Greenhouse Gases from human activities are the most significant driver of observed climate change since the mid-20th century.
A little history:
For most of the past 800,000 years—longer than human civilization has existed—the concentration of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere was between about 200 and 280 parts per million. (In other words, there were 200 to 280 molecules of the gases per million molecules of air.) But in the past century, that concentration has jumped to more than 400 parts per million, driven up by human activities such as burning fossil fuels and deforestation.
Identified by scientists as far back as 1896, the natural warming of the earth (that results when greenhouse gases in the atmosphere trap heat from the sun --that would otherwise escape into space) creates what is called the greenhouse effect. To quote from the NRDC, this is a good thing until it isn’t. It warms the planet to its comfortable average of 59 degrees Fahrenheit (15 degrees Celsius) and keeps life on earth, well, livable. Without it the world would be a frozen, uninhabitable place, more like Mars. The problem is, mankind’s voracious burning of fossil fuels for energy is artificially amping up the natural greenhouse effect.
How Does the Greenhouse Effect Work?
Sunlight makes the earth habitable. While 30% of the solar energy that reaches our world is reflected back to space, approximately 70% is absorbed by the land and the oceans (often called “carbon sinks”, with the rest being absorbed by the atmosphere, heating our planet. This heat is then radiated back up in the form of invisible infrared light. While some of this infrared light continues on into space, the vast majority—indeed, some 90% —gets absorbed by atmospheric gases, known as greenhouse gases, and redirected back toward the earth, causing further warming. This is what is often called “the greenhouse effect”.
The result? An increase in global warming that is altering the planet’s climate systems in countless ways.
Gases that contribute to the greenhouse effect:
Carbon dioxide (CO2) enters the atmosphere through burning fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, and oil), solid waste, trees and other biological materials, and also as a result of certain chemical reactions (e.g., manufacture of cement). About 76% of global human-caused emissions sticks around for quite a while. Once emitted, 40% still remains after 100 years, 20% after 1,000 years, and 10% as long as 10,000 years later.
Methane (CH4) is emitted during the production and transport of coal, natural gas, and oil as well as resulting from livestock , other agricultural practices, land use & decay of organic waste in municipal landfills).While super-polluting greenhouse gas emissions like methane don’t last in the atmosphere as long as CO2 (living decades rather than centuries), they do plenty of damage while they’re hanging around, accelerating the pace of global warming. A United Nations study issued in May, 2021 suggested that focusing on methane reductions from fossil fuels activities, landfills and agricultural production could help avoid almost 0.3 degrees Celsius of warming by the early 2040s.
Nitrous oxide (N20) is emitted during agricultural, land use, industrial activities, combustion of fossil fuels and solid waste, as well as during treatment of wastewater.
Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)are synthetic, powerful greenhouse gases that are emitted from a variety of industrial processes.
Water Vapor is the most abundant greenhouse gas increasing as the Earth’s atmosphere warms, but so does the possibility of clouds and precipitation.
Each of these gases can remain in the atmosphere for different amounts of time, ranging from a few years to thousands of years. They all remain long enough to become well mixed, meaning that the amount that is measured in the atmosphere is roughly the same all over the world, regardless of the source of the emissions.
Some gases are more effective than others at making the planet warmer and “thickening the Earth’s blanket.” The EPA has that covered as well.
As greenhouse gas emissions from human activities increase, they build up in the atmosphere and warm the climate, pushing the planet into unprecedented territory, ravaging ecosystems, raising sea levels and exposing millions of people to new weather extremes, not to mention accelerating disease and extinction to all forms of life. At the current rate of emissions, the world will burn through its remaining “carbon budget” by 2030 — putting the ambitious goal of keeping warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) irrevocably out of reach.
What do the Scientists Say:
The latest IPCC report (4/4/2022) suggests that the world is running out of options to hit climate goals. Governments, businesses and individuals must summon the willpower to transform economies, embrace new habits and leave behind the age of fossil fuels — or face the catastrophic consequences of unchecked climate change.
