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12.20.2019

TEN CLIMATE CHANGE TERMS, EXPLAINED BY THE NRDC

The climate crisis cannot be ignored. Every Friday, Milk will be focusing on solutions and stories from the environment’s biggest supporters; through essays, photo stories, updates on the latest technologies, and tips to combat the climate crisis, we’ve got you covered. This week, Dr. Vijay Limaye, Climate Change and Health Science Fellow with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) breaks down 10 climate terms. 

  1. Net-zero emissions: We’re hearing a lot lately about the need to achieve “net-zero” emissions in this country and around the world. That means that, eventually, any remaining human-caused greenhouse emissions are completely balanced out over the course of a year (to zero) by removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, a process known as carbon removal. Carbon removal can take many forms, including planting trees and direct carbon capture from the air, though the technology does not yet exist at a large enough or affordable scale to achieve net-zero emissions. (More info)
  2. Emissions offsets: Offsets are specific cuts in greenhouse gas emissions in one location that can be used to partially or completely compensate for continuing emissions elsewhere. For example, some consumers purchase offsets for airline flights in order to compensate for the greenhouse gases emitted during air travel. Offsets can fund climate change mitigation actions like planting trees or capture of methane from landfills, though tracking these actions is challenging and complex. (More info)
  3. Decarbonize: This term means completely removing carbon emissions from our economic system, including buildings, transportation, and industry, through an expanded reliance on energy from clean and renewable energy resources like solar and wind power instead of polluting fossil fuels (like coal, oil, and natural gas), which spew carbon dioxide into the air and contribute to dangerous air pollution. (More info)
  4. Social Cost of Carbon: Increasing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere fuel global climate change, which is imposing huge economic costs on the U.S. and the world. The “Social Cost of Carbon” is a metric designed to begin to account for these far-reaching and mounting damages caused by climate change, like those to human health, infrastructure, and crops, which are usually ignored when we think about the price of fossil fuels. (More info)
  5. Global warming potential: Not all greenhouse gases are created equal; some are extra-powerful climate warmers, while others can persist in the atmosphere for decades. Considering the Global Warming Potential (GWP) of climate-changing gases like carbon dioxide and methane is a quick way to compare their impacts. Through this approach, the climate warming effects of different greenhouse gases are each compared to carbon dioxide (which has a GWP of 1). For example, methane gas has a 20-year GWP of 87, indicating that it warms the planet 87 times faster than carbon dioxide (molecule for molecule) over a 20-year timeline. (More info)
  6. Mitigation: Slowing global climate change will require us to significantly reduce (mitigate) our emissions of greenhouse gases. Climate change mitigation is a fancy technical term for our collective challenge of reducing greenhouse gas pollution. (More info)
  7. Adaptation: While we work to slow climate change, we’ve also got to prepare for the climate-related harms that we know are coming. Adaptation is a way to describe efforts to better prepare for and respond to the harms inflicted by climate change to society. Climate change adaptation actions include climate vulnerability assessments, early warning systems, cooling centers, heat action plans, and improved climate resilience of hospitals and other public health disaster response systems. (More info)
  8. Energy efficiency: One way to cut greenhouse gas pollution is to make our appliances, equipment, electronics, and buildings use less fossil fuel energy to accomplish their tasks by increasing their efficiency to cut energy waste. For example, an LED is more efficient than a traditional incandescent bulb as it uses about one-sixth of the electricity to produce the same amount of light. (More info)
  9. 2030 Climate Change “Deadline”: Last year’s United Nations report on 1.5° C of Warming indicated that countries would have to cut carbon dioxide emissions to “net zero” by around the year 2050 in order to achieve that target. To reach that goal, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions would have to start dropping well before 2030 and be on a path to fall by about 45 percent by around the year 2030. So the 2030 milestone is not really a strict deadline, it’s more of a signal of the urgency of action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by significant margins over the coming decade. The latest evidence indicates that, instead of falling, CO2 emissions are continuing to rise. (More info)
  10. Paris Agreement/commitments: In 2015, 197 nations came together in order to craft an agreement that would hold global warming to 1.5°-2°C above preindustrial levels. However, most countries aren’t on track to meet their commitments for emissions reductions under the Paris Agreement– so stronger global action is urgently needed in order to address the climate crisis. (More info)

Image Courtesy of  USGS on Unsplash.

Stay tuned to Milk for more climate action tips.

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