When considering climate change, we hear a lot about both carbon dioxide (CO2) and CO2 equivalent emissions. Ultimately, when thinking about how to take action in the age of climate change, it can be important to go back to the basics, so here’s your carbon emissions 101.
Carbon dioxide is a chemical compound that occurs naturally in our earth’s atmosphere. CO2 releases into the atmosphere naturally in a multiplicity of ways, including exchanges between the ocean and atmosphere, and plants and animals. However, human-related carbon dioxide emissions didn’t come on the scene until the mid-1700s at the start of the Industrial Revolution. During this time, fossil fuel-burning technology spread throughout Europe and, eventually, the world.
Today, the addition of human-related CO2 emissions and equivalents from such activities as coal, gas, and oil power plants and planes, trains, and automobiles now results in 30 billion tons, or 84% of the total amount of CO2, added to the atmosphere every year.
Carbon dioxide and other CO2 equivalent emissions such as methane, ozone, nitrous oxide, and halocarbons are known as greenhouse gasses within our atmosphere because they absorb heat from the infrared rays of the sun that hit the earth and bounce back. At former levels prior to the Industrial Revolution, these gasses helped keep the earth at a normal temperature, but with the large influx of human-related emissions over the past two and a half centuries, we are seeing the effects of climate change in more extreme weather events such as drought, flooding, and wildfire, rising seas levels, and increased disease and pests, all of which greatly impact communities worldwide.
While the weight of climate change is immense, it’s key to understand the basics and how you can make a positive impact in reducing your carbon emissions.
Here are some stats to wrap your mind around…
- A typical passenger vehicle emits about 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. This assumes the average gasoline vehicle on the road today drives around 11,500 miles per year and gets about 22 miles per gallon. Every gallon of gasoline burned creates about 8,887 grams of CO2.
- Deforestation results in CO2 release and future lack of carbon sinks. For example, the Atlantic Rainforest releases 3.53 tons of carbon emissions per hectare that is deforested.
- One person taking a roundtrip flight from JFK to London emits more carbon emissions than the average person emits in one year in dozens of countries. For example in Ethiopia and Malawi, the average annual CO2 emissions per person is 0.1 tons, while the CO2 emissions per person for the one roundtrip flight from JFK to London is approximately 1.06 tons, or over 10 times the emissions.
- The meat and dairy industries create 7.1 gigatons of greenhouse gasses annually—that’s 14.5% of total human-made emissions. Beef generates more than twice the emissions of the next most greenhouse gas emitting food production, which is lamb.
- The fast fashion industry is a large sector of the fashion industry, which is responsible for 1.2 billion tons of carbon emissions every year.
Here are ways and impacts of neutralizing your carbon emissions.
- Carpool. Or better yet Bike. Whenever you carpool, take public transportation, or bike, you are reducing your carbon emissions accordingly. If you started biking half the average annual driving miles of a typical American, you could cut your carbon emissions by 2.3 metric tons every year. That’s huge!
- Plant a tree. Or two. The average tree absorbs 22 lbs of carbon dioxide every year for the first 20 years of its life.
- Calculate the amount of CO2 emissions different flight destinations would emit on this carbon footprint calculator and consider taking the one with less impact or enjoy some trips closer to home and on the ground.
- Save a hamburger for the holidays. By eating less beef, you could reduce carbon equivalent emissions significantly. Cows and sheep produce a high level of emissions because they produce large quantities of methane in their digestive process, and methane is up to 34 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2.
- Buy sustainable clothing that is meant to last. The average American throws away about 80 pounds of clothing each year, 85 percent of which ends up in landfills, resulting in both the carbon emissions from the production of fast fashion and the high methane emissions from landfills. Shop with intention for clothing that you need and that is environmentally friendly and socially responsible. Since 2010, Recover has saved 19,005,248 lbs of carbon emissions through its targeted supply chain and process.