Carbon dioxide (CO2) is everywhere. Exchanged between our oceans and atmospheres, between animals and plants. A natural cycle; when balanced, that supports our very existence. People tipped the scales extracting, refining, transporting, burning fossil fuels like coal, natural gas, and oil which all release more carbon into the atmosphere. We also cut down hectares of trees annually (Imagine a football field of forest lost every second of every day) which would normally absorb and store the carbon and now nature can not keep up.
Absorbing infrared light CO2 traps the sun's energy causing global warming also know as the greenhouse effect. Global warming, one aspect of climate change is not just CO2, but emissions are calculated as carbon dioxide equivalents; and as the biggest culprit, CO2 is the focus when looking for ways to reduce greenhouse gases.
The effects of climate change are extreme weather patterns, growing endangered species lists, shifting agriculture patterns, dying oceans and the list goes on.
As scientists heralded the cry to reduce emissions people started talking about carbon footprints. Individual carbon emissions based on consumption are influenced by factors such as how you heat or cool your home, appliances, transportation, product purchases, and waste disposal. Curious what your households carbon footprint is? Here is the EPA carbon footprint calculator.
The sad truth is that the term "Carbon Footprint" was manufactured by British Petroleum (BP) as part of a multimillion dollar ad campaign to sell people the idea that carbon pollution is our problem because of choices we make in how we live our lives. The campaign started in 2000, in 2004 BP launched a carbon footprint calculator, in 2006 the public was told to go on a "Low-carbon diet" and in 2019 they updated their calculator.
Reeling from a global pandemic with people locked in their homes CO2 emissions were reduced by 17% on April 7th 2020. It seems like a lot, but it means that 80% of emissions was unchanged and history shows as the global economy rebounds CO2 emissions will increase. Factor in that carbon dioxide can stay in the atmosphere for up to a century and we learned that individual consumption is not causing climate change and only by making major, long term global infrastructure changes will we be able curb carbon emissions.
Think this is the first time big industry has tried to shift the blame away from themselves? In the 1970's a non-profit Keep America Beautiful started an ad campaign, garbage thrown out a car window and a Native American (Played by an Italian American) shedding a tear. The tagline "People Start Pollution. People Can Stop It" tried to shame the public into believing global pollution was due to individual carelessness. Keep America Beautiful was funded by beverage giants like The Coca-Cola Company, PepsiCo and Anheuser-Busch yet they never acknowledged their role, distributing billions of plastic bottles each year.
The good news is that as a society we listened. We applaud anyone who spends time cleaning up a nearby trail, empty lot or local beach, people who compost and take personal carbon footprints seriously. As engaged citizens we can turn the spotlight back on big industry, hold them responsible for their actions and demand accountability.
Carbon offsets is the latest catch phrase and next week we dive into that topic along with terms Carbon Neutral, Carbon Negative and Carbon Positive. One thing is for sure, that is a whole lot of gas.
We know this is a heated topic. Keep the conversation going and leave a comment below.
Want to know more about the history of big oil? Daniel Yergin has written several books and is considered a leading authority on energy, geopolitics and the global economy.
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