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Bill McKibben video 'What can I do about climate change?'

https://www.sandersinstitute.com/blog/what-can-i-do-about-climate-change

Activism

https://350.org/

https://www.indivisibleguide.com/act-locally/

https://secure2.edf.org/site/SPageServer?pagename=path_forward

Science-based planetary stewardship information and actions you can take

http://www.ucsusa.org/action-center#.Wgt5a7hRqCU

Write your own online petition

change.org

https://front.moveon.org/

Find out if your bank finances deforestation

http://forestsandfinance.org/

eco-friendly banks

https://bankforgood.org

Find out if your insurance company insures fossil fuel operations

https://interactive.web.insurance.ca.gov/apex_extprd/f?p=250:40:0::NO:10,20,30,40

Show support for the Paris Climate Agreement

Entities

https://www.wearestillin.com/

Individuals

https://iamstillin.org/

Atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations

 http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/trends/

Renewable energy

www.usa.gov/green 'Renewable Energy Resources'

Meeting global energy needs using solar, wind and water power

thesolutionsproject.org 

Company that lets most U.S. residents exchange the energy they use with wind or solar power  https://www.arcadiapower.com

Ways to save energy

 'Saving Energy' page in this website

Carbon footprint calculator

http://www3.epa.gov/carbon-footprint-calculator/

What to look for in organizations offering carbon offsets

http://www.nrdc.org/globalwarming/offsets.asp

http://www.wri.org/publication/bottom-line-offsets

Best ways to mitigate the effects of greenhouse gases including actions you can take

Introduction

Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas and, as with all greenhouse gases, it can affect the climate (for detailed information about the impacts of greenhouse gases on humans and the environment see the ‘Climate Problems’ page). Because carbon dioxide is the single most influential factor in global climate change, there is reason to be concerned about the amount that is in the atmosphere.1 Every year about 9,000,000,000 tons of carbon are added to the atmosphere. Plants and the ocean remove about 5,000,000,000 tons leaving about 4,000,000,000 tons of carbon per year to deal with.2 There is hope though, because there are things that can be done on individual, national, and global scales to decrease the amount of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere (discussed below). Furthermore, although the effects of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide can persist for a hundred years or longer, reducing the amount going into the atmosphere (and therefore lowering the amount present there) can have a measurable effect in as little as five years.3

 

 

What can you do?

Educate yourself about the environmental problems caused by raised atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations and ways to reduce those concentrations then share the information with others.

Find ways to use less energy:

When possible, use the most fuel efficient option (appliances, vehicles, etc.).

When possible, use non-fossil fuel energy sources [especially renewable ones: solar, wind, geothermal, water (hydroelectric)]. For more information see the 'Renewable Energy Resources' section at www.usa.gov/green.

Visit the ‘Saving Energy’ page for more ideas.

Use a carbon footprint calculator to estimate how much carbon you emit and learn about ways to reduce your emissions.

http://www3.epa.gov/carbon-footprint-calculator/

Carbon Offsets

If you have reduced your use of fossil fuels as much as you can but want to do more, you can buy carbon offsets and become carbon neutral. Carbon offsets are a way to ‘erase’ your carbon footprint. Certain organizations manage projects that reduce the amount of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. By paying a set fee you can buy a given quantity of greenhouse gas atmospheric concentration reduction. The cost and quantity will vary by organization. Some organizations give you the option of choosing among projects that reduce atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations in different ways.

To be sure you are buying offsets from a reputable organization there are certain criteria their offsets should meet. Follow the links below to find out what to look for when buying offsets.

http://www.nrdc.org/globalwarming/offsets.asp

http://www.wri.org/publication/bottom-line-offsets

Two ways you can find organizations that offer carbon offsets are to contact organizations you are familiar with that do conservation or environmental restoration type projects or do an internet search for ‘carbon offsets for individuals’.

Advocate for change:

Let utility companies know you support their use of non-fossil fuel renewable sources of energy.

Let vehicle manufactures know you want high fuel efficiency and non-fossil fuel vehicles and make that type the vehicle you purchase next.

