How Do People Contribute to the Greenhouse Gases Emitted to Our Atmosphere?

Greenhouse gases are most frequently measured and described in terms of the most common greenhouse gas, Carbon Dioxide (CO2), often called Carbon Dioxide Equivalents (COe2). The amount of greenhouse gases that each one of us is responsible for emitting each year is described as our “Carbon Footprint” (see below for carbon footprint). Our modern way of life relies heavily on the emission of carbon. When we think about this, we often limit ourselves to considering the use of automobiles and trucks and a few industrial processes. We understand that when we burn the gasoline in our engines, we are oxidizing the fuel and creating carbon dioxide.

However, there are other activities in our life that also contribute to COe2 emissions even though we do not see the oxidation. When we use electricity, we are also emitting carbon dioxide. The majority of the electricity created in the U.S. is derived from burning natural gas or coal. We also emit CO2 when we heat our homes, since this requires the use of electricity or the burning of natural gas, propane, heating oil, or wood.

The processes involved in growing the food we eat, and transporting it to our stores and then to our homes, also produce CO2  and other greenhouse gas emissions. Even our creation of waste and garbage results in greenhouse gas emissions. If this garbage is put into a landfill, it decays and puts CO2 and methane (CH4) back into the atmosphere. If it is burned in an incinerator, it emits CO2 as a product of combustion. If it is recycled, energy of some form will be used to accomplish this, emitting COe2 in the process.

(Much of the above information on greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide emissions is courtesy of National Center for Atmospheric Research webpages)