How Greenhouse Gases Affect the atmosphere and Reversing Climate Change

Social IssuesEnvironment

  • Author Lucinda Knowlton
  • Published June 15, 2021
  • Word count 3,786

Recent wildfires all over the world including Australia, United States and Canada etc., droughts in Africa, USA and worldwide have been occurring and increasing in frequency and intensity for decades. Major cities In Asia and other countries now have air pollution at toxic levels, and around the world- pollution and water temperatures have increased to levels where marine life is at risk of becoming extinct making it abundantly clear that climate change is affecting every aspect of life on earth. Climate change has reached the point where if action is not taken the entire world will soon be in jeopardy of mass extinction.

Greenhouse gases have risen to dangerous levels over the past few decades. Safe levels of Carbon Dioxide are 350 parts per million but as of 2019 they had risen to 410 parts per million and still rising. In 2019, the concentration of atmospheric methane reached nearly 1875 parts per billion, the highest levels ever recorded. Carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane gas absorb the sun’s heat and causes the atmosphere to warm which is why it is called a greenhouse gas. These greenhouse gases need to be reduced to stop the warming of our atmosphere as soon as possible for the world as we know it to survive. It seems the media, governments and the public focus becomes singular, sensationalizing each event or type of event obsessively and expressing the need to “fight climate change” without making a definitive action plan or concrete endeavors to do so. The more disasters that strike, the more the world’s focus is viewed with such tunnel vision that the results become insincere promises to take action, solving nothing, and creating a greater problem through lack of definite action or approach the crisis with costly, useless, and absurd gimmicks like carbon taxes instead of taking real action to face the crisis head on. As in the age-old expression, “not seeing the forest for the trees”, it has become standard practice to sensationalize events occurring while doing little rather than working seriously towards their prevention and reduction. Single sightedness by focusing on one event or issue at a time is disregarding that almost every event can easily be traced back to the overall problem of climate change which is composed of several components. Since mankind has not prevented these major events from occurring at the high intensity and frequency they have evolved into, it is now faced with climate emergencies that continue to intensify. Unresolved manmade events are now becoming closer to extinction events with species from fish to falcons going extinct due to their habitat becoming inhospitable for their survival.

The Paris Climate Agreement does not give enough leeway or credit for the recycling and use of carbon dioxide and methane gas technologies that they deserve since successful innovations will lead to the reduction of climate change. The way forward is to encourage investment in this area. Using and encouraging the use of these technologies and products instead of fossil fuels would foster growth and innovation for carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane gas capture technologies and with them being used more widely the prices would go down allowing for more growth and innovation in the industry. Currently, despite renewable energies making huge strives the past few years the world still gets 80 percent of our energy needs for the planet uses fossil fuels as developing nations become more electrified this number will not go down unless we make drastic changes. The long-term effect of using and encouraging industry to make use of captured carbon dioxide and methane, which are waste products and other renewable energies such as wind and solar power would result in less reliance on fossil fuels with the end goal being recycling excess levels of carbon dioxide and using as much methane gas instead of it damaging the environment as greenhouse gases for mankind’s needs. Large industries to even single households could make use of biodigester plants, using fuel made from captured methane gas and recycled carbon dioxide instead of natural gas and other fossil fuels for generating everything from electricity to car fuel. There are currently many uses for captured methane and carbon dioxide and new markets and uses for it could open up for them as more people and industry become educated and encouraged more in the benefits and what it can do for them. Instead of composting household wastes setting up biodigesters, which provide both gas for cooking and fertilizer for gardens at the same time would do much in reducing harmful methane heating up the atmosphere.

The short-sightedness of the Paris Climate Agreement was not giving full credit for the development of these technologies. They do not give credit for many carbon dioxide capture products as they do end up returning as carbon dioxide to the environment but they lose sight of the fact that it has been recycled and could be recycled again and again instead of adding more fossil fuel to the system. In addition to being able to recycle and reuse captured carbon dioxide and methane gas instead of it destroying our atmosphere giving carbon credits for recycling carbon dioxide and methane gas would encourage further exploration into new uses and cheaper ways to extract greenhouse gases as well as new uses for them once extracted.

Like everything involving mankind money tends to be the bottom line when it comes to innovation so encouraging new and better ways of dealing with carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases will only come at the rate we need to save our planet is by big industry finding it doesn’t cut into their profits. Though many uses for captured carbon are temporary in nature many are permanent and semi-permanent. The Paris Agreement should take into account man’s innate greedy nature in order to meet their goals or they are in essence “cutting their noses off to spite their face” when it comes to the long-term goal of reversing climate change. If mankind continuously used and reused carbon and methane emissions instead of adding astronomical amounts of new carbon dioxide through the introduction of new fossil fuels we would achieve a reversal in climate change far quicker since the cost of these technologies would lower with the rise of demand making the actual reversal of climate change possible. The climate agreement must be revised to include this. It is important for individuals to continue to maintain and practice in our everyday lives the well-known environment savers such as recycling, taking mass transit when possible, being conscientious with lights and littering, alternative energies, insulating homes well, and the myriad of other small things that can be done that add up to lessen each person’s own carbon footprints. Big industry and governments also need to expand and invest more for their part in reducing climate change as they have a huge impact on global climate change. It is necessary to take a holistic approach to reverse climate change and destructive greenhouse gases, warming waters and pollutants at the same time when dealing with the climate changes we are facing because hurricanes, typhoons, drought conditions, increases in desertification, and wildfires will only successfully be decreased if all these indicators that combine to create climate change are dealt with at the same time. In the case of hurricanes and typhoons for example, attempting to reduce their intensity and frequency by reducing the increased air temperatures and changes in water currents that are involved in creating hurricanes, which can only be done by reducing carbon dioxide and methane gas levels that increase the atmospheric temperature and water temperatures. The change in ocean currents also involved in the increase of hurricanes and typhoons would be abetted by removing the excessive amounts of methane and carbon dioxide because the increase the air temperature causes melting of polar icecaps which changes the salinity of water. The changes in the waters salinity and temperature alters the ocean currents.

Capturing carbon dioxide and preventing as much methane gas from entering the atmosphere would aid in reducing climate change and the intensity and possibly the frequency of hurricanes. Adding more trees and plant life into arid desert and drought affected areas would reduce air temperatures and lead to a downgrade in hurricane intensities via its cooling affects while reducing the melting of polar icecaps as well. Mankind needs to reforest rainforests and replant a vast number of trees maintaining them with more sustainable methods as trees consume carbon dioxide reducing the greenhouse effect. Creating more green spaces in arid and drought areas would aid in this endeavor. It is time to alter human activity to reduce these occurrences. Reducing arid desert and drought affected areas on the planet would also return missing habitat to wildlife as well as provide humans with more farmland. The human species needs to develop more sustainable methods of extracting what is needed while creating less damage to the planet we all live on. This paper will outline ways that climate change can be reduced in a financially viable manner that benefits all life on earth. At the same time, the polar ice caps and glaciers are melting causing the desalination of the oceans and seas. This has caused an increase in extreme weather and climate disasters worldwide through raised sea levels and changing ocean currents. Glaciers and polar ice caps that melt into the sea are made of freshwater while sea ice is frozen saltwater, icebergs are pieces of glaciers, formed of compacted snowfall, and are therefore freshwater. Melting glaciers and icebergs release freshwater and reduce the salinity of the surrounding sea. In combination with the increase of fresh water, carbon dioxide when absorbed by ocean waters increases the acidity of the ocean waters and in addition rising temperatures changes the Ph levels. Rising ocean temperatures and Ph levels have caused many damaging effects to both marine life and are contributing to increased extreme weather anomalies. Bleaching and eventual death of coral reefs have been getting worse for many years due to the changes in Ph levels and warming waters. These reefs are the habitat for a huge variety of fish and marine life and necessary for their survival. Seawater has become less dense due to the increase of fresh water, changing patterns of ocean currents causing extreme weather events affecting coastal areas. When the water is heated at the equator and travels at the surface towards the north and south poles it comes into contact with the melting polar ice caps the warm water sinks and this has become a large part of the extreme events happening in lands near the ocean.

In Figure 1 some uses for captured carbon dioxide and 2 diagrams of extraction methods: First, capture technologies allow the separation of carbon dioxide from gases produced in electricity generation and industrial processes by one of three methods: pre-combustion capture, post-combustion capture and oxyfuel combustion. Carbon dioxide is then transported by pipeline or by ship for safe storage Carbon capture uses in mining and oil industry. CO2 can either be pulled out of flue gases waste streams produced by power generation or other industrial processes or it can be pulled out of the ambient air through a process known as Direct Air Capture (DAC). Captured carbon dioxide can be used to make polymers and plastics, construction materials, fuels, manufacturing of chemicals and materials, in food and carbonated drinks, and oil recovery.

Figure 1: Some uses for Captured Carbon Dioxide

Captured carbon dioxide can be used to extract rare earth elements as well. Recent advances have made it possible to capture carbon dioxide and convert it into Oxalic acid to process rare earth elements in a very cost-effective way. By producing oxalic acid, it may be possible to profitably extract rare earth elements with the potential savings to industry and planet using this kind of carbon dioxide scrubber are enormous.

Figure 2: Flue CO2 capture Image from National Energy Technology Laboratory

Figure 3: Direct Air Capture of CO2 image from Geoengineering monitor

Though carbon dioxide is commonly part of the global discussion and should without a doubt be included as a top priority to be drastically reduced to facilitate positive change to the environment, the same amount of methane gas is a greenhouse gas that is 20 times more harmful to the environment than carbon dioxide and is considered the second most damaging greenhouse gas overall. It is therefore essential to reduce methane levels to make the dramatic changes the planet needs to recover from the adverse effects of climate changes that have already occurred and to prevent further negative environmental changes. Tools have been developed for combatting the increase of harmful gases in recent years that need to be more widely used to be more effective to stop the destructive path that our planet is headed on. For example, instead of allowing organic wastes from humans, farms and manufacturing to break down in landfills and other disposal sites the use of biodigester plants to collect the methane as it breaks down and burning it instead of natural gas and propane would make use of this harmful gas while reducing the need for the other fossil fuels that human kind has come to rely on for our energy needs. Using biodigesters for households, large cities, farms and many industries could turn harmful methane gases into fuel for running electricity, cooking, heating and anything that natural gases do while having a by-product of natural fertilizer to add valuable nutrients to the soil. We have carbon capture technologies which can also remove excess carbon dioxide from the air and either make use of it replacing technologies more harmful for the environment or returning it to the soil as carbon simply burying it as solid masses to eventually be broken down in the earth.

Figure 4 is from of a simple home biodigester and how it works to create usable methane gas that can be used for cooking, powering electricity, heating, etc. The methane gas (CH4) when burned would create a small amount of Carbon Dioxide that is 20 time LESS harmful as a greenhouse gas and if in larger plants that burn methane gas collected the CO2 from the burned methane there would be zero greenhouse emissions left to create more greenhouse effects. Methane is used in automobiles, ovens and water heater as a fuel, generation of electricity, rocket fuel in its refined liquid form, antifreeze ingredient in industries, a common ingredient in fertilizer, and to sanitize products.

Figure 4: Home biodigester

The rate of sea level rise has also increased over time. Between 1900 and 1990 studies show that sea levels rose between 1.2 millimeters and 1.7 millimeters per year on average. By 2016 it is estimated at 3.4 millimeters per year therefore it is possible to extract seawater to aid in the recovery of drought and arid regions.

Countries around the world could build desalination plants using methane gas and solar energy to power plants and it is even possible to power the vehicles transporting the desalinated water with methane along with the fertilizer byproduct from biodigester plants to drought areas. As the sea levels have grown higher over the past decades and continue to rise it would not damage them to remove and use the extra water. More studies on the viability of returning the seas to the healthiest salinity and Ph balance are needed and whether the salt and minerals in ocean water can safely be extracted and returned to recreate balance. The extracted water can be used to aid in cooling the atmosphere by providing much needed water to drought areas and stop further desertification of these areas. More oxygen-producing plants and less desertification would aid in cooling the planet including the polar regions which would aid in reducing the extreme ocean events occurring. Planting trees that survive well in hot dry climates would provide cooling shade for other plants and both would draw more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere replacing it with oxygen through photosynthesis. It has been proven that the more oxygen producing plants and trees in an area the more oxygen will be released through photosynthesis providing the additional moisture to the air and creating more precipitation. Once the plant life and trees are established will add oxygen and removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Theoretically, if drought stricken and even arid desert regions receive desalinated seawater and fertilization effect of biogas plants along with the addition of liquid clay to hold moisture in the soil, green areas, once established will encourage more natural precipitation to occur. The more drought and desert areas turned to green zones the more they will also add to the cooling effect of the entire planet as well. This is part of the holistic approach mankind must take to combat climate change and the current devastating path to self-destruction our planet is on.

Biodigesters that capture methane gas and as a byproduct create carbon-based fertilizer and bio plants can contribute a great deal to reducing global climate change as well as creating and keeping jobs here in Canada and abroad. For example, if in Nova Scotia instead of creating a pipeline to dump toxic pulp and paper waste into the ocean killing the marine life destroying the livelihoods of fishermen the pulp and paper plant had to close. A pipeline dumping this pulp and paper waste into the ocean which is already facing great stressors have climate change with temperatures risen dramatically in recent years driving fish further towards the North and South poles. In addition, the warmer ocean temperatures and pollution have cause Algae blooms. Harmful algal blooms (HABs) and Cyanobacteria occur when colonies of algae grow out of control while producing toxic or harmful effects on people, fish, shellfish, marine mammals, and birds. These harmful effects need to be rectified without further damage to benefit the earth and all its inhabitants. A pipeline would have led to even further disastrous impacts on fish stocks in the area.