Write op-ed articles or letters to the editor of periodicals

Speak out at public commentary opportunities

Take part in boycotts, protests and/or the petition process

Join politically active organizations

Divest and encourage others to do the same including government and business entities (be free of investments in companies that are involved in extracting fossil fuels)

Let elected representatives and government officials know that you support:

  • policies and regulations, such as carbon pricing, that will reduce and eventually end fossil fuel usage - the U.S. can meet all of its energy needs using wind, water, and solar power with current technology (see thesolutionsproject.org for details) 
  • policies and regulations that will decrease greenhouse gas emissions
  • spending money for research and development into non-fossil fuel energy sources especially renewable ones to find out the conditions under which they can be used most efficiently and with the least environmental damage
  • global sharing of information about non-fossil fuel energies and coordination of efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions
  • investing in technologies and infrastructure to make the shift from fossil to non-fossil fuel renewable energy sources
  • Funding for additional greenhouse gas monitoring stations so scientists can track which parts of the planet are absorbing or releasing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, not just how much is in the atmosphere http://www.seattletimes.com/nation-world/carbon-in-atmosphere-is-rising-even-as-emissions-stabilize/

 

 

How can we (states/provinces and nations acting individually and globally) correct the energy imbalance? (shorter answer - for more detail see the next section)

Methods for mitigating climate change fall into four main categories: abatementbiological carbon sequestrationabiotic carbon sequestration, and solar radiation management. The different methods within these categories and the effectiveness and challenges of each are discussed below. Note: the costs for all of these methods are uncertain and would vary depending on the circumstances under which they were used.2

Abatement

Abatement is the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions which can be achieved by switching to non-fossil fuels, using energy more efficiently (better gas mileage for vehicles), and using less energy. Overall it is projected that abatement could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 7 billion tons per year by 2030. These measures could be put into place with current technology, governed at local and national levels, and implemented by non-governmental organizations at the global level. Some difficulty might arise though, because these measures would have to be carried out in perpetuity, there are a variety of decision-making processes, and the relevant markets are fragmented. Overall these methods pose only slight ecological risks.2

Biological carbon sequestration

These methods rely on the storage of organic carbon in plants and the soil and the photosynthetic activity of living organisms.2

Forests

The first method is the worldwide storage of carbon in forests by promoting forest growth and reducing deforestation. It is estimated 1.3 billion tons of carbon per year could be stored and the current emissions of more than 1 billion tons of carbon per year from deforestation cut. This method has the benefit of being able to be used for ecological restoration but it could cause changes in the climate.2

Soil

The second method is changing agricultural practices to increase soil carbon storage. An estimated 0.4 to 1.1 billion tons of carbon could be stored per year, but the amount of time carbon could be kept is limited and the effectiveness of long term widespread carbon storage in soil can vary greatly. However, the ecological impacts of this method are slight.2

Biochar

Carbon can also be stored in soils by adding biochar. Biochar is condensed carbon made by burning plant tissue at high temperatures (to minimize CO2 release). It is believed biochar in soil will last for millennia but how long it will actually last depends on factors which can be different at each location. Global applications of biochar to agricultural soils could hold about 0.65 billion tons of carbon per year. Overall the ecological risks of this method are low. Governance for these methods could be at the national level and management at the local level, but on a global scale, there would need to be international cooperation and long-term monitoring.2

Algae

Finally, algae can be used to store carbon (0.7 to 2.3 billion tons per year - if scarce elements such as iron are added to the ocean to increase algal growth). The usefulness of this method is limited, the risk of harmful ecological impacts high, and governance problematic.2

Abiotic carbon sequestration

This capture and storage of carbon method involves collecting CO2 from point sources such as natural gas and industrial coal combustion and pumping a concentrated form into the ocean or geological formations on land. This method could possibly store more than 1 billion tons of carbon per year with a total eventual potential of about 545 billion tons. There are health and safety, environmental, and effectiveness concerns about using this method. Putting this method into action could be done with a few decision makers at the local level but the long-term monitoring that would be required would be complicated and challenging to carry out.2

There are two other methods that are not currently workable but may be in the future. The diffuse capture of carbon method, which would separate CO2 from the atmosphere, is not feasible because of cost and energy requirements (~ 1000 US$ per ton). The accelerated weathering of rock method, in which metal oxides and CO2 react chemically to form stable carbonates, needs too much energy to be practical.2

Solar Radiation Management

These methods do not involve the reduction of greenhouse gases and therefore would not correct other ecological problems such as ocean acidification that are caused by high atmospheric CO2 levels. Instead, they focus on increasing the amount sunlight (energy) being reflected back into space (the less sunlight absorbed, the cooler the planet will be). The combined effects of these methods could reduce carbon by more than 1 billion tons per year. All of these methods need more research and will need continual maintenance.2

The first method would involve the whitening of surfaces in the oceans, deserts, and cities (the darker the color the more light it absorbs) but only a small area could be lightened.2

