print“We are being advised to reduce our carbon footprint. Discuss the significance of this for the individual and for industry” When talking about climate change, footprint is a metaphor for the total impact that something has and carbon is shorthand for all the different greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming (1). The term carbon footprint is a measure of the impact our activities have on the environment, and in particular climate change. It relates to the amount of greenhouse gases produced in our day-to-day lives through burning fossil fuels for things like electricity, heating and transportation. A carbon footprint is made up of the sum of two parts, the primary footprint and the secondary footprint. The primary footprint is a measure of our direct emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the burning of fossil fuels. These fossil fuels are coal, oil and natural gas, they are all non-renewable and currently running out. Some estimates suggest that if we continue to use them at the rate we are currently doing there could be approximately just 45 years’ worth of oil, 70 years’ worth of gas and 250 years’ worth of coal left in the ground (2). Another gas which is contributing to global warming is methane, this is derived from the bacterial breakdown of organic matter in swamps and in cattle, and it is currently increasing at a rate of approximately 1% per year (3). This is why we are being encouraged to start reducing our carbon emissions sooner rather than later. Although fossil fuels are incredibly useful they do present some major problems, the burning of the fuels produces carbon dioxide. As well as the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation and the burning of vegetation has contributed to an increase in the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. Plants require CO2 to carry out the process of photosynthesis however there needs to be a balance between the global rate of photosynthesis and the quantity of CO2 in the atmosphere, at the minute the balance between the two is uneven, Plants remove CO2 from the atmosphere to aid in the process of photosynthesis however humans are destroying huge areas of vegetation such as the tropical rainforest (4), therefore causing the rate of global photosynthesis to decline leaving more CO2 in the atmosphere. The temperature of the Earth is a balance between the heat it gets from the sun and the heat it radiates back out into space. Gases in the atmosphere form an insulating layer helping to keep the heat in, this process is called the greenhouse effect and the gases are CO2 and methane, these gases are known as greenhouse gases. Without the greenhouse gases at night there would be nothing to keep the earth warm and we would get very cold. In 2001 Nelson Thornes suggests that without the greenhouse effect the average temperature on earth would be -17oC (5) meaning that life on Earth as we know it would be impossible. Changes in the Earth’s temperature are common however the rate of which the temperature is rising is causing some concern, there has been an observed increase in the global temperature of approximately 0.50C during the 20th century (6) and this is believed to be attributable to the increase in the amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The correlation between the increase in the Earth’s temperature and the increase in CO2 levels is pretty evident (7), however the debate remains of whether this increase in CO2 levels is the main cause of the rising temperature? After much research there is now a consensus among climate scientists that the link between the two is casual and that the recent warming is anthropogenic as human activities are to blame. Over the last 150 years or so the world’s human population has increased and we have become more industrialised (8), this has caused more CO2 emissions. Methane levels have also risen as we have been growing more food to cope with a higher population. The extra CO2 that we are producing through excessive burning of...
References: (1) The Guardian, Green Living Blog, What is a Carbon Footprint, no author stated, www.theguardianonline.co.uk/whatisacarbonfootprint Downloaded 19/10/11
(2) (6) (7) Mary Falkner (ed)/Sarah Hilton (ed)/ Paul Jordin (ed)/ Sharon Keeley (ed)/ Simon Little (ed)/ Andy Park(ed), AS Level Chemistry The Revision Guide, (2008), Coordination Group Publications Ltd, ISBN 978-1-84762-126-9.
(3) (6) I.D. White/ D.N. Mottershead/ S.J. Harrison, Environmental Systems, 2nd edition, (1992), Chapman & Hall, 2-6 Boundary Row, London SE1 8HN, ISBN 0-412-47140-x
(4) (5) (9) (16) Nelson Thornes, Environmental Science, 2nd Edition, (2001), University of Bath, ISBN 0-17-448305-8.
(10) (12) (13) CGP, GCSE Chemistry The Revision Guide, Edexcel 360 Science, ISBN 978-1-84146-567-8.
(11) (14) Time for Change, What is a carbon footprint?- definition, www.timeforchange.co.uk/globalwarming, Downloaded 20/10/11.
(15) Ends Report, September 2010, Europe urged on towards 2050 carbon targets.
(17) Ends Report, July 2010, UK to miss 2022 carbon targets, Committee on Climate Change report
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