What is the Federal Government Doing:
During the Trump administration, U.S. action around most super pollutants (with the exception of nitrogen oxide) came from states and cities, with the cooperation of some industry associations. That’s changing under the Biden administration, although even there, change has proven difficult, as demonstrated, for example, when the Build Back Better bill, the most sweeping climate bill in U.S. history collapsed after coal-state Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) pulled his support.
- In April of 2021, a bipartisan vote in the U.S. Senate reinstated an Obama-era regulation that requires oil and gas companies to monitor and repair methane leaks along pipelines, at storage facilities and in extraction operations (one of more than 100 environmental rules slashed by former President Trump).
- In April of 2021, the Department of Energy (DoE) committed $35 million for technologies to reduce methane, which it estimates contributes about 10 % of annual GHG emissions. The funding is focused on solutions for dealing with the exhaust from natural gas engines; rethinking the practice of flaring; and handling coal mine ventilation.
- In May of 2021, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also announced it is moving forward to phase down HFCs, mainly used for refrigerators and air conditioners. This measure, according to the EPA and the legislators supporting this action, would help to avoid 0.5 degrees of warming by 2100. The rule falls under the American Innovation and Manufacturing Act, a piece of bipartisan legislation adopted in late 2020 that provides “regulatory certainty” for decreasing the production and import of HFCs into the U.S. by 85 percent over the next 15 years.
- More than 100 countries have signed the Global Methane Pledge, which requires a 30% cut in methane emissions by 2030. In November of 2021, the Biden administration unveiled new rules to curb methane, from oil and gas operations.
- On April 23, 2022, Biden, at the Leader’s Summit on Climate. pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50-52% by 2030.
- Biden got some good news in May of 2022, when the Supreme Court allowed the administration to use a higher estimate for the societal cost of rising greenhouse gases as federal agencies draft regulations, turning aside a request from Republican-led states to prevent agencies from estimating the “social cost of carbon.”
Effects of the Coronavirus:
Based on preliminary data for 2021, Rhodium Group estimated, in January 2022, that economy-wide GHG emissions increased 6.2% in 2021 relative to 2020, though emissions remained 5% below 2019 levels. Current estimates put year-on-year GDP growth at 5.7%. indicating that GHG emissions rebounded slightly faster than the overall economy in 2021, largely due to a jump in coal-fired power generation, which increased 17% from 2020, and a rapid rebound in road transportation (primarily freight). As a result, progress in reducing US GHG emissions was reversed in 2021, moving from 22.2% below 2005 levels in 2020 to only 17.4% in 2021, putting the US even further off track from achieving its 2025 and 2030 climate targets. More on CCRs CORONAVIRUS page.
What climate-tech superheroes hope to play a role in combating these super-pollutant villains? Look to our NEW TECHNOLOGIES page where the majority of explorations focus on carbon capture not reduction.
Some of these investments will no doubt be controversial with climate activists, who are likely to argue (legitimately) that they perpetuate natural gas extraction processes. There is no doubt, however, that regulating methane gas is critical for advancing President Joe Biden’s goal to slash U.S. emissions in half from 2005 levels over the next decade and achieve a net-zero economy by 2050.
There is a great deal of discussion about importance of planting trees on land and kelp in the ocean to sequester carbon. More on that to be found on other pages: SEA TO SOIL, LAND & DEFORESTATION, and OCEAN AS CARBON SINK.
By Leslie Scism and Rhiannon Hoyle 03/22/23
Global insurer Chubb Ltd. is tightening its requirements on insurance policies for oil-and- gas producers, demanding that they reduce emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
By Maria Gallucci 03/22/23
For the last two centuries, nearly all the concrete used in buildings, bridges, dams and roads has been held together with a key ingredient: Portland cement. The limestone and clay fusion is ubiquitous, inexpensive —…
By Christopher Bonasia 03/21/23
The new report suggests limiting electric vehicle battery sizes and reducing car dependency to lower the demand for lithium by up to 66%.