In the future it might be possible to brighten marine clouds by increasing water droplet concentrations. It would be difficult, though, to the keep the droplets in the clouds.2

Another prospective option is outer-atmospheric reflectors but enacting this method would be tremendously complicated.2

The most technically possible method entails sending aerosols into the stratosphere. Aerosols cause sunlight to bounce back into space keeping it from reaching the Earth. Even though this method could be put into action by a few decision makers it would be very difficult to govern because of the worldwide coordination of efforts that would be required.2 Moreover, because aerosols stay in the air only several days they would need to be continually and increasingly rapidly sent into the atmosphere in order to counteract long-lived greenhouse gases.3 Another major problem with this method is that ecological risks could be serious and would be of an undetermined extent and duration. Just using this method once could cause many changes to climate and weather patterns over short and long time spans.2 Yet another problem with aerosols is that they pose a threat to human health.1

 

How can we (states/provinces and nations acting individually and globally) correct the energy imbalance? (more detailed answer - for less detail see the previous section)

Methods for mitigating climate change fall into four main categories: abatementbiological carbon sequestrationabiotic carbon sequestration, and solar radiation management. The different methods within these categories and the effectiveness and challenges of each are discussed below. Note: the costs for all of these methods are uncertain and would vary depending on the circumstances under which they were used.2

Abatement

Abatement is the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions which can be achieved by fuel switching, efficiency, and conservation. Examples using vehicles would be switching from fossil fuels to low-carbon fuels (biofuels that are made from plants.3Biomass derived fuels produce carbon dioxide emissions similar to those of fossil fuels when they are burned. That biomass fuels will not have the same effect on the climate that fossil fuels do is based on the assumption that the carbon dioxide taken in by the plants when they were growing (through photosynthesis) will equal the emissions when they are burned.4), doubling of miles traveled per gallon used, and reducing usage by one half, respectively. Each method could result in carbon emissions being cut by 1 billion tons per year. Overall it is projected that abatement could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 7 billion tons per year by 2030. These measures could be put into place with current technology and be governed at local and national levels using technology standards, incentive programs, and carbon pricing (for explanations see below)with energy use being monitored to see if it has gone down. At the global level non-governmental organizations could work with nations around the world to coordinate efforts. Some difficulty might arise though, because these measures would have to be carried out in perpetuity, there are a variety of decision-making processes, and the relevant markets are fragmented. Overall these methods pose only slight ecological risks but there might be some from energy-saving material such as mercury (used in compact fluorescent light bulbs) and land-use changes necessary to make alternative fuels available.2 Changes in land use can cause there to be fewer species found in that area5 and can affect the climate in the region in which it occurs.3

 

 

Technology standards - Technology standards are used to ensure that equipment and appliances meet specified energy conservation guidelines. These measures lead not only to reduced energy use they also save consumers money.

Incentive programs - These programs offer money to pay for or offset the costs for upgrades to increase energy efficiency. For example, offering rebates when customers buy energy efficient lighting, air conditioners, refrigerators, etc.

Carbon pricing (The four major types of carbon pricing are described below).

Cap and trade policy (also called emissions trading system) - Overall limits on greenhouse gas emissions for entities that produce them would be set with governmental oversight. Allowances would then be auctioned or given away for free to these entities. The allowances would be redeemed for each ton of CO2 emitted. Entities could trade unused allowances. The cost of the allowances would set a price for carbon emissions inducing these entities to cut their emissions.6

Carbon tax - Under this policy producers of carbon would have to pay a set price (tax) for each ton of carbon emitted. The revenue from the tax could be used to reduce income taxes (offsetting the increased cost of energy from non-fossil fuel sources), for social services, to reduce debts, etc. Using this system would not ensure a set level of carbon production but it would be a strong incentive for reducing carbon use.6

Energy tax - Set as a price per unit ($0.15 per gallon of gasoline) for carbon and non-carbon sources of energy. The tax raises the cost of that form of energy (gasoline for vehicles) encouraging reduced usage.6

Regulatory standards - Regulatory standards can be used to ensure efficient use of energy when taxes may not. Standards can be applied to things such as vehicles, appliances, and buildings. If the cost of items meeting the new standards is much more than ones that do not, it could cause consumers to wait to buy replacements.6

Biological carbon sequestration

These methods rely on the storage of organic carbon in plants and the soil and the photosynthetic activity of living organisms.2

