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Carbon is Like Money

Carbon is Like Money

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Published by terrabyte
Most of us are concerned about climate change and want to do what we can to minimize our contributions to greenhouse gases. It’s complicated, though. There are scores of recommendations on how to minimize our carbon footprints, some quite consequential and others relatively insignificant. Think of carbon as if it were your money. Just as you can manage your money by placing it in different types of accounts, you can manage the carbon you use by directing it to an appropriate environmental medium.
Most of us are concerned about climate change and want to do what we can to minimize our contributions to greenhouse gases. It’s complicated, though. There are scores of recommendations on how to minimize our carbon footprints, some quite consequential and others relatively insignificant. Think of carbon as if it were your money. Just as you can manage your money by placing it in different types of accounts, you can manage the carbon you use by directing it to an appropriate environmental medium.

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Published by: terrabyte on Jul 01, 2011
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Carbon is like Money
Most of us are concerned about climate change and want to do what we can to minimize ourcontributions to greenhouse gases.
It’s complicated, though.
There are scores of recommendations on how to minimize our carbon footprints, some quite consequential andothers relatively insignificant.
Carbon isn’t like a
n addictive drug we can try to quit using. We are made of carbon. Weconsume food made of carbon, exhale carbon dioxide (CO
2
), expel methane (CH
4
), and excretecarbonaceous feces. Plants and animals are made of carbon, too, and experience the same orsimilar processes. Worst of all, most of our major fuel sources involve carbon. Carbon can befound in the atmosphere, in the ocean, in earth materials, and in the biosphere as chemicalcompounds and life forms. So,
we can’t just
abstain from using carbon. We have to manage howwe use it.Think of carbon as if it were your money. Just as you can manage your money by placing it indifferent types of accounts, you can manage the carbon you use by directing it to an appropriateenvironmental medium.
Carbon in the Atmosphere is like Pocket Change
Like pocket change, you have to use a certain amount of carbon all the time. But the atmosphereis the worst place for carbon to go.
Once there, it’s difficult to reclaim an
d i
t’s where the
deleterious effect on climate occurs. With pocket change, you need enough to conduct your daily
life but you don’t want to carry too much that might be
spent frivously, or get lost or stolen.Minimize the amount of carbon that you release to the atmosphere to the extent you can. You
have to breathe, for instance, and there’s not much you can do about flatulence
. There are,however, quite a few things you can do without turning your life upside down. First andforemost,
minimize
the amount of carbon fuels that you burn or cause to be burned by yourchoices as a consumer. For example, use more efficient means of transportation, like ridingpublic transportation instead of driving. Use electric-powered tools instead of gas-powered tools.You may get your electricity from a fossil fuel plant but those facilities are much more efficientand release comparatively less pollution than your lawnmower. And yes, your back yard fire pit
will release the carbon stored in wood to the atmosphere. It’s a small, even insignificant release
so lo
ng as you don’t start a forest fire
, but it illustrates how you have to manage your choices.Like pocket change, you need to consider whether your carbon usage is worth the benefits youreceive in return.
Carbon in the Ocean is like a Retirement Account
The ocean is perhaps the best place for carbon to be sequestered because it can be locked up forcenturies.
Better yet, you don’t have to do much if anythin
g to make it happen. Let theprofessionals track what
s going on.
It’s like
Social Security and some other retirement accounts.The deductions are automatic and, barring some unforeseen calamity, you can count on thedeposits being safe for the long term.
Carbon in the Biosphere is like Checking and Savings Accounts
Carbon in the biosphere may not be your biggest amount to manage, but
if you’re a gardener, it’s
likely to be the one you think about most often. Plants extract carbon from the soil and the air
 
and convert it into plant material. When the plant dies, it decomposes and releases the carbonback to the soil.Your lawn is like a checking account. Carbon is locked up in the grass plants but only for arelatively short time because you mow it every week or so. Thus, there is a constant turnover of carbon. Annual and perennial plants
aren’t trimmed as often as grass, so they lock up carbon for 
slightly longer periods. Eventually, though, these plants will lose their foliage and release theircarbon back to the environment.Trees and shrubs are like savings accounts. They might lose their foliage annually but they alsolock up carbon in woody roots, stems and trunks, which last for relatively long times. In general,the denser the wood, the more carbon is locked up. Deciduous species tend to be harder thanevergreen species but they lose more of their foliage every year. But just about any big, fastgrowing hardwood that you want to plant would be great for storing carbon. If you can use it tobuild furniture and structures like houses, it will probably be good for storing carbon.
Carbon in the Earth is like an Investment Account
The earth is like an investment account for carbon. Some earth media are extensive, carbon-dense, and long term, like limestone and other carbonate rocks and minerals, coal, peat, oil, andgas. The best thing to do is to leave them where they are or use them only sparingly, like livingoff the interest on an inheritance. Instead, we are cashing in these resources at unsustainablerates. When fuels are burned and limestone is crushed to make cement, considerable amounts of carbon are released to the atmosphere.Soil is more like a short-term investment account. You move carbon into soil by adding manure,compost, peat moss, and mulch. Try to avoid chemical fertilizers because a considerable amountof carbon is released when they are manufactured and then have to be transported to stores.Plants will take the carbon out of the soil and store it in wood and plant materials. Like stocks,this carbon management strategy can be either short or long term.
Managing Carbon to Get the Best Return
Perhaps the most challenging aspect of managing carbon is its use as a
 fuel
. Coal, peat, tar sands,oil, oil shales, and gas are all non-renewable because they take thousands of years to form. Oncethe carbon is taken out of them, it can
’t be put back 
in our lifetimes. Consequently, we shouldminimize usage of these fuels in favor of non-carbon energy sources. If you must use carbon-based fuels, consider using the most efficient delivery mechanism. For example, replace toolspowered by small gasoline engines with tools that are powered by electricity, which can beproduced more efficiently at centralized power plants.The country is only now developing the technology and infrastructure to generate electricityfrom renewable resources. Minimize your usage of electricity because
it’s
probably coming froma fossil fuel plant. If you can choose the source of your electricity, renewable sources like solar,
wind, hydroelectric, and geothermal, won’t release carbon into the atmosphere.
 Consider the fuel used in transportation. If you can, telework instead of commuting. Conductvirtual meetings instead of traveling. Buy locally grown produce rather than foodstuffs shippedfrom across the country. Compost your garbage instead of having it trucked to a landfill.Finally, shrink the carbon footprint of your home. Minimize your use of electricity. Focus on theimpact and efficiency of heating and cooling, the most substantial energy drains in most homes.

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