By Zack Colman 03/20/23
U.S. greenhouse gas emissions are expected to drop sharply by the end of the decade but are likely to fall short of President Joe Biden’s goals for the power sector, the U.S. Energy Information Administration…
By Zack Budryk 03/16/23
Under the provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act, the American electrical grid could achieve up to 90 percent of its electricity without carbon emissions by 2030, according to an analysis published Wednesday by the National…
U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions drop 25% to 38% below what they were in 2005 by 2030, according to our projections in the Annual Energy Outlook 2023 (AEO2023). We use 2005 as an emissions reference year…
By Brad Plumer 03/10/23
On cold mornings in New York City, boilers in the basements of thousands of buildings kick on, burning natural gas or oil to provide heat for the people upstairs. Carbon dioxide from these boilers wafts…
By Leah Douglas 03/09/23
Navigator CO2 Ventures’ proposed carbon pipeline project in the U.S. Midwest is struggling to secure a site to store millions of tons of greenhouse gas it hopes to collect from the region’s ethanol plants, as…
By Damian Carrington 03/06/23
Emissions from food system alone will drive the world past target, unless high-methane foods are tackledEmissions from the food system alone will drive the world past 1.5C of global heating, unless high-methane foods are tackled.Climate-heating…
By Damian Carrington 03/06/23
Vast releases of gas, along with future ‘methane bombs’, represent huge threat – but curbing emissions would rapidly reduce global heating‘We don’t feel safe’: US community in shock after record methane leakMore than 1,000 “super-emitter”…
By Elliot Mincberg 03/06/23
Judge Michelle Childs, nominated by President Biden to the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, wrote a unanimous decision that rejected a challenge by a group of power companies to EPA rules requiring…
CO2 Emissions in 2022 provides a complete picture of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions in 2022. The report finds that global growth in emissions was not as high as some had originally feared amid the disruptions…
This nine-part history of Exxon’s engagement with the emerging science of climate change is the result of an eight months-long investigation conducted in 2015. The stories span four decades, and are based on primary sources,…
The following text was released by the Governments of the United States of America and the European Union. Today, the United States, the European Union, and 11 countries launched the Global Methane Pledge Energy Pathway…
It refers to future increases in global temperatures that will be caused by greenhouse gases that have already been emitted. In other words, if the clean energy transition happened overnight, how much warming would still…
This fast-track consensus study will develop a framework for evaluating global anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) information to support decision making. The committee will examine emerging approaches that supplement self-reported data with other independent data sources…
A wide range of strategies are available to help organizations reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Below are a list of resources and guides to help your organization identify and implement GHG reduction opportunities.
Greenhouse gases are gases in Earth’s atmosphere that trap heat. They let sunlight pass through the atmosphere, but they prevent the heat that the sunlight brings from leaving the atmosphere. The main greenhouse gases are:
Carbon dioxide (CO2) is an important heat-trapping (greenhouse) gas, which is released through human activities such as deforestation and burning fossil fuels, as well as natural processes such as respiration and volcanic eruptions. The first…
Greenhouse gases trap heat and make the planet warmer. Human activities are responsible for almost all of the increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere over the last 150 years.1 The largest source of greenhouse…
Methane is the world’s simplest hydrocarbon, with a chemical formula of CH4 (one atom of carbon and four
ncreases in the abundance of atmospheric greenhouse gases since the industrial revolution are mainly the result of human activity and are largely responsible for the observed increases in global temperature [IPCC 2014]. Because climate projections…
Raise the alarm for countries to reduce methane and carbon dioxide pollution. Join the methane movement. #cutmethane
Take advantage of the free home energy audits offered by many utilities. Then put the recommendations into practice. Simple measures, such as installing a programmable thermostat to replace your old dial unit or sealing and…
Many of the chemical compounds in the earth's atmosphere act as greenhouse gases. When sunlight strikes the earth’s surface, some of it radiates back toward space as infrared radiation (heat). Greenhouse gases absorb this infrared…
Latest Measurement: April 2021 Carbon dioxide (CO2) is an important heat-trapping (greenhouse) gas, which is released through human activities such as deforestation and burning fossil fuels, as well as natural processes such as respiration and…
By increasing the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, we’re amplifying the planet’s natural greenhouse effect and turning up the dial on global warming.
