CO<sub>2</sub> + Climate Change

Carbon Dioxide + Climate Change

Look, we know climate change can be confusing. Today, terms like greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide, global warming and others infiltrate the media we consume and the businesses we buy from. The basic science of climate change isn’t too complex, though. Hopefully, we can clarify some of the language used and want to start at the beginning – with carbon dioxide. 

Imagine standing outside in NYC or any other cold climate in the winter without a jacket or any protective layers. You’re going to quickly lose body heat from standing. This is a great analogy to help understand greenhouse gases (GHGs) and how they influence the Earth’s fluctuating climate because GHGs are naturally occurring gases in the atmosphere that retain solar radiation, aka heat. So, in the same way that your jacket would absorb your body heat to keep you warm, GHGs function as an outer layer wrapped around the planet, keeping it warm.  

Greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) exist in our Earth’s atmosphere and trap heat similar to a greenhouse. Carbon dioxide is one of the most challenging to address, which is why we see climate change targets and goals measured and discussed in CO2 equivalents. While GHGs are naturally occurring (through photosynthesis, oceanic processes, etc.) and play a major role in the Earth’s atomic makeup, human activity has caused these gases to be emitted at unprecedented rates. This is referred to as anthropogenic climate change. In an age of technology, we rely on extracting fossil fuels for use as sources of energy, which is a heavily carbon-intensive process. This surge in carbon emissions has kept a blanket around the planet, causing it to store heat from the sun that would normally bounce back into outer space. 

To slow the rate of warming, we have to remove the blanket.

CO2 Measurement

Our atmosphere is a cocktail composed of a number of gases that are both naturally occurring and propelled by human activity. These gases are measured in various ways to track air pollution levels and the GHGs that contribute to planetary warming. To better understand the history of CO2 concentrations, scientists measure gas bubbles that have remained trapped in arctic ice cores for millions of years. Over time, new layers form; the deeper an ice core, the older the formation. Samples from these bubbles provide researchers insight into the atmospheric makeup of the planet, allowing us to understand how CO2 concentrations have changed throughout time. 

There is a
general agreement within the scientific community that CO2 levels are at their highest in millions of years. Hand-in-hand with this consensus is the looming responsibility of human behavior on our changing climate. In 2015, The Paris Agreement, an international agreement between 196 parties on climate change and emissions reductions, was adopted. The agreement set attainable warming targets that can only be met if we cut emissions and simultaneously work to rapidly remove excess CO2 from the atmosphere.

Climate Forcing

Climate forcing is a general concept used to measure and describe Earth’s energy balance and how this results in warming or cooling patterns. The Earth is showered in the sun’s radiation consistently, which is meant to be reflected back into outer space. In an ideal scenario, what is absorbed is equally emitted back into space to maintain a state of balance. However, when the radiation coming in does not equal what goes out, we see what’s called positive climate forcing. This causes a pattern of increasing warmth. This means that expelling CO2 in abundance pushes this warming trend because it prevents the sun’s heat from escaping Earth.

CO2 as a Solution

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a body of the United Nations that works to understand and articulate the science of climate change. In short, the consensus is that the planet is undoubtedly warming, backed by historical data and metrics. The 2022 IPCC report highlights that carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) technologies will play a key role in tackling climate change. These technologies promote capturing CO2 directly at the source of emission (i.e., industrial facilities) and either utilizing the gas for other purposes or injecting it into the ground for permanent storage. 

AIR COMPANY holds true to the idea that our biggest challenge can be our greatest ally. There are several CCUS companies working to scale their technologies to address CO2 across different sectors, and we are thrilled to be part of these emerging solutions working to preserve and protect our planet.

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