Our Carbon Footprint

What is carbon dioxide? 

Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that is one part carbon and two parts oxygen. A greenhouse gas is a gas that absorbs heat and releases it gradually over time. Carbon dioxide is one of the most important greenhouse gases, but it absorbs less heat than the others and stays in the atmosphere much longer. Furthermore, it’s more abundant than the others. Without greenhouse gases, Earth’s temperature would be freezing. However, additional greenhouse gases have tipped the earth’s energy out of balance, thereby trapping extra heat and raising Earth’s temperature. 

Why is carbon dioxide important and how does it contribute to the carbon cycle? 

Normally, carbon dioxide is part of a well-balanced system called the carbon cycle. The carbon cycle is the process in which carbon atoms travel from the atmosphere to the Earth and then back into the atmosphere. Due to the fact that the Earth and our atmosphere are a closed environment, the amount of carbon in this system does not change. What does change, however, is where the carbon is stored. This changes the Earth’s temperature. On Earth, carbon is stored in living things, in the atmosphere, and in the ocean, but most of it is in rocks and sediments. If carbon is continually being exchanged in a balanced system, then the Earth’s temperature remains the same and isn’t a problem. 

But in the past, the Earth has had periods of warmth and it’s been okay, so this can’t be true, right?

Wrong. In the past, there have been natural increases in carbon dioxide that have warmed Earth’s temperature periodically because of wobbles in Earth’s rotation or orbit. Even with these tiny increases, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere never exceeded 300 ppm. As of right now, carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is at 412 ppm, which is a 47% increase since the start of the Industrial Age. 

So what caused this sudden increase of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere now? 

Normally, carbon dioxide is released through natural processes such as respiration, decomposition, and ocean release. This is natural; it’s part of the carbon cycle and supposed to happen. What isn’t supposed to have are human activities such as deforestation, land use changes, and burning fossil fuels. To start, deforestation and the burning of forests is a major contributor of excess carbon dioxide being added to the atmosphere. For example, the Amazon rainforest is now emitting more carbon dioxide than it absorbs due to the major deforestation for lumber and pastures. Moreover, burning fossil fuels is immensely detrimental as well. This is due to the fact that these fossil fuels contain carbon that plants pulled out of the atmosphere over the span of many millions of years, and humans are releasing that carbon to the atmosphere in just a couple hundred years.

How microforests help:

Microforests are a very beneficial method to containing CO2 emissions and combating climate change. These dense patches of vegetation can help sequester any CO2 produced in the atmosphere and convert it into oxygen. And with more restored forests and more new microforests, they will remove much more CO2 than a singular microforest can. It’s estimated that these forests could collectively remove up to 10 gigatons of CO2 equivalent by 2050. But in order to contain these numbers of carbon, scientists have realized that planting the right kinds of diverse trees matters as much as the amount of trees planted.

What you can do to help:

There are personal habits you can change in order to help reduce your carbon footprint. For starters, you can try to find alternatives to driving. Since car emissions account for 29% of the U.S. CO2 emissions, using alternatives such as walking or biking help reduce the amount of personal carbon emissions you produce.  Driving electric-powered vehicles also helps reduce the amount of CO2 emissions you produce since they aren’t burning gas when driving. Something else that can help reduce personal CO2 emissions is making sure your appliances are energy efficient. Any appliance with the ENERGY STAR label is known to be energy efficient. Another household habit that can affect personal CO2 emissions is leaving the light on when you’re not in a room. Turning the light off helps save energy and reduce carbon emissions. Additionally, switching to solar panels is an environmentally conscious decision since solar panels don’t produce air pollution. Furthermore, switching certain dietary habits can greatly impact the amount of personal CO2 emissions you produce. For example, eating locally-produced and organic food helps reduce CO2 emissions since there are no transportation emissions. In addition to changing produce habits, cutting out dairy and meat helps reduce the amount of CO2 in the air since certain producers of meat and dairy are cutting down forests for grazing land, which ultimately releases CO2 into the atmosphere. Simply changing some personal habits can help reduce your carbon footprint and help the environment.