Updated: Jun 30, 2020
How do carbon emissions contribute to the climate crisis?
We hear a lot about carbon emissions and climate change, but some do not necessarily know how these emissions create the climate crisis, or even that there are other emissions that contribute to climate change as well.
How do Carbon Emissions Alter Our Climate?
To get a little technical, the sun emits shortwave radiation, like ultraviolet waves, or X-rays. These waves pass through the atmosphere relatively unimpeded. The ozone layer filters out some of these rays, which is why the Ozone Hole was so concerning for the global community. The Earth absorbs the short-wave radiation, and then emits long-wave radiation, also known as thermal radiation, or heat (think of exercising and once you stop, you feel really hot as your body heats up and then emits thermal radiation).
In normal conditions, some of the thermal radiation is absorbed by carbon dioxide, and then is re-emitted back towards earth. This is a critical natural process, as otherwise, earth would be too cold for us humans. The rest of the thermal radiation will simply disperse into the atmosphere and into space.
But what is happening today is that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, measured in parts per million (ppm) of molecules, is increasing to such an extent that the heat these molecules are re-emitting back to earth are wreaking havoc on our natural systems.
Different Types of Greenhouse Gases
Carbon dioxide is known as a greenhouse gas (GHG), named after how warm greenhouses can get by trapping solar heat inside the structure. However, carbon emissions are not the only culprits of climate change, as there are a few other GHGs out there that are actually much more potent in their ability to trap thermal radiation and emit it back to earth.
Below is a table of common GHGs. All GHGs have a measurement of Global Warming Potential, which is calculated using both how potent the gas is at trapping thermal radiation, and the lifespan of the gas before it degrades in the atmosphere.
This chart indicates that Methane, Nitrous Oxide, and Fluorinated gases have a significant impact on climate change, and the problem is not solely limited to carbon emissions.
Even though many of you already know that carbon emissions and GHGs cause climate change, many do not. Hopefully you can use this information to educate those people around you while you work to engage others to take climate action and protect our home using Carbon Down's platform.