What are Greenhouse Gases?

What are Greenhouse Gases?

We hear about greenhouse gases all the time, but what is a greenhouse gas? Greenhouse gases (GHGs) are key to understanding climate change and its impacts. Ahead, we'll explore what greenhouse gases are, the greenhouse effect, different types of greenhouse gases and their impacts on the planet. We’ll also talk about some ways in which companies can reduce their carbon emissions.

What is the greenhouse effect?

The greenhouse effect is a process that happens when specific gases in the Earth's atmosphere absorb heat from the sun and thus increase the temperature of the Earth’s surface. This solar radiation, which would normally escape back into outer space, is then trapped, causing planetary warming. Some of this is normal because without the greenhouse effect, Earth would be much colder and unable to support life. 

However, human activities, including human effects on the carbon cycle, have increased the concentration of these gases, causing global temperatures to rise dramatically. Human activity across most industries emit GHGs like carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in large quantities, contributing to climate instability and global warming.

What is a greenhouse gas?

A greenhouse gas plays an important role in maintaining the Earth's temperature by capturing and maintaining heat energy. These gases form a blanket-like layer surrounding our planet, permitting sunlight to enter while preventing a significant amount of the reflected heat from the sun from going back into space. This process is important for sustaining life on Earth, as it keeps the planet warm enough for life to survive.

However, human activities have disrupted the natural balance of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The burning of fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and natural gas for electricity, transportation and industrial purposes releases significant amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Deforestation (cutting down trees emits CO2) and land-use changes add to the increased levels of these gases as well. 

The increased concentration of greenhouse gases has amplified the greenhouse effect, stimulating a global rise in temperatures at an unprecedented rate. This rapid warming has led to a range of environmental responses, such as the melting of polar ice caps, ocean acidification, and more intense weather events like severe drought and hurricanes.

It’s imperative to curtail greenhouse gas emissions and we can do this by transitioning to renewable energy sources, improving energy efficiency, decarbonizing transportation, halting  deforestation, embracing sustainable land-use practices and deploying carbon capture, utilization and storage technologies. These are some of the key pathways to GHG emissions mitigation.

International cooperation and forward-thinking policies are also essential for driving the transition to a low-carbon economy. By understanding the role of greenhouse gases in global warming and taking collective action to reduce GHG emissions, we can preserve the Earth's delicate ecosystem and ensure a sustainable future for the coming generations.

5 types of greenhouse gases

Carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone and water vapor are the five major greenhouse gases.

Carbon dioxide

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the most challenging greenhouse gas to address and accounts for about 65% of global GHG emissions. It primarily comes from burning fossil fuels, deforestation and land-use changes. CO2 poses unique challenges compared to other GHGs because of the reliance on fossil fuels in the global economy, which expels it into abundance into the atmosphere. To add to this, it is challenging to address because it’s difficult to remove from the atmosphere.

AIR COMPANY is working to address CO2 by repurposing this greenhouse gas to create products. Our innovative carbon technology converts captured carbon dioxide into alcohols for consumer use and sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) that boasts some of the highest GHG emissions reductions compared to conventional jet fuel. Using SAF made from carbon dioxide, we can pave the way for a carbon-neutral aviation industry and reduce emissions on a global scale. 

Methane

Methane (CH4) is the second most prevalent greenhouse gas, accounting for about 16% of global GHG emissions. It is over 25 times more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere than CO2, making it even more dangerous in the context of global warming. Methane primarily comes from the production and transportation of natural gas, oil and coal, livestock farming in the agricultural sector and natural sources like wetlands.

Nitrous oxide

Nitrous oxide (N2O) is another potent greenhouse gas, with approximately 273 times the global warming potential of CO2 over a 100-year period. It accounts for about 6% of global GHG emissions with major sources including agricultural activities, such as the use of synthetic fertilizers, and industrial processes, like the production of nitric acid.

Ozone

Ozone (O3) is a greenhouse gas that occurs both in the Earth's upper atmosphere (stratosphere) and near the ground (troposphere). While stratospheric ozone protects life on Earth from harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation, tropospheric ozone acts as a potent greenhouse gas and a harmful air pollutant. Ground-level ozone forms when pollutants from human activities, like burning fossil fuels, react with sunlight and other gases in the atmosphere.

Water vapor

Water vapor is the most abundant greenhouse gas in the atmosphere and plays a critical role in the Earth's climate system. It helps regulate the planet's temperature by absorbing and releasing heat. While water vapor is a natural component of the atmosphere, human-induced global warming can lead to increased evaporation and higher levels of water vapor in the atmosphere, amplifying the warming effect.

