioning system with the latest refrigerants. Plus, green and cool roofs can help limit the heat entering the building when it is hot and lower what’s referred to as the urban heat island effect.
Generate Emission-Free Electricity Using Renewable Energy
Fortunately, over the years, technology that helps generate electricity from renewable sources like geothermal, solar, wind, and the ocean have become increasingly better, cheaper, and more efficient making it easier to reduce greenhouse gases. Today, while in the minority, power generation from hydropower and biomass is growing.
The best thing about renewables is that they don’t put CO2 into the atmosphere. Nuclear power also does not put greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, but it can be both environmentally and politically risky because of the radioactive waste, which requires long-term storage.
Fortunately, the energy from renewables is steadily growing. A couple of countries like Costa Rica, and Iceland, are generating nearly 100% renewable energy. However, in many other countries, this percentage is still between 5-10%, but its acceptance is growing as the technology becomes cheaper.
Convert Traditional Heating Methods to Electric
As long as the first step of replacing fossil fueled electricity with renewables has been done, we then need to replace oil and gas burning heating with cleaner low carbon options instead. Clearly if the generation of electricity is not decarbonized first, it negates the emissions benefit, as there is little point to increasing electricity usage if it’s generated by burning coal or oil.
Shrinking Our Food Footprint
It may surprise many people, but a fifth of global carbon emissions are from raising animals for meat. Take, for instance, cattle that digest food; when they burp, it is methane, aka natural gas, being released into the atmosphere. Methane, similar to CO2, is a potent greenhouse gas. Cattle manure also releases greenhouse gases like methane and carbon dioxide. Unlike in the past, we now have more cows than ever and fewer forests than ever, so these food related emissions aren’t being naturally taken out of the air.
We can actively lower emissions by switching to a plant-based diet like rice, beans, and vegetables. The Drawdown project states that if half of the population adopts a plant-based diet, we will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 65 gigatons in the next 30 years.
Furthermore, reducing food waste will have an impact of 90 gigatons of CO2 being added into the atmosphere over the next 30 years. So, the more greenhouse gas emissions we can reduce with these measures, the better it is for our future generations.
Travel Without Polluting
The most common way to get from one place to the other is to rely on burning fossil fuels like kerosene or jet fuel when you are flying. Most readers know that burning fossil fuels for transportation accounts for around 14% of emissions to the atmosphere. Fortunately, these emissions can be reduced by moving to alternative forms of transportation like electric cars and mass transit.
Other alternatives are using carpooling apps, walking, and using the public transportation system. The result is fewer vehicles on the road, making it easier for people to lower their greenhouse gas emissions.
Reduce Emissions From Various Industries
Mining, manufacturing, and other commercial activities release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Most products we purchase, from clothes to smartphones, are all manufactured in factories, adding up to 20% of CO2 into the atmosphere.
There are ways to decrease this by using materials that do not require large amounts of energy to produce and will not emit CO2 into the atmosphere as a consequence. For instance, using cement generates massive amounts of CO2 because the limestone that goes into cement is calcinated at high temperatures to break CO2 from the naturally occurring lime. Alternative paving materials don’t have the same CO2 footprint. The same can be said for bioplastics as an alternative to regular plastics made from fossil fuels. Plus, renewable energy sources will mean far less CO2 in the atmosphere, causing the manufacturing process to be more environmentally friendly.
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is one of the first, most significant steps to saving our planet from global warming. Fortunately, people are waking up to this fact, poised to put us on track to a carbon-zero future.