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Understanding the Impacts of Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Earth is changing as the icecaps are shrinking, forests are diminishing, and extinction rates are over 100 times greater than in the past millennia. Almost all of these changes are being caused by human activity, and the most destructive is the production of greenhouse gases.

The amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the air today is almost twice as much as there was 1,000 years ago. This shift has not been gradual either, as the largest spike of CO2 has occurred over only the past 150 years. But what has caused this rapid increase, and how can it be stopped?

The sun is what keeps Earth warm, shining on the planet to keep it at a reasonable temperature. Greenhouse gasses are a kind of gate, where light can enter with ease, but is not strong enough to escape once it becomes heat. The gasses that do this can build up, causing the planet to warm drastically. When animals breathe, they take in oxygen and release CO2, while plants do the opposite. This creates a cycle that allows the CO2 to remain at an acceptable rate. When people drive to work, crank up their air conditioning, or produce goods in factories, large amounts of CO2 are added. Humanity has now added too much CO2 for the Earth to handle.

The U.S. is the second largest producer of greenhouse gasses in the world, and 28% of that comes from the transportation of people and goods via trucks, passenger cars, boats, and aircraft. Between 1990 and 2021, fossil fuel emissions from transportation increased by 19%. Now, boats and rails only make up 5% of all transportation-related emissions while large trucks make up 23%. Surprisingly, this can be reduced easily. Today, there are electric cars powered by solar power as well as more efficient fuels. In most cities, driving is not necessary especially if sidewalks and bike paths are well developed.

After transportation, America's next biggest emitter is energy production. Sixty percent of all electricity comes from fossil fuels like coal and natural gas. In 2021, only 20% came from renewable sources such as hydro, solar, and wind. Luckily, this can be changed drastically if the right steps are taken. The most obvious and direct method is switching to renewable energy like solar power. This switch will eventually happen, as the world only has a limited supply of oil. A second option has recently become possible, where carbon is captured before being released by coal plants, and transported underground where it is stored. Naturally, this process takes hundreds of years, but using technology, it can happen in a day.

The last big contributor to greenhouse gases is industries. Industry emissions include the use of fossil fuels, as well as gases emitted by their factories. Industries are responsible for producing many raw materials as well as most goods that are used. Twenty-three percent of all U.S. emissions come from this sector, but if the electricity end-use is included, that is increased to 30% electricity end-use, when the energy produced by power plants is accounted for as a part of other producers. That number has declined by 14% since 1990. This is a light of hope, that greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced. To reduce these numbers even further, people can switch to alternate fuels, and recycle scrap metal instead of smelting new metals.

Climate change is recognized as a problem, but noticing a problem is easy, and it does nothing. To truly stop the rapid change of the climate, the right changes must be made to our daily lives to change the world for the better.

[Source: The Environmental Protection Agency]

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