Did you ever wonder what reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 1 million metric tons means in everyday terms? The greenhouse gas equivalencies calculator can help you understand just that, translating abstract measurements into concrete…
The world’s countries emit vastly different amounts of heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere. The chart above and table below both show data compiled by the International Energy Agency, which estimates carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from…
Rising global temperatures are causing climate-related natural disasters, and one of the biggest culprits is in plain sight: Buildings. In total, buildings account for about 40% of annual fossil fuel carbon-dioxide emissions (CO2), leading to…
At the global scale, the key greenhouse gases emitted by human activities are: Carbon dioxide (CO2): Fossil fuel use is the primary source of CO2. CO2 can also be emitted from direct human-induced impacts on…
The Global Carbon Project (GCP) integrates knowledge of greenhouse gases for human activities and the Earth system. Our projects include global budgets for three dominant greenhouse gases — carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide —…
Many of our daily activities cause emissions of greenhouse gases. For example, we produce greenhouse gas emissions from burning gasoline when we drive, burning oil or gas for home heating, or using electricity generated from…
EPA has prepared the Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks since the early 1990s. This annual report provides a comprehensive accounting of total greenhouse gas emissions for all man-made sources in the United…
Gases that trap heat in the atmosphere are called greenhouse gases. This section provides information on emissions and removals of the main greenhouse gases to and from the atmosphere. For more information on the other…
Greenhouse gases trap heat and make the planet warmer. Human activities are responsible for almost all of the increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere over the last 150 years.1 The largest source of greenhouse…
Executive Order 12866 requires that federal agencies assess the cost and the benefits of intended regulations as part of their regulatory impact analyses (RIAs). The 1993 executive order stated
By Raymond Zhong 01/27/22
New research that finds gas stoves emit methane, a potent greenhouse gas, even when turned off and adds to the debate over electrifying homes. ...
By Arthur Neslen 01/26/22
Analysis from Greenpeace finds deserted flights are generating millions of tons of harmful emissions
By Sean Casten 01/21/22
It’s been more than two months since the House of Representatives passed the Build Back Better Act—a bill that would make desperately needed and decades-overdue strides toward the U.S. meeting its moral responsibility to combat…
By Alfredo Rivera & Others 01/10/22
After the global pandemic spurred a year of economic upheaval in 2020, many looked to 2021 as a year for recovery. Despite the political and financial measures to support recovery in the US, 2021 was…
By Joshua Partlow and Chris Mooney 12/22/21
In the foothills of the Sierra Madre mountains, the carcasses of starving cattle rotted in a bone-dry reservoir. Useless fishing nets hung on dusty fences. Rowboats were stranded in the sand.
By Kathleen Ronayne 12/09/21
Banana peels, chicken bones and leftover veggies won't have a place in California trash cans under the nation's largest mandatory residential food waste recycling program that's set to take effect in January. The effort is…
By James Attwood and Yvonne Yue Li 11/18/21
Metals -- even the dirtiest old-world varieties like steel -- can already be considered green if their contribution to climate change mitigation is taken into account, according to a Citigroup Inc. report.
By Dino Grandoni 11/16/21
Move on hydrofluorocarbons, which are hundreds of times as potent as carbon dioxide, comes just days after global climate talks wrapped up in Glasgow
By Joshua L. Laughner and others 11/12/21
The COVID-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns caused significant changes to human activity that temporarily altered our imprint on the atmosphere, providing a brief glimpse of potential future changes in atmospheric composition. This event demonstrated key…
By Zeke Hausfather 11/04/21
The Global Carbon Project (GCP) projects that fossil emissions in 2021 will reach 36.4bn tonnes of CO2 (GtCO2), only 0.8% below their pre-pandemic high of 36.7GtCO2 in 2019. The researchers say they “were expecting some sort of…
By Warren Cornwall 11/03/21
With the 26th annual international climate summit (COP26) underway in Glasgow, U.K., methane is basking in the spotlight. The potent heat-trapping molecule was once a footnote in discussions about climate change, largely because it breaks…
By Dino Grandoni and Steven Mufson 11/02/21
The Biden administration also unveiled a sweeping set of domestic policies Tuesday to cut emissions of methane from oil and gas operations across the United States. The proposals, announced at the U.N. climate summit known…
By Dr Chris Smith and Dr Joeri Rogelj 11/02/21
Announced in September, the pledge asks countries to cut their methane emissions by 30% over 2020-30 and agree to stronger reporting standards. In his speech, Biden said “nine countries had signed on” in September, but “today, it’s…
By Steven Mufson and others 10/19/21
On the morning of Friday, June 4, an underground gas pipeline running through the ancient state of Tatarstan sprang a leak. And not a small one.
