What is Global Climate Change?
Global Climate Change is the term given to the increasingly rapid warming that the Earth is going through that began with the industrial revolution. While it used to be called Global Warming, many scientists decided this was not descriptive enough of how a warmer planet would drastically affect our climate, including changes in rainfall patterns, desertification, and sea level rise.
Why is the climate changing?
When humanity uses fossil fuels to power electricity production, heat homes, and run automobiles, it burns them to produce energy. In the process of burning, an odorless, invisible gas pollution is emitted into the atmosphere called carbon dioxide. This gas, unlike most other atmospheric gases, absorbs and retains the infrared heat of the sun. As more carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere, more heat is retained and the Earth gets warmer. First discovered in 1896 by a Nobel Prize winning scientist, this is called the greenhouse effect because of the way that it stores the heat of the sun near the Earth’s surface. Since carbon dioxide helps create the greenhouse effect, it is known as a greenhouse gas.
What are greenhouse gases?
Greenhouse gases (or GHGs) are a collection of different types of gases that are warming the Earth and causing global climate change. Though the category originally only included carbon dioxide, it has since been discovered that many other trace atmospheric gases can have a similar but more pronounced greenhouse effect, including methane, nitrous oxide, and several others. For example, methane has 23 times the ability to store heat as carbon dioxide, so from a climate change perspective, it is 23 times worse to emit some methane as it is to emit a similar amount of carbon dioxide. However, since, carbon dioxide was the original GHG and is also by far the most common, it is still considered to be the prime concern. When trying to compare different types of GHGs, each greenhouse gas is standardized into an equivalent unit for measurement, which allows people to compare different types of pollution for the effect that they’ll have on our climate. Since all greenhouse gases are compared into equivalent units of carbon dioxide, it is often referred to as carbon pollution and measured in metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2e). This may seem like a large unit for a standard measurement, but the average American will produce 20 tonnes of carbon pollution every year, or approximately 1,500 tonnes over the average lifespan. Make sure to use the carbon calculator to get an estimate of your own individual footprint and to find out ways that you can reduce it.
What is a carbon credit?
Carbon credits or carbon offsets are ways that companies and individuals can pay to have their greenhouse gas related pollution offset by someone else. In short, if an entity needs to release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, it can pay someone else who normally would have polluted to not to do so or, even better, pay to have someone else capture the pollution out of the air and store it where it cannot do any harm. This helps in several ways: it reduces the total pollution in the air, it helps fund alternative technologies and make them more cost effective in the future, and it associates a cost with polluting where it used to be free. Many carbon credits help to finance renewable energy projects, improve energy efficiency, and encourage and prevent areas from being deforested. However, though these are noble projects themselves, they don’t remove the greenhouse gas from the air, they just prevent a future emission from happening. The pollution hasn’t been cleaned up. The only way to clean up the pollution is through the growing of plants, like trees.
Why do companies pay to pollute when it used to be free?
The primary reason is that to do business in certain states, provinces, or countries, businesses have to offset their pollution by law. This exchange of carbon credits happens on markets in places as diverse as Europe, China, California, Japan, Kazakhstan, Quebec, and a collection of states on the US east coast. However, in other places where there is no legal requirement to offset, individuals and companies often participate in a voluntary market. They do so because they feel compelled, often out of concern for future generations, to minimize their impact on the planet’s climate. If you’re one of these people, please support local politicians and legislation to create and support a market in your area and look to offset your carbon footprint by funding projects like RenewWest's.
Is there technology to remove greenhouse gases from the air?
Yes. Right now, people have created a system to mechanically remove the gases from the atmosphere called Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), but it is energy intensive and expensive to set up. For example, on a coal fired power plant, it would take an additional 25% to 40% more fuel to create the energy that would be needed to capture the plant’s carbon emissions. After the carbon is captured, it would need to be transported to a location where it can be injected deep underground, in liquid form, where it will be stored forever. This storage is called Carbon Sequestration. Currently, CCS it is too expensive to use on any reasonable scale.
Isn’t there a better way?
Yes there is, and it’s the way that nature intended – by growing living things! The process of photosynthesis takes carbon dioxide out of the air, absorbs the carbon into the tissue of the plant, and then releases pure, clean oxygen back into the atmosphere. As the plant grows, more and more carbon is held in its tissue. This process is proportional to the plant’s size and occurs until it dies, so the bigger the plant and the longer it lives, the more carbon it absorbs and keeps from the atmosphere. Thankfully, the world has trees and needs more of them, because they are the biggest and longest living things that the Earth has ever known. Trees are an ideal way to offset carbon emissions!
So how does this affect American forests and RenewWest?
What we haven’t talked about is how the United States is in the process of losing its forests. Every year, between two and eight million acres of American forests are burned. Often, the fires are so severe that the forest cannot recover without help. In many cases, it would take hundreds of years for it to naturally replant. This is at the very heart of RenewWest’s mission – to replant American forests that have been severely damaged by selling the value of regrown forest as a carbon offset. We want to fundamentally change the environment for the better by renewing American forests and reducing the burden of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere.