Managing atmospheric change

Increasing carbon dioxide levels and the associated increase in global temperature are likely to have serious consequences for the Earth and its inhabitants if left unchecked, such as:

  • more extreme (and dangerous) weather such as hurricanes, flooding and droughts (due to hotter summers)
  • rising sea levels leading to the flooding of large areas of land
  • the destruction of wildlife habitats leading to possible extinction

Certain measures can be taken to try to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Reducing the use of fossil fuels

There are many ways that governments, businesses and individuals can reduce the use of fossil fuels.

  • Use of nuclear and renewable energy sources to replace the burning of coal, oil and gas. These include solar panels, wind turbines, tidal turbines.
  • Recycling and reusing materials as much as possible to minimise the fossil fuels needed to make replacement materials. For example, the energy required to recycle aluminium is only five per cent of that needed to make new aluminium, reducing the need for fossil fuels. Also, plastics are made from chemicals in crude oil, and so recycling plastics reduces the need to use more crude oil.
  • Development and use of more fuel-efficient transportation technology.
  • Reducing energy consumption in the home, eg insulating homes, turning the heating down by a couple of degrees, using more energy efficient appliances, not leaving TVs and games consoles on standby etc.
  • Using mass transportation, eg trains and buses instead of cars – or sharing cars where possible.

Reforestation

Large areas of rainforest have been cut down in recent years. As plants naturally remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and release oxygen, it makes sense to plant more trees to try to make up for this loss. However, it is proving difficult to replant every tree that is lost and we are still losing almost 200,000 square kilometres of forested land every year.

Cleaning fuel emissions [Higher tier only]

It is possible to remove some of the harmful emissions from burning fossil fuels before they escape into the atmosphere, although it is only possible to do this effectively for large scale emissions such as those from power plants.

The most common form of this is known as carbon capture. This involves capturing the carbon dioxide from the waste gases (usually by dissolving the carbon dioxide in a special solvent) and then transporting it to a secure storage site such as depleted oil and gas fields where it can be left indefinitely.

There are also techniques in use that can remove sulfur dioxide from waste gases in order to reduce acid rain. These techniques are referred to as sulfur scrubbing and can remove more than 95 per cent of sulfur dioxide from waste gases.