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What are Carbon Emissions?

By Kathy R
Updated May 21, 2024
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Carbon emissions, which are also called CO2 emissions, are simply molecules of carbon dioxide released into the air. Usually, the reason people talk about them so much is that when carbon dioxide is released into the air, in very large quantities, it can contribute to global warming. This excess carbon dioxide gas can trap infrared radiation from the sun in the Earth’s atmosphere, where it is then converted to heat energy. This energy warms up the oceans and can lead to planet-wide climate change.

The burning of fossil fuels, such as coal and petroleum products, is a major source of carbon emissions. Deforestation is also a factor, for two reasons. Firstly, the burning of forests creates more CO2, and secondly, the reduced number of trees and other plants leaves fewer resources to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen through the process of photosynthesis.

A popular way that people try to balance their own extra carbon emissions, created by commuting, cooking and otherwise using electricity generated from fossil fuels, is by buying carbon credits, which are also called carbon offsets. This means that for each ton of carbon a person uses, he or she financially supports an activity that reduces the carbon dioxide in the air in an equal amount. For example, such funds could go toward tree planting initiatives or to a company that harnesses wind or water power.

To determine how much carbon emissions a person may need to balance, an individual can calculate his own carbon footprint, which is a numerical figure based on the amount of fossil fuel-based energy he uses to power his home, car and any other modes of transportation he may use. Depending on the carbon footprint calculator selected, it may also take into account whether he purchases items, such as food and clothing, that are locally produced and whether those are from sustainable sources. It may be difficult to calculate a carbon footprint that is 100-percent accurate, so many people opt to over-offset, to make sure they are compensating enough.

There are some people that dispute whether human-made carbon emissions are a cause of global warming. Some of these people believe the Earth is simply getting warmer due to natural processes. That argument aside, it can certainly be said that CO2 is not the only gas that affects the planet’s temperature. Other gasses that could be detrimental to the Earth’s climate are methane, nitrous oxide, ozone and water vapor. Together with carbon dioxide, these substances are known as the greenhouse gases.

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