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What are carbon emissions (and why do they matter)?

We are becoming more and more aware of how our actions are damaging our planet. There has been a wide spread of the mindset in reducing carbon emissions, and we are no strangers to the sense of urgency. However, amongst the sheer panic and the overwhelming amounts of information on how to reduce our carbon footprint, many of us are left confused as to why this is such an important matter and how carbon dioxide affects us.

What is Carbon Dioxide?: Natural CO2 vs Human CO2

The negative connotations of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) often lead to the misconception of it being harmful. However, a natural amount of CO2 actually plays a crucial part in maintaining our ecosystem. It only causes damage to the environment when there is an excess of CO2, usually generated by man-made activities

Natural CO2

Life on earth relies on a constant carbon cycle through the air, water and land. Living things like animals and plants release CO2 when they respire (ie: breathing in oxygen and exhaling CO2) and nature maintains a balance by absorbing and therefore removing the CO2 via plants and the ocean.  

Human CO2

Human activities like extracting, refining, transporting and burning fossil fuels emits too much greenhouse gases, including CO2, for the ecosystem to remove accordingly. The CO2 generated by us relies on the same ecosystem to be removed, however, with mass amounts of deforestation happening at the same time, the imbalance is becoming more apparent and is causing damage to our environment.  

Why is Carbon Dioxide harmful?

Although there are high levels of atmospheric CO2, it isn’t enough to cause detrimental damage to the human body or any other living organisms. So why is it deemed to be bad for us?

Like other greenhouse gases, CO2 absorbs radiation and prevents heat from escaping from our atmosphere. The high amounts of atmospheric CO2 collects and stores heat and thus, disrupting weather patterns, causing global temperatures to increase and other climate changes. There are many gases that trap heat as well, like methane and water vapour, but CO2 puts us at the greatest risk of irreversible changes if it continues to accumulate unabated in the atmosphere.  

Measuring Human CO2: Carbon Emissions and Carbon Footprint

In order to allow people to better understand how damaging some human activities are for the environment, we have coined terms like ‘carbon emissions’ and ‘carbon footprint’.

Carbon emissions, measured in CO2e, is a unit that measures the carbon dioxide equivalent that may be released from the chosen human activity. The lower the CO2e, the lower the impact the activity has on the environment. For example,  sending a text message emits  0.01g of CO2e, whereas a return plane journey from London to Hong Kong generates 3.4 tonnes of CO2e.

Carbon footprint, on the other hand, is the sum of all emissions of CO2, which were induced by your activities in a given time frame. Usually, a carbon footprint is calculated for the duration of a year.


What can we do to reduce our carbon emissions and carbon footprint?  

Climate change is certainly a growing concern for most people, however, it is not too late for us to act on it. Here are three ways to reduce your carbon emissions and footprint:

Reduce  - With technology being increasingly accessible to us, it is easy to get into the habit of using things out of convenience. You can opt for a reduction mindset in order to minimise the amount of time you spend using our digital appliances or  the internet.

Replace  - When you are due to replace an old item or appliance, make sure you opt for an eco-friendly choice. You can identify whether it was produced sustainably and choose an option that  helps minimise your carbon footprint. For example, UK domestic gas boilers generate around 17,000 tonnes of CO2e per hour on an average winter weekday, but by switching to a new  condensing boiler  it could save you 1,000 tonnes CO2e per hour.

Reuse  - Where necessary, choose to reuse what you have. This would minimise the amount of waste being generated and therefore less carbon dioxide will be generated from producing and decomposing single-use products.

Hopefully, this post will have given you the insight to why there is a growing concern over our carbon emissions and additionally, ways to minimise one's carbon footprint. Do you have any other tips for reducing our carbon footprint? Join the conversation by using #TheCoalTruth on  Twitter  or  Facebook.


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