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Zero Waste Team: Greenhouse Gas Emissions And The Solutions

on February 13, 2019 - 4:58pm

Image of Greenhouse Effect. Courtesy image

Los Alamos

Renowned astronomer Carl Sagan referred to planet Earth as the “Goldilocks Planet” - not too hot like Venus, and not too cold like Mars. How did this “just right” climate happen on Earth, to allow all life as we know it to exist here?

Scientists have understood the greenhouse effect since the 1800s - gases in the atmosphere over Earth trap heat like the glass structure over a greenhouse. Ultraviolet light from the sun is absorbed by Earth and warms it. Some of the infrared heat is re-radiated from the Earth, and is trapped by those gases - mainly water vapor, carbon dioxide and methane. This natural process keeps our planet warm enough to sustain life. For thousands of years, natural processes removed as much carbon as was released, keeping it relatively stable.

However, in modern times, human activities, especially the production and burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas), industrial activities, deforestation, transportation, intensive agriculture, etc. have added huge quantities of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into Earth’s atmosphere. Of the main greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide is the main contributor to climate change, with levels 42 percent higher than in pre-industrial era. Methane is 23 times more heat trapping than carbon dioxide over a 20 year period, and is released by cattle farming, waste dumps and oil and gas production. Nitrous oxide is potentially 310 times more heat trapping than carbon dioxide. It is released by chemical fertilizers and burning of fossil fuels. Into Earth’s relatively thin, finite atmosphere, human activities are pumping 110 million tons of manmade greenhouse gas pollution, especially carbon dioxide, every single day - trapping the heat energy in our atmosphere equivalent to 400,000 Hiroshima class atomic bombs exploding every 24 hours! This is heating up the Earth.

According to NASA’s 134 year record, 17 out of the 18 hottest years on record have occurred since 2001. Since everything on earth, living and inanimate, are interconnected in ecosystems, Earth’s heating up is leading to widespread consequences around the globe, including here in the U.S. - often referred to as global warming or climate change.

The effects of climate change are widespread. In New Mexico, we have experienced drought, resulting in wildfires and water scarcity. In California, intensifying heat waves and drought fuel rampant and record-breaking wildfires. In the Gulf of Mexico, hurricanes are more intense, frequent, prolonged and destructive; and in Florida, coastal flooding has increased from sea level rise due to melting polar ice caps and glaciers. Climate change has no boundaries and results in species extinction from disrupted habitats which will threaten the entire food web. Changes in pattern of pests, diseases, food and water shortages and direct results from extreme weather and disasters will increasingly threaten public health. Climate refugees resulting from food and water scarcity may threaten stability of nations. Overall, the World Economic Forum warns that climate change is the number one threat to the Global Economy in the 21st Century.

What does our global community need to do in face of this looming climate crisis? Two significant events bear mention:

1) In December 2015, nearly all countries in the world came together to sign the Paris Climate Agreement, agreeing to keep the global temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial level, and to make efforts to keep it below 1.5 degrees C.

2) In October 2018, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its strongest warning, stating the urgency of limiting global warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius (rather than 2 degrees) above pre-industrial levels. This half degree Celsius difference in temperature rise could avert major climate related calamities to several hundred million people by 2050, as well as reducing the severity of mass extinction to species on land and in the sea. Limiting warming to no more than 1.5 degrees C requires decreasing carbon pollution by 45 percent below 2010 levels by 2030 and globally reaching net zero emissions by 2050.

What can we, as individuals and as members of global communities do to meet these challenges?

Doing our part ... at home:

  • Sign up for 90 percent renewable energy credit with Utility Department for electricity consumed at home.
  • Use websites such as to work out our carbon footprints and then minimize this.
  • Use LED lights, unplug appliances when not in use, wash clothes in cold water, hang clothes to dry, use programmable thermostat, buy Energy Star appliances, winterize our homes, get an energy audit.
  • Consume less, waste less, enjoy more. Refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle and rot (compost).  
  • Eat vegetarian/vegan meals some days of the week, buy organic, aim for zero waste, grow your own.      
  • Take public transport, ride a bike, car share, switch to electric or hybrid vehicle, minimize air travel. Offset emissions if flying.
  • Divest from fossil fuels and invest in renewables.
  • Be role-models for our children on caring for our planet.

Doing our part ... at work and in our community:

  • If we are planning a career or work change, we can look to the renewable energy sector, as it is currently the fastest growing sector, providing jobs as well as economic growth and development opportunities.
  • Join Environmental Groups in our local areas. There are many such groups, such as The Climate Reality Project, Sierra Club, Citizens Climate Lobby,, World Wildlife Fund, The Nature Conservancy, etc. Groups have mechanisms already in place for various climate actions.
  • A New Mexico Chapter of The Climate Reality Project is newly established. For further information, contact Julia Ying at

There’s no time for denial, despondency or disinterest. This is a time that demands urgent actions from each of us to be champions for our Mother Earth. Every positive action taken now will be much more effort and cost effective than any delayed actions.

These are the actions that our future generations will judge us by - have we failed them by leaving them a calamitous world, or have we shown them our best, most courageous selves, who in face of the biggest challenge to humankind, have been able to come together and work efficiently and effectively to avert the climate crisis and transition our world to a safe, equitable and sustainable future.  


Julia Ying is giving a presentation, The Climate Crisis and Its Solutions, followed by discussion 5:30-7 p.m., Feb. 28 at Project Y, 150 Central Park Square. All welcome.

Zero Waste Tip:

Help Los Alamos reduce its carbon footprint by supporting steps towards carbon-free electrical generation, public transportation, energy conservation and waste reduction. Let your elected representatives know that you care about climate change and want them to support carbon-reducing policies and initiatives.