Forests

The first method is the worldwide storage of carbon in forests by promoting forest growth and reducing deforestation. It is estimated 1.3 billion tons of carbon per year could be stored and the current emissions of more than 1 billion tons of carbon per year from deforestation cut. This method has the benefit of being able to be used for ecological restoration but there are two concerns. If forests are expanded in high-latitude snow-covered areas it could cause warming (because the surface would be darker), but this could be compensated for by increasing the reflectance of the surface in another area. Also, putting forests where they have not been before could change weather patterns because of the release of water into the atmosphere (from transpiration) and changes in surface roughness caused by the trees.2

 

 

Soil

The second method is changing agricultural practices to increase soil carbon storage. An estimated 0.4 to 1.1 billion tons of carbon could be stored per year, but the amount of time carbon could be kept is limited by the lifetime of the agricultural areas and plants used. Additionally, the effectiveness of long term widespread carbon storage in soil can vary greatly because it is dependent on organic tissue chemistry, land-use history, and ecosystem properties. However, the ecological impacts of this method are slight possibly resulting in water and nutrient retention being altered.2

 

 

Biochar

Carbon can also be stored in soils by adding biochar. Biochar is condensed carbon made by burning plant tissue at high temperatures (to minimize CO2 release). It is believed biochar in soil will last for millennia but how long it will actually last depends on factors such as microbial activity and the type of soil which can be different at each location. Global applications of biochar to agricultural soils could hold about 0.65 billion tons of carbon per year. Overall the ecological risks of this method are low. Large scale applications would require sizable amounts of plant material which may present a challenge in and of itself and possibly alter natural ecosystems. This could be overcome by the use of timber byproducts or ‘weedy’ grasses grown on land not fit for agriculture and without forests. Still, the use of biochar on non-agricultural lands could be problematic because its ecological affect is unknown. Furthermore, there is only a limited amount of land where these carbon storage methods could be used and if forests or agricultural areas are placed on poor quality lands they might require irrigation thereby diminishing local water availability and/or fertilization which could boost greenhouse gas emissions. Governance for these methods could be at the national level and management at the local level, but on a global scale, there would need to be international cooperation and long-term monitoring.2

Algae

Finally, algae can be used to store carbon (0.7 to 2.3 billion tons per year - if scarce elements such as iron are added to the ocean to increase algal growth). The usefulness of this method depends on algae sinking deep into the ocean but it has been determined that less than 25% of the carbon does. Furthermore, the risk of harmful ecological impacts from this method is high because it could cause several problems. First, using iron can promote the growth of opportunistic algae some of which produce toxins including dimethyl sulfide gas that can alter climate patterns by enhancing cloud formation. These algae can also affect which marine organisms are found nearby possibly making some creatures overly abundant and others scarce. Additionally, areas could be made unlivable for marine animals because low oxygen levels occur when bacteria eat algae. Furthermore, because the fertilizer could be spread over wide-ranging areas by ocean circulation, problems would be hard to monitor or control and to govern because the algae would grow in international waters.2

 

 

Abiotic carbon sequestration

This capture and storage of carbon method involves collecting CO2 from point sources such as natural gas and industrial coal combustion and pumping a concentrated form into the ocean or geological formations on land. This method could possibly store more than 1 billion tons of carbon per year with a total eventual potential of about 545 billion tons. Accidental leaks are of concern because, if high enough concentrations of CO2 are reached, humans could die. Also, small earthquakes can result from the underground injection of CO2. Additionally, microbial communities and marine animals can be harmed by the storage of CO2 in the deep ocean which can cause high levels of dissolved CO2 in the water column and extreme ocean acidification. For this method to be successful leaks would need to be kept to a minimum. For example, to be as effective as low-emission abatement the leakage rate would have to be less than 1% per 1000 years. There may be a lower risk for leaks in ocean storage sites but monitoring them could be difficult to do especially in remote locations. Putting this method into action could be done with a few decision makers at the local level but the long-term monitoring that would be required would be complicated and challenging to carry out.2 On the plus side, if a market for captured CO2 were established this method could become profitable.6

There are two other methods that are not currently workable but may be in the future. The diffuse capture of carbon method, which would separate CO2 from the atmosphere, is not feasible because of cost and energy requirements (~ 1000 US$ per ton). The accelerated weathering of rock method, in which metal oxides and CO2 react chemically to form stable carbonates, needs too much energy to be practical.2

 

 

Solar Radiation Management

These methods do not involve the reduction of greenhouse gases and therefore would not correct other ecological problems such as ocean acidification that are caused by high atmospheric CO2 levels. Instead they focus on increasing the amount sunlight (energy) being reflected back into space (the less sunlight absorbed, the cooler the planet will be). The combined effects of these methods would reduce carbon by more than 1 billion tons per year. All of these methods need more research and will need continual maintenance.2

