Image: Gold Standard
What actually is carbon, and when is it produced?
To fully understand how to cut our carbon footprint, we need to know what the term actually means. When talking about climate change, ‘carbon’ is commonly used to imply both carbon dioxide (CO2) and greenhouse gases (GHG). These emissions are released from pretty much everything we do, eat and wear. Quite simply, by living, we are all producing emissions. However, the main causes of these emissions are burning coal, oil and gas (fossil fuels), deforestation and the cutting down of forests, increased livestock farming, and the use of fertilisers that contain nitrogen produce..
Next, let’s talk about greenhouse gases. These are gases that trap heat within the atmosphere by absorbing infrared radiation, and are linked to causing Global Warming. These gases do occur naturally, but human activities are causing increased amounts to be released. Carbon Dioxide is the greenhouse gas most commonly produced by human activities and it is responsible for 64% of man-made global warming – with a concentration in the atmosphere currently 40% higher than it was when industrialisation began. Other names to look out for are Carbon Dioxide (from burning fossil fuels and biological materials),Methane (from livestock and decay of organic waste),Nitrous Oxide (from combustion of fossil fuels and solid waste) and Fluorinated Gases (including Hydrofluorocarbons, which are used in fridges and air-conditioning).
So why do we need to limit our emissions? According to scientists, if the global temperature increases by 2°C compared to pre-industrial times, there is a much higher risk of potential catastrophic changes in the global climate. In order to slow down this warming, we have to reduce the amount of GHG emissions being released into the atmosphere. The Paris Agreement recognises this, with its central aim of strengthening the global response to climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2°C, as well as pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C. But to achieve this, we must all first significantly reduce the amount of GHGs that we are omitting before looking to offset any that are unavoidable through responsible and sustainable practices.