Carbon dioxide currently makes up about 84% of greenhouse gas emissions from human activity
By Dr. John J. Hidore
December 23, 2015—The industrial revolution took place in what is now Britain from 1783 to 1812. At this time the global population had passed the 500 million mark. The pressure of the growing population had severely reduced the supply of wood for fuel and as a building material. People began burning chunks of coal in Britain which were found scattered on the surface of the land or very close to the top. Mining began soon thereafter and the use of coal as a fuel rapidly expanded.
When the steam engine was invented the demand for coal grew even faster. Coal supplied a seemingly unlimited source of non-renewable energy. It was a boon to economic growth!
The use of coal has increased rapidly since the onset of the industrial revolution and today is the most used fuel for generating electricity, increasing by more than 50% in just a few years. From 2001- 2011 India doubled its coal consumption and Australia, one of the leading users of coal in 2011, consumed more than five times the world average per capita consumption. Also, China now burns almost half of all coal consumed each year.
Smoke from Burning Coal
Human beings have suffered health hazards from smoke ever since they gained control of fire. Coal is the dirtiest of the fossil fuels. Burning coal emits soot, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and carbon dioxide. As a result, it causes more illness and fatalities than other fossil fuels.
It is particularly severe in large cities under certain weather conditions. Severe pollution occurred the last week of November in Beijing, China. The concentration of particulate matter in the air reached a level 40 times the limit recommended by the world health organization, making it the worst event so far this year in China
In 2013 China set up a color code to announce bad air quality. The worst conditions are signified by code red. An alert is issued whenever a period of three days or more of hazardous air quality is forecast. On Sunday December 6, the government issued an alert. On Monday, December 7, the government of China declared a state of emergency due to severe smog. Schools and factories were shut down and cars were ordered off the roads. More than 3000 schools closed. On Tuesday, December 8 the air index in Beijing reached 108. At this level people were told to stay inside. Just a little more than a week later another alert was issued.
Emission of Greenhouse Gases
Earth has warmed an average of 1.5 degrees F since the 1880’s. The biggest share of the warming has occurred in recent decades. The last decade has been the warmest on record. The year 2014 was the warmest year to date and indications are that 2015 will be even warmer.
In the past several decades the concentration of greenhouse gases has accelerated. Carbon dioxide currently makes up about 84% of greenhouse gas emissions from human activity. In 2012 the burning of fossil fuels emitted a record amount of CO2 into the atmosphere. The burning of coal was the major source of the carbon dioxide accounting for 45% of the total amount. The level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has now surpassed 400 parts per million (ppm). This is the highest level in approximately 800 thousand years and perhaps in the past three million years. At this rate it could reach 450 ppm in the next 20 years. (In 2014, however, for the first time in 40 years, global carbon emissions flatlined, which was possibly due to changing patterns of energy consumption.)
To keep the total carbon emissions at or below the critical temperature increase of 3.6 degrees F, a total of one trillion tons is the maximum amount of carbon that can be emitted into the atmosphere over time. As of 2015 it is believed that half this amount has already been dumped into our atmosphere. Carbon emissions could reach the one trillion mark within 30 years. To keep it at or below the threshold means an 80% or more reduction within the next 30 years.
The Future Role of Coal
The future growth of the world economy is dependent on an increasing supply of energy available to power the system. The use of coal as a fuel has now become a bane to people and the environment. It is imperative that burning coal as a fuel must be reduced. This does not mean eliminating coal as an energy source—but the amount must be reduced. There are a number of ways to accomplish this including: Replacing coal by oil or natural gas, sequestering carbon dioxide from power plants, changing to renewable energy sources such as wind and solar energy, and increasing the use nuclear energy.
The responsibility is ours today!