Many of us assume that the term “climate change” is relatively new, dating back to maybe the early 1980s. However, scientists were referring to climate change as far back as the 1800s. In 1896, a study entitled, On the Influence of Carbonic Acid in the Air upon the Temperature of the Earth, was published by Arvid Hogbom, a Swedish geologist. He found that carbon emissions, mainly form coal burning, could lead to global warming. Hogbom assumed this would take thousands of years. While his analysis was correct, it appears his timing was a bit off.
So, with this background, let’s begin part two of our series on the Language of Sustainability:
- Climate change: Climate change is tied to the human-made release of greenhouse gases, according to 97 percent of the world’s climate scientists, which, among other things, result from burning fossil fuels (i.e., coal and oil). The gases produced, such as carbon dioxide, create a blanket that traps heat on the Earth. This heat, along with the sun’s energy, heats the oceans and land, which in turn affects weather patterns. The expected results are more extreme and unpredictable weather patterns, including more numerous and intense storms such as hurricanes, tornados, blizzards, and rain events; as well as increasing droughts, ocean acidification, and other issues.
- Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC): This scientific and intergovernmental panel was set up at the request of member governments of the United Nations. It is charged with providing an objective, scientific view of climate change and its political and economic impacts. Thousands of scientists and other experts contribute (on a voluntary basis, without payment from the IPCC) to writing and reviewing reports, which are then reviewed by governments. Their report has concluded the following:
Climate change is occurring, it is primarily caused by human activities, and poses significant risks for—and in many cases is already affecting—a broad range of human and natural systems. [Emphasis in original text].
A full 97 percent of global climatologists agree with their findings.
- Greenhouse gas: A greenhouse gas is a gas in the atmosphere that absorbs and emits radiant (heat) energy. This process is the fundamental cause of the greenhouse effect. The primary greenhouse gases in the Earth's atmosphere are water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone. Human activities since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution (around 1750) have produced a 40 percent increase in the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, from 280 parts per million in 1750 to 406 parts per million in early 2017. The vast majority of human-made carbon dioxide emissions come from the combustion of fossil fuels, principally coal, oil, and natural gas, with comparatively modest additional contributions coming from deforestation, changes in land use, soil erosion, and agriculture.
- Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions: The Greenhouse Gas Protocol was developed by the World Resources Institute and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. The protocol divides emissions into three categories, called scopes:
- Scope 1 comprises the direct greenhouse gas emissions, or those that an organization has control over, such as the fuels used in a distributor’s delivery vehicles.
- Scope 2 emissions are indirect greenhouse gas emissions from the consumption of purchased electricity, heat, or steam.
- Scope 3 emissions, also known as supply-chain emissions, include other indirect greenhouse gas emissions. For instance, the extraction and production of purchased materials and fuels, transport-related activities in vehicles not owned or controlled by the reporting entity (such as employees’ personal vehicles used to go to and from work), and waste disposal fall into this category. Scope 3 emissions often represent the most significant source of greenhouse gas emissions and can account for up to 90 percent of an organization’s total carbon impact.
This is the second in a series on the language of sustainability. For the part one, click here.