If instead, they had created a bio plant to break down the pulp and paper waste into methane gas and carbon slurry, which could be used as a fertilizer thereby creating additional jobs at the pulp and paper mill either maintaining the use of the methane produced which could be used the same way as natural gas for as many purposes from creating electricity, heating to powering vehicles they instead lost all the jobs at this company. The operation of the bio plant would have added more jobs as well. This was a blow to our economy that could have been avoided. If one compared the costs of building a pipeline a mile into the ocean compared to a bio plant the difference in cost was infinitesimal and the environmentally friendly method would make money in the long run especially when methane gas technology becomes more widely used and new innovations are made for its use instead of allowing it to sit in our atmosphere causing damage for years before it is broken down.

Figure 5: Diagram of the pipeline proposed to dump pulp and paper waste a mile into the ocean.

A second example is the current practice of many communities dumping raw sewage into the St. Lawrence River in Quebec and elsewhere, which biodigester plants could turn into methane and the fertilizer for use as it is a byproduct of biodigesters. Canadian municipalities are dumping some 400 billion gallons of raw sewage. Quebec is the worst offender. Canadian municipalities are dumping an estimated 400 billion gallons of raw sewage every year It is quite a health hazard and simply dumping it currently into the St. Lawrence River and other bodies of water will have long term negative effects on the environment. Biodigester plants would be a perfect economical answer to turning 400 billion gallons of damaging waste into methane gas to heat homes, cook with or power electricity generators.

Another example of the uses of captured carbon dioxide can be used to extract rare earth elements. In recent political and trade disputes with China (who provide most rare earth elements that are needed to make a huge variety of necessary products from medicines to missile guidance systems and almost every type of electronics. Cell phones, tv, computer components are all made from rare earth elements. The use of carbon capture technology can be used to create oxalic acid to create scrubbers to extract rare earth elements from existing electronics as well as from mines in a cost effective and far more environmentally friendly method than China currently uses. It would also reduce our dependency on China for them.

Almost never talked about but none the less a huge contributor as a greenhouse gas as well as depleting the ozone layer is nitrous oxide (N20) Like other greenhouse gases, nitrous oxide absorbs radiation and traps heat in the atmosphere at a rate 300 times worse than the same amount of carbon dioxide and takes 114 years to dissipate according to the EPA. Nitrous oxide is released into the atmosphere through nitrogen-based fertilizers onto the fields, through the breakdown of animal manure and combustion of fossil fuels. Approximately 79 percent of all nitrous oxide released in the United States came from nitrogen fertilization so switching to biodigester technology on farms and using the carbon slurry it produces as fertilizer instead of fertilizers while burning the methane as a fuel would reduce the amount of nitrous oxide released into the environment substantially. Biodigester technologies ability to make use of methane gas instead of fossil fuels for energy produced as well using the carbon slurry instead of nitrogen-based fertilizers would provide a far more environmentally safer solution.

In conclusion, the hope of this article was to teach people how greenhouse gases affect the atmosphere and cause climate change and the possibility of reversing climate change by encouraging innovation for the capture of carbon dioxide and methane greenhouse gases and reusing and recycling them wherever possible and placing the remainder underground while reforesting and regreening drought and arid regions to cool down the earth will remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The Paris Climate Agreement must be revised to include more development areas of recycling and using captured carbon dioxide, methane gas and other pollutants as raw materials instead of waste products in financially beneficial ways. For example race car have parts currently are made of lightweight polymers from captured carbon instead of metals; perhaps exploration could be made to use these polymers more widely in the automotive industry to use up the collected carbon dioxide to make it more desirable product. The possibilities are endless and the innovations we create a demand for will be result in using up greenhouse gases to reverse in climate change. It is up to mankind to begin to think outside the box.

Lucinda Knowlton is a self-taught environmentalist with a brief education in environmental technology at Georgian College, Barrie, Ontario

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Article comments

Peter miles
Peter miles · 2 years ago
Excellent article which is both educational and has a great many ideas that could make major changes in the world. I hope to read other papers written by you in the near future.

Julie Rutten
Julie Rutten · 2 years ago
Well done Lucinda. A very good read.

Gail Landau
Gail Landau · 2 years ago
Well thought out. Highly informative. Shows original thinking.

Gail Landau
Gail Landau · 2 years ago
Exceptionally informative. Well researched. Clearly thought out and organized.

Julie Rutten
Julie Rutten · 2 years ago
well written good read

Julie Rutten
Julie Rutten · 2 years ago
Impresive. Very nice work. Great read.

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