(Image credit: Pixabay)
We, and everything else, live in a giant greenhouse that depends on the sun's energy to maintain a delicate balance of life. About half of the light that travels to Earth's atmosphere passes through the air and clouds before hitting its surface, where it then becomes absorbed and reflected upward in the form of IR heat. About 90% of radiated heat becomes absorbed by greenhouse gases, then radiated back to the surface in an unending cycle known as the "Greenhouse Effect." This presents two questions about the rise in temperatures that cause climate change – Could it be the sun responsible for the increase in global temperatures, or is it caused by human activities?
According to NASA, a series of satellite instruments have measured the output of energy emitted from the sun since 1978. The collected data from those satellites show a minor drop in the amount of energy the sun produces over the last 40 years. Long-term projections using several indicators (sunspots, the amount of carbon in tree rings, etc.) show that solar energy has minimal effect on global warming. The same can't be said for human activities, such as manufacturing, shipping, vehicle use, over-farming, and more.
Some of the gases that cause the greenhouse effect include water, carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. Carbon dioxide is a forcing gas released through natural processes, such as active volcanos, decomposition, and even breathing. High levels of gas are produced by burning fossil fuels, and humans have increased the concentration in the atmosphere by 47% over a naturally occurring generation. The same can be said about methane (another forcing gas), with higher amounts of the gas being produced by agriculture, landfills, and even rice cultivation.
(Image credit: Pixabay)
Nitrous oxide is another greenhouse gas that's produced during soil cultivation using commercial and organic fertilizers. That said, the largest producer of greenhouse gasses are CFCs (Chlorofluorocarbons) – entirely synthetic compounds produced in industrial applications, which are now internationally regulated due to their destruction of the ozone layer. According to the USGS, the US produces around 5.1 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide via energy production each year, while global emissions top-out at around 33.1 billion tons. These numbers do not reflect the amount of CO2 produced by other factors, such as industrial fuels, transportation, or infrastructure.
"The industrial activities that our modern civilization depends upon have raised atmospheric carbon dioxide levels from 280 parts per million to 414 parts per million in the last 150 years," states NASA in a report on climate change (linked above). The scientists also found a better than 95% probability that human-produced greenhouse gases are responsible for the increase in Earth's temperatures over the past 50 years.
Google recently partnered with researchers from Carnegie Mellon's CreateLAB to develop a time-lapse feature within Google Earth (shown in the video above), allowing users to see changes to the planet from 1984 to 2021. Users can point to any location within Google Earth to see how the planet has changed over the course of 37 years, which is impressive. Five takeaways can be gleaned from the platform, which is very prominent, such as forest change, urban growth, warming temperatures, and energy sources. 24-million photos taken from satellites were compiled together to create the 4D interactive experience, which shows the amount of ice receding at both poles and glaciers or even the continued urbanization in our neighborhoods.
"It took more than two million processing hours across thousands of machines in Google Cloud to compile 20 petabytes of satellite imagery into a single 4.4 terapixel-sized video mosaic," states Google in its project blog. "That's the equivalent of 530,000 videos in 4K resolution!" Most scientists agree that certain gases that prevent heat from escaping, with some long-lived gases that remain semi-permanently, which don't respond physically or chemically to the changes in temperature. These are known as "forcing" climate change, while gases such as water vapor respond to physical and chemical reactions are known as "feedbacks."
Another study recently published in Frontiers in Forests and Global Change suggests that humanity's influence has already altered around 97% of land globally, with only 2.8% still ecologically intact. The scientists didn't rely on satellite imagery to come to their conclusions, but rather through fieldwork, measuring the habitat intactness in different ecosystems. The scientist's conclusions were gained by collecting data on hunting wildlife, farming, and introducing invasive species of plants and animals. Their conclusions recommend conservationists immediately intervene to protect the remaining areas around the globe that are considered ecologically intact. That said, it's not too late to prevent permanent damage to the Earth's fragile ecosystems, and nations around the globe are looking at ways to heal the planet.
