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Climate changes are occurring in the world that will affect the environment in which we live. Rising concentrations of greenhouse gases produce an increase in the average surface temperature of the Earth over time which may produce changes in precipitation patterns, storm severity, and sea level (Environmental Protection Agency, 2010). The main activities that create carbon emissions that affect climate are the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation and agriculture. It will take a worldwide effort to reduce global carbon emissions because it the problem has been created by the activities of people all over the world.
Burning Fossil Fuels
The burning of fossil fuels contributes to the buildup of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere causing climate changes. Scientists have been studying the impact of carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels for decades and studies show that CO2 has increased in the atmosphere 35% since the industrial revolution began (EPA, 2010). More recently scientists reported a 29% increase in global CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels between 2000 and 2008 (University East, 2009). Carbon emissions increased by 2% during 2008 because the use of coal as a fuel has now exceeded that of oil especially in developing countries which now emit more greenhouse gases than developed countries (University East, 2009).
Coal has the highest carbon intensity among fossil fuels, resulting in coal-fired electricity plants having the highest output rate of CO2 per kilowatt-hour (Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency, 2000). CO2 emissions from coal-fired electricity generation comprise nearly 80% of the total CO2 emissions produced by the generation of electricity in the United States (DOE and EPA, 2000). As developing nations create more industries to meet the needs of the growing population, the need for more electricity will continue to rise and the amount of coal burned to create electricity will continue to increase worldwide.
Recognizing the need for change reducing carbon emissions has become a goal for the majority of developed countries and global organizations have been created with the goal of lowering carbon emissions. International efforts to deal with climate change began at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, with the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change which makes all countries responsible for working to avoid "dangerous human interference" with the climate system (United Nations, 2010). The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Program in 1988 to assess data on climate change and to develop plans to reduce climate changing activities like greenhouse gas emissions (United Nations, 2010).
In the U.S. The Office of Climate Change Policy and Technology located within the Office of Policy and International Affairs, serves as the focal point within the U.S. Department of Energy for the development, coordination, and implementation of climate change technical programs, policies, and initiatives (Department of Energy, 2010). The Office provides strategic direction and reviews and makes recommendations on Federal research and development investments of $5.2 billion per year for activities under the U.S. Climate Change Technology Program (CCTP) (DOE, 2010). This funding is important for the development of clean energy sources.
The U.S. is committed to reducing carbon emissions as shown by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) which provides $25 billion in additional funding for research and development of new technologies to reduce carbon emissions including: high-performance buildings; efficient manufacturing; advanced vehicles; clean biofuels; wind, solar, geothermal, and nuclear power; carbon capture and sequestration; advanced energy storage; a more intelligent electric grid; and techniques for reducing emissions and/or increasing uptake of carbon dioxide in agriculture and forestry (DOE, 2010).
Although, creating changes within the U.S. is an important goal, all countries must commit to making similar changes to have the necessary impact on reducing global carbon emissions. The Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate (MEF), initiated by President Obama in March 2009, brings together 17 developed and developing economies to discuss clean energy technology and the need to make a broad international agreement to combat climate change (DOE, 2010). No agreement has been reached that all of these nations will sign, but progress continues to be made by continuing to make the reduction of carbon emissions a priority in international meetings.
In developing countries the need to make land available for farming and pasture for cattle to support growing populations of people has led to more deforestation of jungle areas. Countries that are covered by forests have no alternative means of making land for agriculture other than clearing the forest, so it is hard to stop or reduce this practice.
Forests are important to the world's climate, especially tropical forests. The Amazon rainforest contains about one tenth of the total carbon stored in land ecosystems so any major change to its vegetation, brought about by events like deforestation or drought, has an impact on the global climate system (University Exeter, 2008). One study found that deforestation accounts for up to 25% of global CO2 emissions (Howden, 2007). The reason that clearing forests creates CO2 emissions is because forests are carbon sinks, which means they store more carbon than they release (Gorte & Sheikh, 2010). Forests account for more than a quarter of the land area of the earth, and store more than three quarters of the carbon stored in plants and nearly 40% of soil carbon (Gorte & Sheikh, 2010). Tropical forests store twice as much carbon as other types of forests and four times as much as non-forest land (Gorte & Sheikh, 2010).
Forests are important for creating rain in other parts of the world. When plants have a greater need for water due to higher CO2 levels then less water is available to evaporate into the air to become clouds that will be carried by the wind to other areas to fall as rain (Gorte & Sheikh, 2010). The clearing of forests means there are fewer trees to absorb carbon dioxide and the carbon dioxide stored in the trees and soil is released when the trees are cleared which is frequently done by burning the trees. This means the destruction of tropical forests creates a large release of CO2 causing forests to keep more of the water that would otherwise be available to other areas causing droughts.
The major ways that deforestation occurs are through logging, clearing of land for ranching and agriculture, and clearing of land to build roads (Gorte & Sheikh, 2010). Many countries do not have laws that protect the environment or give clear land ownership rights that would help control land use. Markets for agriculture and wood products also drive the economies of many developing countries making it too profitable to stop deforestation.
To slow the rate of deforestation, the U.S. And other developed countries have created a market for undeveloped forest land. Similar to conservation programs in the U.S., farmers and land developers are basically paid not to use or clear forest land. Trading debt for conservation funds is another program the U.S. has created to help developing countries fund conservation efforts (Gorte & Sheikh, 2010). Free trade agreements allow countries like the U.S. To encourage developing nations to stop deforestation practices such as illegal logging by helping to fund enforcement programs (Gorte & Sheikh, 2010).
Because deforestation causes a large amount carbon emissions conserving forests is the best and least expensive way to reduce carbon emissions from deforestation. The main problem is helping developing nations to find alternatives to deforestation understanding that this activity is very important to the local economies. The U.S. has several agencies like the U.S. Agency for International Development that teaches the people of developing countries how to conserve forests and use land wisely (Gorte & Sheikh, 2010). Larger developed nations also have political power that they can leverage to require developing nations to have conservation programs in order to trade goods.
Globally, agriculture is responsible for 20% of the greenhouse gas emissions (Wightman, n.d.). In addition to CO2 agricultural emissions come from other greenhouse gases, namely methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) which are far less in quantity in the atmosphere, but have a much more potent impact on the climate (Wightman, n.d.). Growing crops and the methane produced by animals and animal manure treatment all create greenhouse gas emissions in significant numbers (Wightman, n.d.).
In the U.S. And many other countries, there are large regions where farming can be done without changing the landscape, but in smaller countries that are heavily forested there are no such opportunities to farm without clearing land. Increased demands for more agriculture mean land use patterns are changing, resulting in a loss of wetlands ("Farming," 2010). There are methods of reducing carbon, methane and nitrous oxide produced by cattle and other pastured livestock. Animals can be bred with a lower residual feed intake (the measure of how much food an animal takes in beyond that which it needs to grow) which could reduce livestock methane emissions by 25% ("Farming," 2010). Livestock diet can be…[continue]
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