Learning how to reduce greenhouse gases is vital in today’s society.Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are directly related to greenhouse gas effects or global warming. This refers to the situation when the temperatures on the earth would rise exponentially and make it inhospitable for any kind of life.
But much before the doomsday arrives, life can become difficult and miserable – a hint of which is there for all of us to see in the form of rising sea levels, melting glaciers, and depleting ozone layers. Much of this problem is man-made as developments and comfort that we are so accustomed today have all taken their toll on the fragile environment and ecology. In our bid to answer how to reduce greenhouse gases, we need to look at all possible factors that are causing and adding to global warming.
How to Reduce Greenhouse Gases: Remove & Reduce Emissions
To reduce greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere, we must both reduce our current and future emissions, plus also contemplate removing and sequestering the carbon emissions of the past.
GHG emissions by different economic sectors are as follows: 28% from electricity, 29% from transportation, 22% from industry, and 12% from agriculture. The total GHG emissions in the US in 2017 were 6,457 million tons of CO2-equivalent. Forestry, land use change, and land use offsets about 11% of these greenhouse gas emissions. GHGs are responsible for making the planet warmer and they do so by trapping heat. Over the past two centuries, the rise of GHGs in the atmosphere is all due to human activities.
The biggest source of GHGs in the US is the burning of fossil fuels for electricity, transportation, and heat. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) publishes an annual report of data related to greenhouse gas emission and available sinks.
The 5 Primary Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions
According to EPA, there are five primary sources of greenhouse gas emissions.
1. Emissions through transportation fuels
At 28.9% in 2017, the transportation sector accounts for the maximum share of GHG emissions. These emissions primarily occur due to the burning of fossil fuels by mediums of transportation such as buses, trucks, cars, trains, planes, ships, etc. More than 91% of fuel used by the transportation sector is petroleum-based such as diesel and gasoline. Fossil fuels such as oil, coal and natural gas are the primary source of energy for transportation and production of electricity.
When these fuels are burnt, they release carbon which creates carbon dioxide by combining with oxygen in the air. With the rise in population, the number of vehicles has also increased significantly. This has given rise to a significant increase in the pollution levels in the atmosphere. As vehicles use fossil fuels as their primary source of energy, they end up emitting huge amounts of carbon dioxide, the single gas responsible for most of the greenhouse effect.
2. Emissions in electricity generation
At 27.5%, the production of electricity accounts for the second biggest chunk of greenhouse gas emissions. Most of the electricity (62.9%) that we use is produced through the burning of fossil fuels such as natural gas and coal. Coal is still being used as the primary raw material for the production of electricity and in it releases a lot of carbon dioxide in the process. Renewal sources of energy are increasingly catching up but they still have a long way to go before coal is completely substituted by renewals or natural gas for producing electricity.
3. Industrial emissions
Industries in 2017 accounted for 22.2% of the GHG emissions caused primarily by burning of fossil fuels and chemical reactions as part of the production process. Industries involved in the production of cement, fertilizers, oil extraction, and coal mining activities produce huge amounts of greenhouse gases. Reducing these industrial emissions is a key part of how to reduce greenhouse gases entering our earth’s atmosphere.
4. Commercial & residential emissions
Greenhouse gas emissions from homes and businesses come primarily from the burning of fossil fuels to heat homes and businesses, use of household chemicals and products that emit greenhouse gases, and disposal of residential and commercial waste.
Fluorinated gases: Fluorinated gases are a separate category of GHGs that get formed exclusively as a result of industrial and manufacturing activities. They are most commonly found in aerosol cans and fridges. Fluorinated gases have no natural sources and they are believed not to be impacting the ozone layers. But these gases are supposed to have a very degree of global warming potential.
5. Emissions through agriculture and farming
GHGs are generated through agricultural processes such as the use of livestock, agricultural soils, and production of crops. Fertilizers use nitrous oxide which is one of the greenhouse gases. Decomposition of biodegradable waste produces methane and carbon dioxide, both of which are greenhouse gases. This kind of waste is normally dumped in landfill sites.
Agricultural activities account for nearly 15% GHG emissions and are chief producer of methane nitrous oxide and methane, accounting for 72% and 57% respectively. Livestock urine as well as manure is an important source of nitrous oxide and methane when these are broken down. Nitrous oxide is about 300 times and methane 25 times more powerful in global warming potentials compared to carbon dioxide.
The livestock sector provides food, fertilizer, fiber, and draft power to the world population and, therefore, it has an important role to play in the world economy. However, livestock production has its impact on the environment in the form of deforestation, water pollution, land degradation, and emission of greenhouse gases, which is estimated to be around 17.5% of the entire anthropogenic emissions of GHG.
It is possible for big cooperatives and large enterprises to learn how to reduce their greenhouse gases by managing manure in an efficient and economically-viable manner. They can use methane generated by manure to produce electricity and heat. For small farmers or enterprises, the benefits seldom outweigh the huge investments in setting up the necessary infrastructure.
Working to Reduce Current and Future Greenhouse Gas Emissions
In comparison to 2016 levels, the GHG emissions in the US have dropped in 2017. This is due to a number of factors such as increased use of renewable sources of energy, replacing coals with natural gas as the source of energy in many sectors, milder weather leading to less use of electricity.
