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People Changing Climate
1. Man-made climate change?
2. What will the future be like?
3. How to hinder climate change
- What can you do?
- What can governments do?
- International cooperation
* Worksheet 1
* Worksheet 2
people changing climate

How are
people changing
the climate?


Unit 3:
How can we hinder
man-made climate change?

We can hinder man-made climate change by emitting less greenhouse gases such as CO2. The less we emit, the less warming there will be in the future.





1. Cycling: The fewer greenhouse gases we emit, the less warming there will be in the future. 
Photo: Corel Gallery.


Burning less fossil fuels

People can slow down and eventually stop the climate change we have already started. But the climate system reacts slowly. The gases we have already emitted will keep affecting the climate for many years to come – even if we work hard to limit our emissions. Reducing emissions will slow down the rate of climate change, but the climate will keep changing as long as we live. Our children and grandchildren, however, will be able to fully enjoy our efforts we make today to limit emissions.

The most important thing we can do to hinder climate change is to burn less fossil fuel so that we emit less CO2

Technological improvements and lifestyle changes can reduce the amount of energy we use on transportation, heating, cooling, lighting, appliances that run on electricity, industrial production and so on.

Using sources of energy other than fossil fuels can reduce emissions of greenhouse gases considerably. Alternative energy sources include renewable sources such as wind power, solar power, hydroelectric power, biomass burning (as along as new trees and vegetation are planted to compensate) and nuclear power, although this is controversial for other reasons. 


Technological innovation may give us new energy sources that will replace fossil fuels in the future. For example, cars may run on hydrogen instead of gasoline. Hydrogen engines do not emit CO2 but to produce hydrogen we need lots of energy. If this energy comes from coal, oil or gas then we could end up with CO2 emissions just as big as if cars were still running on gasoline.


Can’t we just filter out the CO2?

Many types of pollution can be “cleaned up” by using filters. Today, however, there is no cleaning technology that can effectively remove CO2 emissions from furnaces, power plants and engines at a reasonable enough cost. Both governments and private companies in many countries are working to develop cost-effective technologies that can capture CO2 from burning coal, oil or gas before it is released into the atmosphere. It can then be stored far underground, for example in empty oil wells.

Each year the oil company Statoil stores about 1 million tonnes of CO2 1000 meters under the ocean floor in a sandstone formation in the Sleipner gas field in the North Sea. The CO2 is separated from the natural gas and injected into the sandstone that is found under the ocean floor. This sandstone formation has room for at least 600 billion tons of CO2, which is roughly equivalent to the emissions from all of the power plants in Europe for the next 600 years.


natural gas at the Sleipner field

2. Into the seabed: Natural gas is extracted from the seabed at the Sleipner field in the North Sea. CO2 is separated from the rest of the gas and pumped back into a layer of sandstone nearby. Illustration : Alligator Film/BUG (click to enlarge, 135 kB).


Two obstacles must be overcome before this technology can be applied on a large scale. First, we must be sure that the storage areas really are safe and the gas will not leak out. Second, the price of capturing and storing CO2 must drop to levels low enough that industry can afford to use the technology. Today no one knows whether or when CO2 can be captured and stored at a reasonable price. And in any case, the process can only be used for large, single sources of emissions – such as power plants and factories. Emissions from smaller, dispersed sources – such as cars, planes, paraffin stoves or gas ovens – cannot be reduced using this technology.

Reduce emissions of other greenhouse gasses

We can also reduce emissions of greenhouse gases from sources other than fossil fuels.

  • By stopping deforestation, we can avoid the release of CO2 to the atmosphere. Today deforestation is especially prevalent in tropical regions where forests are cut down to make grazing lands or raise crops.
  • Rubbish dumps (land fills) release the powerful greenhouse gas methane (CH4) from rotting organic waste. By capturing this gas and using it as fuel, we get both heat and reduced emissions of greenhouse gases.
  • Agriculture contributes to emissions of CO2, methane and nitrous oxide (N2O). More environmentally sound farming methods can reduce these emissions.  
  • Many types of industrial manufacturing release greenhouse gases, especially those that contain fluorine. These emissions can be reduced using new production methods.


Trapping CO2 from the atmosphere

We can also increase the absorption of CO2 in forests, land and the sea.

  • When we plant forests where previously there was an open landscape, CO2 from the atmosphere is absorbed by the growing trees. However, increasing the absorption of CO2 in this way is so limited that it cannot make up for more than a fraction of the emissions that we humans are responsible for. Planting forests can also create problems – in some cases, it encroaches upon agriculture or destroys the habitats of wild animal and plant species that thrive in the existing landscape.
  • The oceans absorb large amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere. One proposal is to increase this absorption by fertilizing phytoplankton which bind carbon through photosynthesis. The effectiveness of such a step has not been documented, and phytoplankton growth after fertilization can have other, unfortunate, consequences.

planting trees

3. Forests: Plants take up CO2 when they photosynthesise so planting trees increases the amount of CO2 removed from the air.  Photo: Corel Gallery.


Greenhouse gases come from a large number of sources, so many different steps are needed to limit their emissions. However such large amounts come from fossil fuels that effective strategies need to focus on these fossil fuel emissions.


Why burning wood does not contribute to climate change

energy from biomass

4.  Energy from biomass: Biofuels are considered to be CO2 neutral.  Photo: Corel Gallery.


Next page


When we use fuel from biomass, such as wood or wood chips, energy is released in the form of heat, and carbon is returned to the atmosphere in the form of CO2. If new trees grow where the other trees were cut down for wood, the new trees will absorb CO2 from the atmosphere and bind it in new biomass. This re-establishes balance in the CO2 cycle. Over time, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere will be constant. This is why biofuels are considered to be CO2-neutral.

About this page:
Author: Camilla Schreiner - CICERO (Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research - Oslo) - Norway. 
Scientific reviewers: Andreas Tjernshaugen - CICERO, Norway - 2004-01-20 and Dr. Knut Alfsen - Statistics Norway, Norway - 2003-09-12. 
Educational reviewer: Nina Arnesen - Marienlyst School, Oslo, Norway - 2004-03-10. 
Last update: 2004-03-27.




last updated 25.02.2006 03:21:37 | © ESPERE-ENC 2003 - 2013