 

 

The first method would involve the whitening of surfaces in the oceans, deserts, and cities (the darker the color the more light it absorbs) but only a small area could be lightened.2

 

 

In the future it might be possible to brighten marine clouds by increasing water droplet concentrations. It would be difficult, though, to the keep the droplets in the clouds.6

Another prospective option is outer-atmospheric reflectors but enacting this method would be tremendously complicated.2

The most technically possible method entails sending aerosols into the stratosphere. Aerosols cause sunlight to bounce back into space keeping it from reaching the Earth. Before this method could be used it would be necessary to find out what the appropriate particle size should be and amount of time they should stay in the atmosphere.2 Presently, the effect that aerosols have on the energy balance is uncertain because it has not been measured. This is in part because aerosols are found in different combinations and concentrations around the world, and each has a different effect on solar radiation and heat being reflected from the Earth.3 Even though this method could be put into action by a few decision makers it would be very difficult to govern because of the worldwide coordination of efforts (monitoring, information sharing, agreement on emission amounts, etc.) that would be required.2 Moreover, because aerosols stay in the air only several days they would need to be continually and increasingly rapidly sent into the atmosphere in order to counteract long-lived greenhouse gases.3 Another major problem with this method is that ecological risks could be serious and would be of an undetermined extent and duration. Just using this method once could cause many changes to climate and weather patterns over short and long time spans.2 For example, certain aerosols can alter the climate by decreasing the size of droplets in clouds. Smaller droplet size inhibits precipitation and increases cloud size and/or lifetime7 thus potentially altering the hydrological cycle and circulation patterns.1 Yet another problem with aerosols is that they pose a threat to human health. Fine particulate matter alone is estimated to cause a million deaths per year globally and in combination these pollutants have caused increased hospital admissions, premature deaths, and the worsening of respiratory problems.1

 

 

Conclusion

Abatement (using less energy, using energy more efficiently, and using non-fossil fuels) can potentially reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 7 billion tons per year by 2030, more than offsetting the minimum 4 billion tons that need to be cut, allowing us to decrease the quantity of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The Biological Carbon Sequestration methods of storing of carbon in forests (1.3 billion tons of carbon per year stored and CO2 emissions from deforestation cut by 1 billion tons per year) and soils (0.4 to 1.1 billion tons of CO2 stored per year) can also be effective in reducing CO2 emissions. The above methods are promising not only because they can help bring the Earth’s energy budget back into balance therefore moderating the amount the climate will change, they also can be put into action relatively easily and pose few ecological risks. The Biological Carbon Sequestration method of using biochar and the Abiotic Carbon Sequestration method of capturing CO2 from point sources and storing it in geological formations on land are options that with more research could become practical. The other methods described above need further research and/or are environmentally threatening. As such, our focus should be on abatement with the other methods being used to bolster its effect.2

Working together we can make a livable future.

Links to other pages in this website:

Home    Sustainability      Climate Problems     Saving Resources     Saving Energy     Saving Water    Community

 

 

Literature cited

Image of earth from http://visibleearth.nasa.gov/view.php?id=55418, photographs and other images are from https://pixabay.com.

1 Unger, N. 2012. Global climate forcing by criteria air pollutants. Annual Review of Environmental Resources 37: 1-24.

2 Fabry, V. J., B. A. Seibel, R. A. Feely, and J. C. Orr. 2008. Impacts of ocean acidification on marine fauna and ecosystem processes. – ICES Journal of Marine Science 65: 414–432.

3 Hansen J., M. Sato, P. Kharecha, and K. von Schuckmann. 2011. Earth’s energy imbalance and implications. Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics 11: 13421-13449.

4 Haigh, J.D. 2002. Radiative forcing of climate change. Weather 57: 278-283.

5 Trenberth, K.E. and J. T. Fasullo. 2012. Tracking Earth’s energy: from El Nino to global warming. Surv Geophys 33: 413-426.

6 Cusack, D.F., et al. 2014. An interdisciplinary assessment of climate engineering strategies. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 12: 280-287.

7 West, T.O. and G. Marland. 2002. A synthesis of carbon sequestration, carbon emissions, and net carbon flux in agriculture: comparing tillage practices in the United States. Agriculture, Ecosystems and the Environment 91: 217-232.

8 Rockstrom, J. et al. 2009. A safe operating space for humanity. Nature 461: 472-475.

9 OECD 2013. Climate and carbon aligning prices and policies. OECD Environment Policy Paper no. 1