By Lars Paulsson 10/18/21
The world’s steelmakers need a makeover. Their industry is one of the dirtiest, and it’s blamed for about 7% of global carbon emissions. The biggest producers essentially rely on the same manufacturing processes they used…
By Lloyd Alter 10/15/21
The Portland Cement Association (PCA) represents the majority of cement and ready-mix concrete companies in the U.S., and it has a problem: making cement produces a lot of carbon dioxide (CO2). To deal with this,…
By Lisa Held 10/06/21
A version of this article originally appeared in The Deep Dish, a members-only monthly newsletter from Civil Eats. To read the full issue, with exclusive reporting,...
By Prachi Patel 09/30/21
The world’s largest facility to draw carbon dioxide out of the air began operation three weeks ago. It’s hoped to be the first of many carbon-capture plants that could be key for slowing down global…
By Michon Scott and Rebecca Lindsey 09/27/21
At the dawn of the 21st century, drought descended on southwestern North America. Two decades later, the drought continues. Recent NOAA-funded research found that even small additional increases in greenhouse gas emissions will make such…
By Ingrid Lobet 09/27/21
California has taken on a major source of climate change pollution: the carbon emitted from cement used in the construction of buildings and highways. Last week, Governor Gavin Newsom (D) signed SB 596, which will require…
By Chad Frischmann and Mamta Mehra 09/23/21
Imagine going to the market, leaving with three full bags of groceries and coming home. Before you step through your door, you stop and throw one of the bags into a trash bin, which later…
By Fred Pearce 09/23/21
The production of steel, cement, and ammonia together emit about one-fifth of all human-caused CO2. Technologies are emerging that promise to decarbonize these problem industries, but analysts warn that big challenges remain before the processes…
By Dino Grandoni 09/23/21
The Biden administration finalized its first new climate rule Thursday, slashing the use of powerful greenhouse gases widely used in home refrigerators and air conditioners and often found to be leaking from U.S. supermarket freezers.
Today, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a final rule establishing a comprehensive program to cap and phase down the production and consumption of climate-damaging hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) in the United States. HFCs are…
By The Associated Press 09/23/21
In what officials call a key step to combat climate change, the Environmental Protection Agency is sharply limiting domestic production and use of hydrofluorocarbons, highly potent greenhouse gases commonly used in refrigerators and air conditioners.
By Matthew Hutson 09/18/21
teel production accounts for around seven per cent of humanity’s greenhouse-gas emissions. There are two reasons for this startling fact. First, steel is made using metallurgic methods that our Iron Age forebears would find familiar;…
By William Booth 09/17/21
New Glasgow commitments, if implemented, would result in a 12 percent emissions cut by the decade’s end, well short of what is needed to curb global warming
By Brady Dennis , Michael Birnbaum and Steven Mufson 09/14/21
The United States and Europe will launch an international push to reduce global methane emissions by nearly a third by 2030, as part of a broader effort to more aggressively combat climate change, according to people familiar with…
By Karin Rives 09/07/21
The amount of methane being released from oil and gas fields in the Permian Basin is now consistently at pre-pandemic levels, according to researchers who collected new data this summer ahead of upcoming federal emissions…
Carbon dioxide (CO2) is an important heat-trapping (greenhouse) gas, which is released through human activities such as deforestation and burning fossil fuels, as well as natural processes such as respiration and volcanic eruptions.