Effects of increased GHG emissions
An increase in the GHGs heats up the earth’s lower atmosphere and its surface. It has many catastrophic consequences including thinning of the ozone layer and causing holes in it. This can allow ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun to travel down to earth without any restriction, causing temperatures to rise beyond the levels the life forms on the earth are accustomed to.
The biggest concern is that the ozone layer may be depleting faster than we expect it is. As temperatures rise on the earth, people are going to use more fossil fuels to produce more electricity for being able to run more cooling appliances such as air conditioning. This ultimately results in more GHGs being released in the atmosphere.
Scientists believe that the earth often goes through phases of heating and cooling in a cycle. It is still not clear how the GHGs are causing damage to the ozone layer, or at what rate, when so much is happening as part of the natural phenomenon. But going by the rate, the GHGs are rising, in the atmosphere it would be very difficult to sustain life on earth if the cooling cycle does not begin in the next thousand years.
Ways to Remove Greenhouse Gases from the Atmosphere
Forests and green areas in the US offset 11.1% of greenhouse gas emissions. They act like a sink for CO2 and managed forest and green areas have absorbed more CO2 since 2010 than how much CO2 has been released in the atmosphere.
Forests account for a large portion of the green territory on the earth. Trees and plants absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen, which is critical for the existence of humans and animals. A larger population has resulted in the cutting of trees and large-scale deforestation for prioritizing development. When wood is burnt or the green material such as leaves and tree branches decompose, they emit greenhouse gases.
There are many ways by which carbon can be removed from the atmosphere and make it cleaner. Here, we are going to discuss three most popular and also very important methods of combating greenhouse gas emissions.
Photosynthesis is a natural process that removes CO2 from the atmosphere. The interesting part of this process is that the trees and plants store the carbon and release the oxygen. By expanding the forest cover, we can allow trees and plants to separate more carbon from the CO2 in the atmosphere and store it in its woods and soil. Restoring existing forests and creating more managed forests are both compelling ways to reduce greenhouse gases.
Scientists believe that through increased forest cover and better management of the forests, a huge amount of carbon — running into millions of tons – can be removed from the atmosphere every year. It is estimated that one acre of temperate forest can remove 3 tons of carbon per year from CO2 available in the atmosphere. This is the least expensive way of getting cleaner water and air.
Soils store carbon naturally without having to do much. But agricultural soil releases a log of its stored carbon due to intensive digging and other agricultural activities. Looking at the large expanse of land under agricultural use, it can store a lot of carbon if we are able to increase the per-acre storage of carbon by the agricultural soil. Having more carbon in the soil is good for agriculture as it can mean better soil health and more yield.Having trees on farmland can also help reduce greenhouse gases in our atmosphere.
There are other ways as well to increase the storage of carbon in the soils. Instead of keeping the farm bare, we can plant cover crops that will allow the photosynthesis to continue for the whole year. This can help sequester about half a ton of carbon dioxide from each acre every year.
Using more compost can help deposit the carbon content of the compost into the soil, besides increasing the fertility of the soil.
Scientists are developing crop breeds with deeper roots so that they are resistant to drought and can deposit greater amount of carbon in the soil
3. Carbon capture & storage (CCS)
CCS is an interesting way to make use of photosynthesis in combating climate change. However, it is a complicated process than managing soils or planting trees. And, it may not always be an environmentally sound practice.
In the CCS technology, biomass is used for energy in the transportation, power or other industrial sectors. The process involves capturing and using the carbon embodied in the biomass. Usually, the residue in the process is stored underground or used in long-lasting products such as concrete.
CCS helps grow more biomass and also store more carbon that would have otherwise got released into the atmosphere. It offers net carbon removal.
In some CCS practices, wastes like garbage and agricultural residues are converted into fuel. This kind of feed-stocks is the key to the sustainability of CCS as it does not require exclusive land use.
However, a great deal of calculations has got to be right for this technology to work efficiently as with this technology many things can go wrong and the results may not be on the expected lines.
In some cases, CCS is totally dependent on bio-energy crops and that can impact natural ecosystems or displace farm production. This situation can lead to food insecurity, ecosystem imbalance and other climatic disadvantages. A clear and calculated roadmap with advantages clearly in sight can, however, make this technology work.
Implementing Ways to Reduce Greenhouse Gases in Our Atmosphere
Global warming is a global problem but it has a common reason: The hunger for development all over the world by all kinds of people and population has led to intensified industrial and farming activities. As a result, insurmountable amounts of carbon in the form of carbon dioxide got formed and released into the atmosphere. The consequences are for everyone to see: the climate has become erratic, holes have developed in the ozone layers that used to protect the life on earth from ultraviolet rays, and the water sources are depleting fast.
Farming and industrial activities that include electricity and transportation are causing the largest chunk of overall GHG emissions. While there is little hope that these activities can be rolled back to the level of pre-industrial revolution days, there are measures that can clean the atmosphere of the excessive carbon that is present in it. These measures include increasing the forest cover, restoring the existing forests, and creating managed forests. There are many initiatives that can be taken in the farm sector to reduce emission of GHGs in. To answer how to reduce greenhouse gases, we must look at the technologies available for this purpose. And, CCS seems to be a highly-efficient solution that we must look at.