Many people have read in the news about how the United States is tapping into unprecedented natural gas reserves through the process of hydraulic fracturing, also called fracking, where highly pressurized water, sand and chemicals are inserted to fracture shale rock which releases natural gas. Drilling can have environmental impacts such as contamination of ground water, air quality risks, migration of gases and hydraulic fracturing chemicals to the surface, and surface contamination from spills and flowback.
Or they’ve read about the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project that is seeking approval to move oil extracted from Canada’s tar sands down through the western United States to refineries along the Gulf Coast. There is evidence that extracting oil from the sands are increasing levels of cancer-causing compounds in surrounding lakes far beyond natural levels.
The latest news in accessing exotic forms of carbon comes from Japan, where their government announced that they’ve successfully extracted natural gas from methane hydrates, also called clathrates, buried beneath the sea bed. Clathrates are an ultra-concentrated frozen mix of water and gas. A cubic meter of clathrate contains 164 times as much methane as a cubic meter of methane gas. Extraction of methane hydrates opens up the possibility for a catastrophic release of gas in the form of accidents during the extraction process. Even releasing a small amount of clathrates could contribute significantly to climate change.
Governments and corporations worldwide need to stop spending hundreds of billions of dollars searching for new fossil fuel reserves and discovering ways to extract ever more unusual forms of buried carbon. And we need to stop giving them incentives to do so. Yes, it is hard to want less and do less, but for the sake of our planet’s health we need to curb our global appetite for fossil fuels. Let’s start by lowering our carbon footprints. Then we need to agree to leave fossil fuel reserves in the ground.
According to a detailed estimate, we need to leave four-fifths of global fossil fuel reserves untouched for a good chance of preventing more than 2°C of global warming. The worst part is we have already identified more underground carbon than we can afford to burn between now and the year 3000. Now is the time to implement a low carbon lifestyle. We should do it for our planet, ourselves and for the sake of future generations.
Just when we were about to succumb to the gloomy picture that is global climate change, a ray of hope breaks through the clouds. A technical report released this month by the U.S. Energy Information Agency calculated that energy related U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, which account for about 98 percent of total CO2 emissions, for the first four months of 2012 decreased to around 1992 levels.
The dramatic decrease is attributed to a switch from dirtier burning coal to cleaner natural gas. Almost everyone in the energy and environmental industries believes the shift could have major long-term implications for U.S. energy policy.
Scientists didn’t predict the amount of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere in the U.S. falling to its lowest level in 20 years in part because the decrease is not attributed to legislation limiting greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. The switch to natural gas was driven by the market.
The state of the economy, increasing efforts for energy efficiency and a growing utilization of renewable energy are certainly aspects that contribute to lowering U.S. carbon emissions. However, at the moment, the lion’s share is due to the current low price of natural gas. There has been an upsurge in shale gas drilling in the northeast, Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana, which has made natural gas more affordable than coal per unit of energy generated. Gas production is on the increase because of the modernization of the process of hydraulic fracturing, also called fracking, where highly pressurized water, sand and chemicals are inserted to fracture shale rock which releases natural gas.
While natural gas is a cleaner-burning energy source than coal, it is not emission-free. There is still some carbon dioxide emitted and drilling can have environmental impacts such as contamination of ground water, air quality risks, migration of gases and hydraulic fracturing chemicals to the surface, and surface contamination from spills and flowback.
There are also concerns that the rise in use of natural gas could stall renewable energy efforts. The ultimate goal should still be a mix of increasing energy efficiency and clean energy with the balance kept to a minimum of natural gas.
So the upshot is that the U.S. energy picture is far from perfect, but the news concerning a drastic decline in U.S. carbon dioxide levels is welcome and positive because it reminds us that there is still time to turn around the fate of the planet’s climate.
Your carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gases produced to directly and indirectly support your activities. It is usually expressed in equivalent metric tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2).
The average American is responsible for a whopping 50,000 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions annually. Some examples of your carbon footprint are:
- When your car’s engine burns fuel it creates CO2, the amount generated depends on its fuel consumption and the driving distance.
- Heating your house with oil, gas, or coal also generates CO2.
- Even if you heat (or cool) your house with electricity, CO2 is emitted during the generation of electrical power, most of which comes from coal in the US.
- When you buy food and goods, the production of the food and goods creates CO2; again, the amount depends on where the foods and goods came from and how they were created.
- Traveling on a plane generates CO2 in the same ways a car does.
- Weddings even create CO2 emissions! See this past post for more information about how to reduce your wedding’s environmental impact.
- Also consider all the indirect emissions you are in part responsible for: the roads we drive on, the schools our kids attend, the mall and grocery story, our shared military and city hall. It all adds up.
The bottom line is your carbon footprint is the sum of all carbon dioxide emissions that were generated by your activities in a given time period, typically one year.
The carbon footprint is a powerful tool in understanding your personal impact on global warming. Most people are surprised by the amount of CO2 their activities create. If you personally want to reduce your contribution to global warming, the calculation and monitoring of your carbon footprint is critical.
Carbonfund.org offers helpful calculators to estimate your carbon footprint. Individuals can follow this link for more information. http://www.carbonfund.org/individuals There is also a calculator for businesses here.
There’s quite a bit of buzz in the news about eco-friendly clothing, but you may be asking yourself why. Here are five reasons to go green with your clothing choices.
1) Keep toxic chemicals off your skin. Did you know that conventional cotton uses 25% of the world's pesticides? Those same pesticides can be harmful to you if they are absorbed through your skin. Seek out Certified Organic textiles that are grown without the use of pesticides, herbicides, or synthetic fertilizers, and are certified by an international governing body such as Control Union, Institute for Marketecology (IMO) or One-Cert.
2) Get informed about the labor and shipping practices employed to make the clothes you buy. All those pesticides already mentioned, well, they’re not good for you or the farmers that grow cotton using them. Also keep in mind where the clothes were manufactured, which you can often find on the label. Think about all the greenhouse gas emissions generated if that t-shirt you’re considering had to be shipped across the ocean.
3) Buy antibacterial and durable clothing – it’ll save you money and keep you healthier in the long-run. Bamboo fabric can have up to a 99.8% antibacterial rate. This reduces bacteria that thrive in clothing and cause unpleasant odors. So you’ll smell better and be less likely to have a skin infection or allergic reaction. Tencel is a completely biodegradable fabric that retains its shape after its first washing and is naturally wrinkle resistant. Its durability is maintained whether wet or dry.
4) The earth has finite resources; buy clothes that are sustainable. Polyester is mainly made out of oil, which is not a renewable resource, and to make matters worse it is not biodegradable either. Sustainable textiles include organic cotton, hemp, bamboo, and soy fabrics.
5) Lastly, consider vintage clothing. Buying clothing that was chosen once before is environmentally friendly, and a great way to maximize your clothing budget. If you need an outfit for a special event, check out a consignment store first. Oftentimes, they’ll help you find what you’re looking for because they have the time and staff that know the available stock.
If you prefer to buy new, look for clothing that is created with reclaimed, recycled, and vintage materials.
Shopping for clothes has an often overlooked environmental impact. It pays for us to use our purchasing power to make ourselves chic and reduce our carbon footprint.
Learn more about eco-friendly fabrics here: http://www.the-eco-market.com/eco-friendly-fabrics.html.