(Image credit: Green New Deal UK)
The Green New Deal UK is a nonprofit organization focused on a green and digital infrastructure with a reduced carbon footprint. A new report from the group states that energy and care work could create 1.2-million jobs in the UK and more than 2.7-million jobs over the next decade through research and development. The strategy, alongside government assistance, could regain the jobs lost due to the pandemic and become a vital resource during the recovery years. The Green New Deal UK lays out a 5-step program to reach its goals, including decarbonizing by ending dependence on fossil fuels, creating new jobs within the green sector, transforming the economy, protecting/restoring vital habitats, and the promotion of global justice.
The US also has a version of the Green New Deal, with representatives looking to vote on a resolution (H. RES. 109), which would be a congressional sentiment rather than a law, that states it's the US governments responsibility to create a GND over the next decade with national mobilization. The resolution lays out meeting the country's energy requirements using zero-emission energy sources for communities and vehicles, including public transportation and high-speed rails. The GND's end goal is to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, create millions of jobs, invest in infrastructure, promote justice and equity for marginalized communities and provide clean air and water while combating climate change.
(Image credit: Forest Green Rovers)
The UK's Forest Green Rovers tout themselves as the world's greenest football club, as it's a carbon-neutral, vegan soccer club that embraces sustainability. Rather than making pledges, the club recently started making changes to advance sustainability, including installing charging stations for EVs and designing uniforms made from recycled coffee grounds and plastic. There's also solar panels on the team's stadium and field, as well as a solar-powered robotic mower to keep the field immaculate. What's more, the Forest Green Rovers' entire menu is vegan, and although spectators can still get burgers and pies, they are all plant-based.
(Image credit: United Mine Workers of America)
The United Mine Workers of America, one of the largest unions in the country, is backing President Biden's $2-trillion green infrastructure package designed to repair the nation's infrastructure and shift to greener energy, including retrofitting plants with carbon capture technology. The coal used as a fossil fuel has been declining over the decade, which was replaced mainly by natural gas, and offset by renewable energy, including solar and wind. Support for the $2-trillion package hinges on Washington DC's willingness to help preserve the coal industry's dwindling job force and investing in carbon capture storage technology. The US Jobs Plan details ten pioneering plants to demonstrate how carbon-capture technology works and whether it is feasible to implement the technology with other power plants.
That same infrastructure plan also outlines kickstarting the American EV race between American vehicle manufacturers. Only 2% of vehicles sold in the US last year were electric vehicles, and the plan allocates $174-billion for developing America's EV industry and installing 500,000 publicly accessible charging ports. It also provides rebates to those that buy new EVs and the electrification of the government's fleet of 650,000 vehicles.
(Image credit: Apple)
Apple recently announced the company would pledge $200-million to reduce carbon emissions and support sustainable forestry. Known as the Restore Fund, the pledge will be comanaged by Goldman Sachs and the nonprofit Conservation International group to ensure the projects meet the strict requirements of environmental and social standards. Apple's goal is to remove at least 1-million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually, roughly the same amount of pollution produced by over 200,000 passenger vehicles.
(Image credit: XPRIZE)
A pair of XPRIZE contestants have one the $20-million carbon removal challenge by developing a type of concrete that traps carbon emissions. The competition, backed by Elon Musk, consisted of two parts - one at a coal-fired power plant in Wyoming and the other at a gas-fired power plant in Alberta, Canada. Both required capturing the carbon emissions from the plant's smokestacks, and the winners showed that they could capture the greenhouse gas and store it in concrete, making it stronger in some cases. One of the winners used carbon dioxide to cure the concrete, trapping the gas in the process. The other winner demonstrated injecting the carbon dioxide into the water used to clean out cement trucks, resulting in a stronger mix than traditional concrete.
These were just a few examples of what some companies and innovators are doing to mitigate climate change worldwide. There are no short-term fixes, but the pandemic showed that the environment could change, even in large cities. Cities in China, India, and the US became nearly smog-free as commuting slowed and more people started working from home. Imagine if we could continue that trend, only without the virus. Everyone benefits from a clean planet, and we can all do our part by reducing our carbon footprint. Happy Earth Day!
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