The Earth is Dying


David Caine, Reporter

There is a silent killer in the atmosphere, slowly chipping away at the Earth’s health. This silent but deadly killer is called carbon dioxide, or CO2. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that absorbs and radiates heat. Greenhouse gases are needed for Earth to thrive, as if we didn’t have them, Earth’s temperatures would be sub-zero. But in the past few hundred years, carbon dioxide emissions have risen to a point where it traps additional heat in the atmosphere, warming Earth’s average temperatures at an alarming rate. Levels are higher than they have been in over 800,000 years. Increases in carbon dioxide emissions are behind ⅔ of the total energy imbalance raising Earth’s temperature.

Carbon dioxide emissions are also the cause of something called Ocean Acidification, which is the drop of acidity in the oceans throughout the world. Carbon dioxide dissolves into the ocean and reacts with other water molecules. This produces carbonic acid and lowers the ocean’s pH levels. Since the start of the Industrial Revolution in 1760, pH levels have dropped from 8.21 to 8.10. While this may not seem like a big difference, it is actually a massive change. A change of 0.1 is about a 30% increase in acidity. That means that there is about a 330% increase of acidity in oceans! An increase in acidity is terrible because it interferes with marine life’s ability to take calcium from the water to build their skeletons and shells.

There are six ways carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere. These six “sectors” are transportation, electricity, industry, commercial/residential, land use/forestry, and agriculture.

Transportation includes the movement of goods and people by cars, airplanes, trains, trucks, and other automobiles. Most of the emissions are carbon dioxide, and there are small amounts of nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, and methane. In 2018, transportation accounted for 28.2 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. From 1990 to 2018, transportation emissions have increased from about 1,500 million metric tons to almost 2,000. There are a few ways to help lower transportation emissions. One way is by switching to a fuel that emits less carbon dioxide, like biofuels, hydrogen, or electricity from renewable sources. We could also reduce the need for travel by reducing the number of miles people drive every day.

Electricity includes the distribution, transmission, and creation of electricity and accounts for 26.9 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, as of 2018. Since 1990, emissions from electricity have decreased by 4.1 percent. This is due to a shift in generation to lower and non-emitting sources of electricity. One way we can help to reduce electricity emissions is by increasing the efficiency of fossil-fueled power plants. We could also use renewable energy sources like wind power, solar power, and wind power to generate electricity. Lastly, we can use a process called Carbon Capture and Sequestration, or CCS for short. CCS is a process where carbon dioxide is captured as a byproduct of fossil fuel combustion and is sent underground into a carefully selected and suitable area, where it is securely stored.

Industry includes the production of goods and raw material we use every day. There are two types of emissions, direct and indirect. Direct emissions are produced by burning fuel for heat or power, leaks in industrial processes, or through chemical reactions. Indirect emissions are produced by burning fossil fuels at a power plant to make electricity. In 2018, 22 percent of the U.S. greenhouse gas emissions were from industry. That number has declined by 16.1 percent since 1990. One way we can reduce industry emissions, even more, is by upgrading to more efficient industrial technology. We could also switch to fuels that result in less carbon dioxide emissions. Lastly, we can make workers and companies aware of the steps needed to take to prevent or reduce emissions leaks.

The commercial and residential sector includes all homes and commercial businesses, excluding agricultural and industrial activities. Just like in industry, there are direct and indirect emissions. Direct emissions are produced from residential and commercial activities in many ways, like organic waste sent to landfills, and wastewater treatment plants. Indirect emissions are produced by burning fossil fuels at power plants to make electricity. In 2018, this section accounted for 12.3 percent of total U.S. emissions, and they have increased by 9 percent since 1990. Some ways to reduce these emissions are by making water and wastewater systems more energy-efficient and by reducing solid waste sent to landfills.

Land Use and Forestry was the cause for 11.6 percent of U.S. emissions in 2018 and has decreased by 7.1 percent. Some ways we can further reduce these emissions is by using land differently to increase carbon storage and improve management practices on existing land-use types.

Agriculture accounts for crop and livestock production of food. Management practices can lead to increased nitrogen in the soil. Additionally, livestock actually produces methane as part of their digestive process. In 2018, agriculture accounted for 9.9 percent of U.S. emissions and has since risen by 10.1 percent. Some ways to reduce these emissions are by adjusting the methods for growing crops and managing land, and controlling the way manure decomposes to reduce nitrous oxide and methane emissions.

All of this may seem out of your reach, and it may sound like there isn’t anything that you can do to help. But there are many, simple ways that you, yes you, can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. First is a saying that you may have heard a lot, but it is true: reduce, reuse and recycle. By recycling half of the waste in your house, you can save 2,400 pounds of carbon dioxide yearly. Try to drive as safely and smartly as you can. Driving less means fewer emissions, and when you do drive, make sure your car is running efficiently. Use only as much electricity as you need. If you leave a room, turn off the light. If you are brushing your teeth, don’t leave the water running.

“We have to really reform our energy system. We have to get energy to run our society in such a way that it does not involve emitting carbon dioxide,” said Pieter Tans, a member of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

There are so many more simple things that you can do to reduce emissions. If you want a more detailed list, you can go here:

Remember, all it takes is one simple action. The Earth is dying, and we are the only ones who can save it. Do everything that you can, and encourage others to do the same. It won’t be easy, but that doesn’t mean that it is impossible. Help join the fight against greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. We all have to come together to make change happen. Help save this beautiful world for the next generation.


Interview with Pieter Tans