Thursday, October 15, 2009

What if…we could see our climate changing emissions??

What would be a good way of visualising exactly how much climate changing carbon dioxide we all produce*? Its easy to see all the waste that goes into our bins (and recycling boxes…) but carbon dioxide is a colourless and odourless gas presently emitted when we heat and light our homes, obtain and cook food, travel for work and leisure…We may read in the papers and hear on the news or see on the DEFRA website that on average each UK person emits a massive 12.5 tonnes per year of carbon dioxide equivalent – it sounds a lot but what does it mean? What would it look like if we could see it? (See picture of our daily production, per person, of 73 large black bin bags full).
If we could see and/or smell it would there be even more participants in today’s blog action day on climate change? Would there be more impetus take action on a scale that would reduce or avoid the worst effects of climate change, given that increasingly frequent news reports of rapidly melting arctic ice (from today) or news of how the world’s poorest are suffering most from the consequences of climate change don’t seem to be stimulating it??
*We can easily convert the 12.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent to a volume. When this is done (see the calculation below +) we find that the average UK person emits enough carbon dioxide equivalent each day to fill 145 black bags (of the 120 litre type we all put our plastic rubbish in) – or 73 if you use the larger 240 litre black bags. That’s about 17,400 litres every day – not far off a whole streets worth of rubbish bins !!
Something like 23 black bin bags (120 litre size) per day (equivalent to around 2 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per person per year) is an emissions level which would avoid the worst climate change.

+A mole of carbon dioxide (its relative molecular mass in grams) is 44 grams (12+16+16). One mole of gas at standard temperature and pressure occupies 22.4 litres.

12.5 tonnes x1000 = 12,500kg x1000 = 12,500,000g which divided by the mass of one mole, 44g, gives us the number of lots of 22.4 litres we produce in a year = 284,090.9 lots.

284,090.9 x 22.4 = 6,363,636.364 litres per year, which divided by 365 gives 17, 434 litres per day. Divide by 120 litres (black bag – or small rubbish bin – volume) and you get 145 bags full per day!! [Divide by the larger 240 litre bags and you get 73 bags full per day].

Climate change is not only about melting ice caps and polar bears. Climate change is about people.

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Guest blog post (for Blog Action Day: Climate Change) from CARE International's, Simon Owens:
Swinging weather patterns are creating disasters on a scale that human civilization has never before witnessed. For the world’s poorest people – the ones least equipped to deal with its effects – climate change is devastating their crops, livelihoods and communities.

"Climate change is worsening the plight of those hundreds of millions of men, women and children who already live in extreme poverty – and it threatens to push hundreds of millions more people into similar destitution," says CARE International’s Secretary General Robert Glasser. "A concerted international response to this unprecedented challenge is required if we are to avoid catastrophic human suffering."

CARE is working toward a world where poor people can create opportunity out of crises like climate change. But the current reality is that climate change makes poor people even more vulnerable.

For instance, agricultural production will likely decline in the poorest countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. Less reliable rainfall will likely affect planting seasons, crop growth and livestock health – and lead to increased malnutrition. In other parts of the developing world, flooding will likely further diminish the quality of already-marginal soil and could cause outbreaks of water-borne diseases such as cholera and dysentery.

Climate change also is hurling many poor families into "Catch-22" situations. For example, they may select crops that are less sensitive to rainfall variation, but also less profitable. As incomes decline and people are not able to eke out a living, children are forced to leave school, assets are sold off to afford essentials, malnutrition rates increase and large-scale migration ensues. The end result? Deepening poverty for tens of millions of people around the world.

What Must Be Done?

At the international level, negotiations to develop a new treaty to guide global efforts to address climate change will take place in Copenhagen, Denmark in just a couple weeks. The United States must help lead those efforts, and forge a strong agreement that caps emissions, stops global warming and responds to the effects already in motion. We must do this for the sake of all of humanity.

What can I do to help?

First, you can make a tax-deductible donation to CARE to help poor families access the tools and education they need to adapt to the effects of climate change, make efficient use of their existing resources and overcome poverty for good.

Second, if you live in the Unites States, you can write your senators and urge them to pass the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, a critical step toward U.S. leadership in tackling climate change. U.S. leadership is critical to making the Copenhagen negotiations a success.

Third, you can join the CARE mailing list to be kept up to date on CARE’s activities and other ways you can take action in the days counting down to Copenhagen.

To donate, take action and join our e-mail list, please visit