By Stephen Lee 09/05/21
The EPA has proposed a rule phasing down the use of hydrofluorocarbons, a potent contributor to global warming—and the Biden administration’s first major attempt at tackling climate change. It’s the first time the Environmental Protection…
By Editorial 08/25/21
There’s no substitute for eliminating fossil fuels and halting the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere to avoid the painful and disruptive effects of global warming. The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on…
By Lloyd Alter 08/20/21
The making of steel releases a lot of carbon dioxide. It's chemistry; iron ore is basically rust, also known as iron oxide. You get rid of the oxygen by mixing in pulverized coal; the carbon…
How many cows are we allowed in a carbon neutral world? Everyone is talking about net-zero by 2050, but it is not as simple a phrase as it might seem. Atmospheric physicist and fellow YouTuber…
By Matt Simon 08/11/21
On monday, the united nations’ intergovernmental panel on climate change dropped a landmark report on the state of the planet which—spoiler alert—ain’t looking great. The archvillain of the assessment is carbon dioxide, but it also…
By Jeff Tollefson 08/09/21
Modern society’s continued dependence on fossil fuels is warming the world at a pace that is unprecedented in the past 2,000 years—and its effects are already apparent as record droughts, wildfires and floods devastate communities…
By Brady Dennis and Sarah Kaplan 08/09/21
More than three decades ago, a collection of scientists assembled by the United Nations first warned that humans were fueling a dangerous greenhouse effect and that if the world didn’t act collectively and deliberately to…
By Steven Mufson 08/02/21
Scientists have long been worried about what many call “the methane bomb” — the potentially catastrophic release of methane from thawing wetlands in Siberia’s permafrost.
By Helena Bottemiller Evich And Ryan Mccrimmon 07/29/21
President Joe Biden’s goal of paying farmers and ranchers to help battle climate change is running into the reality of how complicated and costly it will be. Six months into the administration, officials have yet…
By James Temple 07/27/21
Wildfires raging across the US West Coast have filled the air with enough carbon dioxide to wipe out more than half of the region’s pandemic-driven emissions reductions last year. And that was just in July.…
By Lisa Friedman 07/19/21
Democratic lawmakers on Monday proposed to raise as much as $16 billion annually by imposing a tax on imports from China and other countries that are not significantly reducing the planet-warming pollution that they produce.
By Lloyd Alter 07/07/21
In Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently announced $337 million (CA$420 million) in federal funding to convert Algoma Steel's coal-fired blast furnaces to electric arc furnaces (EAF) that reduce carbon dioxide…
By Matt Alderton 07/06/21
“Beautiful.” “Gorgeous.” “Breathtaking.” “Magnificent.” These are just a few of the words that tourists often use to describe the splendor that is the Greater Yellowstone Area, comprising approximately 22 million acres of wilderness in northwestern…
Growing up in Singapore, I didn't question the role of plastic. Durable and cheap, it was everywhere, and everyone used it. It wasn’t until my environmentally-conscious mother started refusing plastic bags from shops and even…
By Greta Moran 06/30/21
As drought, heatwaves, and hurricanes ramp up for the summer, and the United Nations’ Food Systems Summit draws near, a group of scientists and policy experts hope to send a clear message about just how big a…
By Nichola Groom 06/18/21
The U.S. waste-management industry has become a darling of environmentally minded investors for its work in recycling trash and harvesting gases from landfills as an alternative fuel.
By Cheryl Katz 06/15/21
Stemming the methane leaks from landfills, oil fields, natural gas pipelines and more is one of the most powerful levers we have to quickly slow global warming. New satellites are bolstering this urgent mission by…
By Brady Dennis and Steven Mufson 06/08/21
Economies worldwide nearly ground to a halt over the 15 months of the coronavirus pandemic, leading to a startling drop in global greenhouse gas emissions. But the idle airplanes, boarded-up stores and quiet highways barely…
By Theo Stein 06/07/21
Atmospheric carbon dioxide measured at NOAA’s Mauna Loa Atmospheric Baseline Observatory peaked for 2021 in May at a monthly average of 419 parts per million (ppm), the highest level since accurate measurements began 63 years…
By Brad Plumer 06/07/21
Global emissions dropped last year, but the decline wasn’t nearly enough to halt the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.