Graduation year: 2022
Semester/year area of interest proposed: Spring 2020
Major status: ENVS minor
Other major (if applicable): English major
Minor(s) (if applicable):
The main idea of the carbon cycle is that ”carbon is exchanged between the atmosphere, the oceans, the terrestrial biosphere, and, more slowly, with sediments and sedimentary rocks” (Wigley, 2000). It is a relatively slow cycle, taking anywhere from centuries to millennia to cycle. The biggest impact that anthropogenic activity has had on the carbon cycle is dramatically increasing the rate at which carbon is put into the atmosphere while the ocean, terrestrial biosphere, and sediments cannot absorb it quick enough to keep the balance. Prior, there was a relative balance between the amount of carbon in the different areas which is healthy for the ecosystem because carbon dioxide is essential for life. It can be easy to forget that when studying the effects of excess carbon production.
The increase in atmospheric carbon comes with many changes to the current global environment. One of the biggest and potentially most dangerous changes it can cause is a global temperature increase because that can lead to many other changes such as sea level rise, change in or loss of ecosystems, weather shifts, changes in or more deadly natural disasters, new extreme temperatures, forest fires, and lower harvest yield for some common crops. Other effects include, but are not limited to, ocean acidification, spreading of invasive species, and loss of biodiversity. As a species, if we continue on our current rate of carbon production, it could lead to an inability to reverse the effects for at least fifty years (Berger, 2004).
Many countries have realized the effects of carbon production have the potential to change the environment as we know it, so more than sixty countries have set the goal to reach carbon neutrality by 2050, but the only problem is that they are also some of the smallest carbon emitters (Sengupta, 2019). While it is a step towards reducing the global carbon production, it is not a big one. Interestingly, “there are already several carbon neutral villages in the world (such as the well known bio energy village Juhnde in the German state of Lower Saxony,” (Reiche, 2010). There is also a city being built, called Masdar city, for the purpose of being zero carbon and zero waste.
However, just as with all things, reducing carbon production is not as simply as reducing carbon production. It is greatly affected by the politics and economy of the area. Some, especially developing countries, rely on fossil fuel and oil exports for their financial stability. Taking that away could cause a crisis in that area (Reiche, 2010). It would cut hundreds of people off of their jobs and leave countries desperately searching for a way to get back into world trade.
Not only that, but there are many social pressures and normalities, such as the capitalist mindset and the usually negative mindset around public transportation, that would have to be broken to decrease the global carbon production, especially in developed countries. In the United States, for example, democrats tend to believe in climate change, while republicans tend not to. On top of that, republicans prefer to use the term ‘global warming’ although statistics show that they have an easier time denying climate change if they use that term (Schuldt, 2011). Alternatively, some do not believe in climate change because there was very little global temperature change from 1998 to 2008, but that is explained by aerosols that we have omitted in excess during that time that have a cooling effect (Kaufmann, 2011).
The US produced approximately 5.27 billion tons of energy related carbon-dioxide in 2018, while the world totaled about 32.5 billion tons (“U.S. Energy-Related Carbon Dioxide Emissions, 2018”, 2019). That means that the US was responsible for approximately one-sixth of the world’s carbon production. Many Americans have chosen to purchase carbon offsets, but that begs the question to where the money is actually going and how effective they are. Also, it bring up the interesting dilemma that is the fact that, “those with the greatest ability to pay for offsets are typically those least directly affected by the actual climate impacts of carbon dioxide emissions and visa versa” (Robbins, 2010). Regardless, If the US alone went carbon neutral it would create a big impact on the global air quality and environmental state. The process would take an extremely long time and would entail complete systematic changes.
- What are the differences between a developing country’s carbon production and a developed country’s carbon production?
- What are the steps to becoming carbon neutral?
- Where does the money from carbon offsets go?
- How does one measure carbon output and what is the percentage error?
- How does carbon dioxide trap heat?
- How effective are carbon offsets?
- How does carbon production, or more specifically, climate change affect people in different classes or ethnicities?
- How do global crisis affect carbon production?
- How do government officials play a role in the carbon emissions?
- Is it possible for the United States to become a carbon neutral country?
- How would the world’s dynamics (such as the economy, politics, world trade, etc.) change if the US became carbon neutral?
- How much carbon dioxide is “too much” carbon dioxide for mankind versus the the planet?
- What is the most effective means of sequestering carbon?
- PHIL 215 (Philosophy and the Environment) spring 2021. I will investigate the philosophical questions around the environment. I will use this to study people’s mindset and thought processes when it comes to carbon emissions.
- GEO 340 (Spatial Problems in Earth System Science) fall 2022. I will learn how space, or lack of it, plays a role in our take on climate change and carbon production and sequestration.
- ED 450 (Philosophy and Practice of Environmental/Ecological Education) spring 2022. I will learn about the school system’s role in environmental education.
- ECON 103 (Statistics) spring 2019. I learned how to condense data into statistics and how to measure the error in data and use this to understand the error in the data we collect around carbon emissions.
- IA 313 (International Ethics) fall 2020. I will learn how country’s international affairs work within environmental justice.
Here are the required breadth courses I will include in my ENVS major/minor: GEOL 170, SOAN 265, ENG 235. These are in addition to my ENVS core courses, and the area of interest courses I propose above.
Revisions to date
- Arrhenius, Svante. 1896. “On the Influence of Carbonic Acid in the Air upon the Temperature of the Ground,” 22.
- Barnett, T. P. 2005. “Penetration of Human-Induced Warming into the World’s Oceans.” Science 309 (5732): 284–87. (link).
- Berger, André, and Marie-France Loutre. 2004. “Astronomical Theory of Climate Change.” Journal de Physique IV France 121: 1–35. (link).
- Bond, Tami C. 2004. “A Technology-Based Global Inventory of Black and Organic Carbon Emissions from Combustion.” Journal of Geophysical Research 109 (D14): D14203.
- “How Much Carbon Dioxide Does the United States and the World Emit Each Year from Energy Sources?” USGS; Science for a Changing World. Accessed March 2, 2020. (link).
- Kaufmann, R. K., H. Kauppi, M. L. Mann, and J. H. Stock. 2011. “Reconciling Anthropogenic Climate Change with Observed Temperature 1998-2008.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108 (29): 11790–93.
- Reiche, Danyel. 2010. “Renewable Energy Policies in the Gulf Countries: A Case Study of the Carbon-Neutral ‘Masdar City’ in Abu Dhabi.” Energy Policy 38 (1): 378–82.
- Robbins, Paul, John Hintz, and Sarah A Moore. 2010. Environment and Society. Wiley-Blackwell.
- Schuldt, J. P., S. H. Konrath, and N. Schwarz. 2011. “‘Global Warming’ or ‘Climate Change’?: Whether the Planet Is Warming Depends on Question Wording.” Public Opinion Quarterly 75 (1): 115–24. (link).
- Sengupta, Somini, and Nadja Popovich. September 25, 2019. “More Than 60 Countries Say They’ll Zero Out Carbon Emissions.” The New York Times. The New York Times. (link).
- “U.S. Energy-Related Carbon Dioxide Emissions, 2018.” 2019. U.S. Department of Energy. https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/carbon/pdf/2018_co2analysis.pdf
- Wigley, T. M. L., and David Steven. Schimel. 2000. “The Carbon Cycle.” Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.