What is carbon emission and how to deal with it?
The myths about carbon emissions range from thinking that it’s a “harmless thing” and “nature will regulate itself” to “all of the greenhouse gases are created by humans and we need to remove it from the atmosphere to survive”. However, the truth about CO2 may be more complicated than it seems.
Do we need to remove all CO2 from the atmosphere?
If we look at carbon emission outside of the context of human interference in natural processes, it can be considered as one of the cornerstones of the life circle on Earth. Firstly, all the known life on our planet is based on carbon. This chemical element is the foundation brick of life on Earth. From this, it’s only logical to think, that any living organism here needs carbon in one form or another to survive. This process of exchange is known as the carbon cycle and it includes not only life as we know it but also some minerals like diamonds or limestone.
So what is carbon dioxide?
It is a part of the carbon cycle: for the aerobes, organisms that require oxygen to survive (this includes us), CO2 is a byproduct: we breathe oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. And for plants and other organisms that use photosynthesis, it is the opposite: they need CO2 to “breathe” and what they “exhale” is oxygen. However, this balance has been shattered since human beings have learned to produce energy in industrial quantities. So the question is not how to “fight” carbon emissions, but how to restore the balance of CO2 emission and its consumption by organisms that need it to survive.
What is Carbon Neutrality or Net-Zero?
This balance is also known as net-zero and according to the latest data, if humanity keeps decarbonizing at the current rates, we will only come close to it by 40% in 2050. This is not good news, because scientists say that we need to have all 100% by 2050 if we want to minimize the effects of greenhouse gas emissions on climate.
Sure, renewable energy helps us to get CO2-free electricity, drive cars without burning fossil fuels, and in long term, it promises to be a much better energy source in general, but it is not enough to reach net-zero. In parallel with this, we need to work on removing huge amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. We already have technologies that do this and they are quite affordable for companies that have $2.1 trillion revenue combined in a period when COVID19 is creating economical problems in all spheres. Not to mention the most effective carbon-sucking machine ever invented — plants.
Can we reach carbon neutrality by planting trees?
For billions of years, plants have been the main source of oxygen for all animals and it is kind of ironic that we came to the point when we need to spend trillions of dollars on the invention and production of new technologies to deal with massive deforestation and toxic algal bloom in the oceans created by pollution. More than half of oxygen on Earth comes from the oceans which also absorb about 30% of all carbon emissions. But after the industrial revolution, the aquatic lifeforms that consume CO2 can’t keep up with the amounts produced by our economy. As a result, the ocean has the problem of acidification — a process that is yet another source of imbalance in our ecosystem. Combine this with the fact that the current deforestation rates are much higher than the rates of reforestation and the answer will be obvious — no, we can’t “plant away” the climate change. Or, to put it simply, we cut much more trees than we plant.
Will the greenhouse effect caused by CO2 slow down eventually?
One of the most alarming things is that there’s a negative feedback loop between human-related CO2 emissions and the catastrophic events it causes. Namely, the CO2 creates a greenhouse effect that is warming up the planet, this results in the melting of permafrost, and permafrost contains around 1,600 billion tons of CO2 that is being released back to the atmosphere. The same happens with the wildfires. So as long as no real actions are taken to stop this, we’re trapped inside an infernal circle that is growing exponentially: the warmer the planet gets, the more factors we get that result in it getting even warmer.
Who is benefiting from CO2 emissions?
The problem is that some people who deny the negative influence of CO2 on climate are running the offices in the exact countries that play the biggest role in climate change. Here, just like with the flat earth error, the vaccines-autism correlation or connection of videogames and violence, we’re dealing with a conspiracy theory, with only one difference: the climate change denial is being directly financed by corporations whose profit comes from activities that involve CO2 emission.
Perhaps if the money that is being spent on misinformation and greenwashing was redirected towards funding reforestation programs and CO2 absorbing technology, the net-zero would’ve been achievable. But unfortunately, such paradigm shifts are not visible in the near future. To bring back nature to its balance by 2050 we must act now. The prognosis that COVID19 may reduce the CO2 levels has been debunked by the statistical data from 2021. It is projected that by the end of the year the CO2 emission levels will reach 36.4 gigatons, which is close to the pre-pandemic levels. The only lesson we can learn from this is that relying on an external factor that may come and save us in the final seconds, whether it’s a deadly pandemic, Tom Cruise or aliens is an ostrich tactic that may result in nothing more than another year lost in a race for our right to have sustainable future.