Environmental Awareness For Adults

Many people have likely heard the phrase “global warming” and “greenhouse gases” on the news, in school or in passing. Some of the most common greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. They all have similar effects in high concentrations in the atmosphere. But does the average person actually understand what a greenhouse gas means and how it is related to global warming and climate change? Let’s take a look at the more common ones. Making up 0.03% of the Earth’s atmosphere, carbon dioxide is the most prevalent greenhouse gas. Carbon dioxide is a primary byproduct of the burning of fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are sources of energy that come from the remains of plants and animals. It takes millions of years for them to be formed.

According to the environmental protection agency (EPA), 86 percent of the world’s energy consumption comes from fossil fuels. There are three fossil fuels: petroleum oil, natural gas and coal. Coal is the most plentiful and the least expensive.

Gas flaring

Experts identifies flaring as a safe, efficient method for disposing of excess natural gas during the oil production process; flaring wastes valuable energy resource and emits carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. The World Bank estimates that oil companies flare 5.3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas each year, resulting in 400 million tons of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. These additional carbon dioxide emissions increase the effect of climate change.

Fossil fuels present two major problems.
(1) They are non-renewable sources of energy. They will eventually be used up.
(2) The burning of fossil fuels has detrimental effects on human health and the environment.

Carbon dioxide is also a main element in vehicle exhaust, as well as various chemical reactions such as the production of cement. All mammals exhale carbon dioxide. It is important to note that while it is a natural process for mammals to inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide, the large scale burning of fossil fuels is not natural. Fortunately, trees and plants remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere when they absorb it in another natural process. But a pivotal question is whether a balance can be achieved between the production of carbon dioxide and its subsequent removal from the atmosphere. Methane gas is produced in two primary ways: during the production of coal, oil and natural gas; and during agricultural events. Livestock emit methane during digestion; methane is produced through the decay of organic waste in landfills. Similarly nitrous oxide is a byproduct of the agricultural industry and also forms during the burning of fossil fuels. When these gases (Carbon dioxide, Methane, Nitrous oxide) build up in the atmosphere, they collectively act as a blanket in the sky, preventing solar energy from radiating back into space. Thus, these gases keep the surface of the earth much hotter than it would otherwise be, creating a “greenhouse effect”.

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While greenhouse gases do occur naturally, human industry produces such high concentrations that they actually influence global climate, resulting in global warming and rapid changes in weather pattern causing extreme weather conditions such as flooding, desertification, storm winds, heat waves, and so on.

Climate change is already affecting the human race in many ways. Certain types of weather have become more frequent more and intense such as heat waves, heavy rainfall, thunder storms and in some regions rapid flooding and drought. Sea level is rising; oceans are becoming more acidic (a tremendous amount of the carbon dioxide emitted by the burning of fossil fuels ends up in the oceans) The oceans have absorbed 48% of all the carbon dioxide emitted since the industrial revolution 150 years ago. The repercussions for marine life are enormous and glaciers and arctic sea ice are melting. It looks as if climate change could actually cause the depletion of the ozone layer to resume on a wide scale.

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As Nigerians, we are adept at wishful thinking, rejecting obvious outcomes and adapting to every given situation that presents itself, but rapid flooding and sudden weather extremes may really test our adaptation abilities. There is an ongoing worldwide effort to reduce air pollution and develop cleaner sources of energy. It is about time we take a proactive role in polluting less, recycling more and promoting energy efficiency, thereby producing less greenhouse gases.

We have a choice to deal with the outcome of environmental pollution now or we must do so later. Small actions do make a difference such as choosing recycled paper bags/ reusable bags over plastic bags, or recycling plastic bottles, proper waste management etc. and importantly, helping others to do the same. Tell your friends, families and neighbors.