The impact of greenhouse gases

The consequences of greenhouse gases and their contributions to global warming and climate change have significant effects on the environment, human society and the economy. As the Earth's temperature continues to increase due to increasing concentrations of these gases, we are experiencing unprecedented changes to our planet. Some of the major impacts of climate change include:   

More frequent and severe tropical storms

Global warming has intensified weather patterns, leading to an increase in the frequency and severity of tropical storms. Warmer ocean surface temperatures provide more energy for storms, making them stronger and potentially more damaging. The rising temperatures can also lead to changes in atmospheric circulation, further affecting storm formation and behavior.

Rising sea levels due to melting polar ice caps and glaciers

As global temperatures rise, polar ice caps and glaciers are melting at an accelerated rate. This melting contributes to rising sea levels, which can lead to coastal erosion, flooding and the displacement of communities living near coastlines. The inundation of low-lying areas threatens infrastructure, agriculture and freshwater resources, posing significant challenges for affected regions.

Increased drought and heat waves

Higher temperatures exacerbate drought and heatwave conditions. These extreme weather events can lead to water scarcity, reduced agricultural productivity and increased risk of wildfires. Droughts and heatwaves can have severe implications for food and agriculture security, public health, and the economy.

Ocean acidification

As greenhouse gas emissions increase, more carbon dioxide is absorbed by the oceans, leading to a decrease in pH levels and ocean acidification. This process has harmful effects on marine life and ecosystems, as it impairs the ability of organisms like corals, shellfish and plankton to form shells and skeletons. The loss of these essential species disrupts the marine food chain and threatens the overall health and diversity of ocean ecosystems, and ultimately human health and wellbeing.

Disruptions to ecosystems, leading to species migration and extinctions

Global warming disrupts ecosystems by altering habitats and causing shifts in temperature and precipitation patterns. These changes force many plant and animal species to migrate to new locations in search of suitable conditions. Not all species can adapt or move quickly enough to keep pace with the changing environment, resulting in localized extinctions and a loss of biodiversity. The destabilization of ecosystems has far-reaching implications for the planet, as it affects the natural balance, food webs and essential services that ecosystems provide.

Impacts on human health and wellbeing

The consequences of climate change also extend to human health and well-being. Increasing temperatures can exacerbate air pollution, leading to respiratory illnesses and other health issues. Extreme weather events, such as heatwaves, floods and storms, can cause injuries, fatalities and mental health problems, as well as force displacement and migration from communities that become inhabitable. The spread of vector-borne diseases, such as malaria and dengue fever, is also influenced by climate change, as warmer conditions facilitate the growth and spread of disease-carrying insects.

Economic impacts 

Damage to infrastructure from extreme weather events, loss of agricultural productivity due to droughts and heatwaves and the disruption of ecosystems and their services can result in substantial financial losses. 

Adding to this, the displacement of populations due to rising sea levels and the increased frequency of natural disasters can strain resources and exacerbate social and economic inequalities. The costs associated with adapting to and mitigating the effects of climate change are substantial, and the longer we delay action, the more expensive and challenging it will be to address these issues.

Political and social implications

As resources like water and fertile land become scarce due to climate change, conflicts may arise between nations or communities over access to these resources. The displacement of populations due to rising sea levels and extreme weather events can also lead to social unrest and raise existing tensions within and between countries.

How to lower carbon emissions and reduce the impact of GHGs

Businesses can play a crucial role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and mitigating the impacts of climate change. Here are some strategies for lowering carbon emissions:

Switch to clean energy sources

Transitioning to renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind and hydroelectric power, can significantly reduce a company’s carbon intensity. Using sustainable transportation fuel alternatives such as SAF can help reduce GHG emissions from the hard to decarbonize aviation sector.

Provide organization-wide education about greenhouse gases

Educating employees about the sources and impacts of greenhouse gases and the importance of reducing emissions can lead to more informed decision-making and encourage environmentally responsible behavior.

Reduce waste

Companies can reduce waste by implementing recycling and composting programs, eliminating single-use plastics and using second-hand equipment and furniture. Waste reduction efforts can lower an organization's overall footprint and contribute to a more sustainable environment.

Analyze your supply chain

Engaging with transparent suppliers who share similar values and a commitment to sustainability can help reduce an organization's contribution to carbon emissions. By working together with suppliers, companies can establish business models that reduce emissions wherever possible across the supply chain.

Commit to a more sustainable future

Understanding greenhouse gases and their impact on the planet is crucial in addressing climate change. AIR COMPANY is dedicated to mitigating the effects of GHGs by repurposing CO2 and converting it into alcohols and fuels. By increasing education about greenhouse gases and taking action to reduce emissions, organizations can contribute to a more sustainable and resilient future for our planet.

Read More

What is Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF)?
Read more
Welcome to SAF School
Read more
Sophia Li & Mark Rumizen Talk SAF
Read more
CO2 + Climate Change
Read more