There's a lot of talk these days about the likelihood that "greenhouse
gases," the most common of which is carbon dioxide (CO2),
will cause the Earth's climate to significantly change. If you're
like most Americans, each time you drive your car, hop on a plane,
flick on a light, or consume energy in other ways, you contribute
in a small way to this effect.
Curious how much? This worksheet allows you to easily tally up
your own personal "carbon budget."
Your total atmospheric carbon contribution is approximately
pounds per year. That's
pounds of carbon dioxide. Of course, this ignores all of the
energy spent to produce all of the goods that you buy...you
might want to double these numbers!
Probably so. Although carbon dioxide is a
normal and vital component of our air, its percentage has increased
considerably because of human activity. The best scientific
evidence is that the increase of this gas in the atmosphere
will have a variety of effects on worldwide climate, including
increase of average temperature, rising sea level, and increasing
"I thought that U.S. had done a
pretty good job of decreasing pollution. Isn't this a problem
with the rest of the world and not us?"
The U.S. has reduced certain forms of pollution.
However, carbon dioxide hasn't generally been considered to
be a pollutant. Its release is simply a function of the amount
and type of fossil fuel that we burn, and we burn a lot. The
U.S., with 5 percent of the world's population, releases almost
25 percent of the world's CO2. We release at a per
capita rate that is twice as high as the the next highest releasers
"OK, let's just install some scrubbers
on those smokestacks to remove that CO2."
Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way. Understand
that the CO2 was created by the release of energy
from burning the fossil fuel. To split it back into carbon and
oxygen requires an equivalent amount of energy to what was released
by the original burning. The energy to do this has to come from
somewhere. Getting it from fossil fuel would be self-defeating,
so we need to think about other sources of energy. How about
solar? Well, this process takes lots of energy, and solar is
really diffuse, so perhaps what we need is a factory that's
really spread out. Hey, isn't this what a forest does?
"OK, so how much additional forest
would be required to remove my CO2?"
Well, according to information cited by the
EPA, it would take approximately
trees to remove your year's worth of carbon production.
"Hmm, that's a lot of trees. I'm
not sure where to put them. Is there anything else I can do?"
Well, you could reduce your fossil fuel use.
Here are some things that most people can do to help:
Drive less, drive slower.
Trade in that Suburban on something more efficient.
Check/fix your house's insulation, caulking, and weather
Check out solar screens.
Set up/back your thermostat, especially when you're gone.
When you replace light bulbs, use compact fluorescents.
"What about energy sources that
don't produce CO2?"
Renewable energy technologies will in the
future supply an increasing portion of your energy, and in many
places are already playing a significant role.
Solar (most of our energy is ultimately from the
Passive solar techniques used in houses provide
a healthier and more comfortable home, and save lots of
Solar water heating works great.
Watch for better and cheaper photovoltaics.
Wind (another form of solar)
Your utility may already be buying power from wind