On days following Diwali, a haze had covered the city of Delhi. This landlocked region seemed to be chocking on pollutants from Diwali crackers, vehicles, crop residue burning from in and around. A recent study published by the Energy Policy Institute, University of Chicago concluded that the life expectancy of citizens living in the air polluted areas of the Indo-Gangetic Plan (Delhi) is seven years shorter than those in other regions of the country.
The Air Quality Index takes into account few chief pollutants which include Carbon Monoxide, Nitrogen Oxide and Ozone. Carbon as a pollutant does not surprise anybody. We have attributed that element to almost all environmental problems today. Its reputation precedes it, even though Life, as we know, is entirely based on Carbon.
Let’s try and understand why carbon and its compounds are in the spotlight every time there is a discussion on Climate Change.
The basic problem of climate change is that we are removing too much carbon from the geosphere (below ground) and putting it into the active biosphere (above ground), where it serves to raise surface temperatures.
Carbon is made up of six proton, six neutrons and six electrons. Atoms have electrons shells and carbon has two of them. The first shell has two and has four of eight electrons it needs in the second shell (octet rule). These four electrons in the second shell are ready to bond with other atoms forming two major greenhouse gasses.
Carbon bonds with two oxygen atoms to form Carbon Dioxide. It bonds with four hydrogen atoms to form methane. Create your own 3D structure of methane with the help of this activity.
In an ideal world, we have enough plants to absorb necessary amount of CO2, allowing adequate amount to remain in the air to absorbs sufficient light (heat) to sustain life on earth. We consume these plants to get carbon. But all living things (on land and in water) die, sending the carbon into the ground which either turns to fossil fuel or triggers a volcanic eruption. That is the cycle of Carbon on Earth.
But in the recent years, we have done almost everything in our power to disrupt this natural cycle. During the industrial revolution, we found a new way to obtain energy for development. In those days, this was a miraculous discovery. All living things are made up of carbon that eventually turns into fossil fuels. During industrialisation, we dug up this carbon from the ground and released it into the air. Along with high scale deforestation and increase in human population, CO2 levels in the air increased. Science tells us that the amount of Carbon in air should be 350 PPM (parts per million) or below for the climate to be considered safe. Today the amount of carbon dioxide has exceeded 411 PPM. Each molecule of this gas can stay in the atmosphere for thousands of years, heating the surface and making climate unsuitable for survival.
The big foot is not a myth when it comes to carbon emissions of India. With the country’s green cover sinking and carbon emissions rates increasing, India is the third largest emitter of greenhouse gasses and its coal industry has more than tripled from 2000. It has failed to reduce its carbon footprint.
What is Carbon Footprint?
Carbon footprint refers to the gasses emissions which contribute to Climate Change in context to human production and consumption habits. In many cases, the term is used synonyms to Carbon emissions.
What can be done?
We have found a new way to pull Carbon out of the atmosphere- Bio-energy with Carbon Capture and Storage. This technology uses plants that absorb a good amount of CO2 grown in lands set aside for them. These plants are harvested and burnt to produce energy for various industrial or domestic purposes. The CO2 captured during combustion is buried underground in depleted oil or gas reservoirs where it’s locked up for millennia. And although the idea seems simple, it is not implemented they way one would expect it to. What do you think could go wrong in this technique? Let us know!
Fortunately for us, we don’t have to be big industrialists to combat a problem affecting us now. The smartest and the cheapest way of dealing with carbon pollution are reducing its emissions in the first place. We can do this by reducing its consumption (decreasing our fossil fuel intake by taking public transport, refusing plastic bags, switching off appliances when not in use, etc), by tackling the problem head on with planting trees and by spreading awareness.
More than 65 jurisdictions around the world are using carbon pricing as a tool to tackle climate change. Carbon Pricing refers to cost paid for emitting carbon. For now, we pay for carbon emissions with forest fires, floods, failed crop production, change in weather etc.
As something costs more, people buy less of it, putting a fee on carbon creates incentives to emit less carbon while encouraging the development of low carbon technology. This same idea is used for plastic bags. Plastic bags, which essentially were given away free with the goods you have bought will today require money.