Climate Science

Carbon & Emissions Offsetting -

What is climate change?

Climate change describes a complex set of geophysical, chemical, and ecological processes resulting in an overall warming of Earth’s surface and atmosphere, often called the greenhouse effect. Historically, the natural presence of some greenhouse gases in the Earth's atmosphere has allowed life to flourish as they are released and absorbed in a cyclical balance, insulating our environment from the cold of space. The greenhouse effect is triggered when energy from the sun is trapped by excess human induced gases in the atmosphere – primarily carbon dioxide (CO2), but also including methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), sulfur hexafluoride, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), and perfluorocarbons (PFCs). While some of these gases have a higher Global Warming Potential compared to CO2, because CO2 makes up the majority of greenhouse gas emissions, it is responsible for about 80% of effective annual greenhouse gas emissions.

What is the science behind climate change?

Ice-core data from Antarctica provides an oscillating record of the natural fluctuations of greenhouse gas levels and temperature over hundreds of thousands-of-years, influenced by the sun, Earth’s orbit, and volcanism, among many other things. This record makes a compelling argument that the current rise in planetary temperature is the direct result of increases in anthropogenic, or human induced, greenhouse gas emissions. The change is first apparent about 150 years ago at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution when humans began releasing significant amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and oil. To put this in perspective, the preceding 10,000 years had stable atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations of around 275 parts per million (ppm); since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, these concentrations have reached 383 ppm.

Our Climate Today

As of today, Americans alone introduce about 6 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere each year – over 25% of the 20 billion tons released worldwide. This has primarily been the result of extracting and burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas which in turn have released unprecedented levels of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. With population levels skyrocketing, methane from waste and agriculture has also increased dramatically. Finally, the loss of over 80% of the world's natural forests has severely limited Earth's capacity to absorb carbon dioxide.

What are the consequences of climate change?

The impact of human-induced global climate change is expected to surpass all previous natural climate changes documented over the last 10,000 years. Indeed, the first dramatic signs have already appeared, such as the devastating power of hurricane Katrina, the recent episode of deadly heat waves across the United States and Europe, and the unexpectedly rapid melting of the polar ice cap. The consequences if we fail to act are expected to include hurricanes of increased frequency and intensity, tornadoes, costal and inland flooding, the increased spread of disease, and massive global economic disruption, among others. While the regional impacts, magnitude, and rate of change are subject to discussion, it is generally accepted that climate change will:

  • Increase the earth's overall temperature, which could alter precipitation patterns, trigger extreme weather conditions, disrupt the ocean conveyor belt, cause a rise in sea levels, and threaten fresh water supplies;
  • Change delicate ecosystems such as mountain flora and fauna, coral reefs, islands, coastal regions, deserts, and national parks; and
  • Directly and indirectly affect human health.

How can I help mitigate Climate Change?

There are three basic realities that surround the phenomenon of climate change:

  1. It is happening now.
  2. To one degree or another (pun intended), we are all responsible.
  3. All of us can take immediate, affordable, and meaningful steps to help prevent it.

Once the first two realities are accepted, the question becomes how to address the third. The good news is that all the services, tools, and information you'll need can be found right here.

How does working with help mitigate climate change?

The solutions offered through can be contextualized within the greater climate imperative through the concept of Stabilization Wedges. Developed by the Carbon Mitigation Initiative at Princeton University, this concept outlines 15 “wedges” that can be used to plateau the current carbon emission trajectory at a maximum concentration of 500 +/- 50 ppm, which would prevent the most damaging climate change consequences. Each wedge represents a reduction in emissions of 25 billion tons over the next 50 years using existing, proven technology. In order to meet stabilization goals, the equivalent of 7 of these wedges must be employed.  

To learn more about Stabilization Wedges by watching a slide show, click here.

WedgeOptionExample of Specific Involvement

1 Efficient Vehicles Increase fuel economy for 2 billion cars from 30 to 60 mpg US EPA SmartWaysSM Transport Partnership
2 Reduced Use of Vehicles Decrease car travel for 2 billion 30-mpg cars from 10,000 to 5000 miles per year Aggregated delivery of office products reduces total driven miles
3 Efficient Buildings Cut carbon emissions by one-fourth in buildings and appliances projected for 2054 Promotion of energy efficient office machines and low impact supplies
4 Efficient Baseload Coal Plants Produce twice today's coal power output at 60% instead of 40% efficiency (compared with 32% today)  
5 Gas baseload power for coal baseload power Replace 1400 GW 50%-efficient coal plants with gas plants (four times the current production of gas-based power)  
6 Capture CO2 at baseload power plant Introduce CCS at 800 GW coal or 1600 GW natural gas (compared with 1060 GW coal in 1999)  
7 Capture CO2 at H2 plant Introduce CCS at plants producing 250 MtH2/year from coal or 500 MtH2/year from natural gas (compared with 40 MtH2/year today from all sources)  
8 Capture CO2 at coal-to-synfuels plant Introduce CCS at synfuels plants producing 30 million barrels a day from coal (200 times Sasol), if half of feedstock carbon is available for capture  
9 Nuclear power for coal power Add 700 GW (twice the current capacity)  
10 Wind power for coal power Add 2 million 1-MW-peak windmills (50 times the current capacity) "occupying" 30 x 106 ha, on land or offshore Wind energy carbon offsetting projects
11 Solar photovoltaic power for coal power Add 2000 GW-peak PV (700 times the current capacity) on 2 x 106 ha Solar energy carbon offsetting projects
12 Wind H2 in fuel-cell car for gasoline in hybrid car Add 4 million 1-MW-peak windmills (100 times the current capacity)  
13 Biomass fuel for fossil fuel Add 100 times the current Brazil or U.S. ethanol production, with the use of 250 x 106 ha (one-sixth of world cropland) Biomass energy carbon offsetting projects
14 Reduced deforestation, plus reforestation, afforestation, and new plantations Decrease tropical deforestation to zero instead of 0.5 GtC/year, and establish 300 Mha of new tree plantations (twice the current rate) Company wide use and retail promotion of high post-consumer content paper products
15 Conservation tillage Apply to all cropland (10 times the current usage)  

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