Carbon Literacy

Welcome to Carbon Lite

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Activity

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Useful links and further reading – usually external

A Zero Carbon World

As you will have learnt from earlier on in this course, climate change will affect every aspect of society. In order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, we need to take drastic action and begin the transition towards becoming a zero carbon world by 2050.

In this section, we will explore whether a zero carbon society is possible and what it would look like from a UK perspective. By the end of this lesson, you will have:

  • Gained an understanding of key policies and statistics relating to climate change
  • Explored what a zero carbon world could look like and your role in relation to this transition

Weather is not the Same as Climate

The weather varies daily, monthly, annually, but climate is something that operates over decades.

Research by the Carnegie Trust and Joseph Rowntree Foundation in 2010 predicted that;

The impacts of climate change will not be equally felt across society. The poorest and already vulnerable will be the hardest hit as they have less resources to adapt to extreme weather.

Since the report was published, experience has proven this to be the case with many households across the UK unable to pay insurance premiums to cover flood risk.

Colleagues in the social housing sector in Wales who have already completed Carbon Literacy training have reported that many tenants who were flooded in the February 2020 floods, did not have insurance for building contents.

The likely impacts:

For all businesses, extreme weather/climate change means:

  • Increased stress/ worry for individuals
  • Higher insurance costs
  • Repair costs
  • Reduced productivity and ‘lost days’
Watch this short video from NASA Kids to help understand the difference between weather and climate.

Activity

Can you think of any way that climate change will benefit your organisation and the communities it operates in?

Can we use major changes as an opportunity to make more resilient communities?

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If you want to find out more, take a look at the Met Office ‘State of the UK Climate’ – an annual publication providing up-to-date assessment of the UK climate.

The Natural Resources Wales climate change overview is a useful resource to learn more about climate change in Wales.

Summary of Climate Past

Ice and Sediment Cores tell us:

Long term variation in temperature and climate is natural.

And we know….

CO2 and other gases provide a duvet to keep the earth warm – more of these gases = warmer earth.

Under natural conditions, CO2 levels follow temperature changes caused mainly by sun and orbit and re-enforce increases in temperature.

CO2 levels are now higher than they have been for hundreds of thousands of years, independent of orbit or sun.

Carbon Dioxide and Temperature

So we have looked at Carbon Dioxide levels in the present day (since the 1950s), and up to one thousand years ago. But the ice cores allow us to go much further back in time than that.

This next graph from NASA plots carbon dioxide levels over hundreds of thousands of years.

Again, pay close attention to the timescale; think about how the steepness of a graph line tells a different story when plotted against different time scales.

Credit: NASA Global Climate Change, Vital Signs
 
(Credit: Luthi, D., et al.. 2008; Etheridge, D.M., et al. 2010; Vostok ice core data/J.R. Petit et al.; NOAA Mauna Loa CO2 record.)

Look at how radically carbon dioxide levels vary over time…if carbon dioxide is one of the main gases for keeping the earth warm, what might we conclude is happening during the periods when carbon dioxide levels are at their lowest?

If carbon dioxide levels and climate change are linked then this graph tells us something very important:

Climate change is natural.

 

This fact is often mis-understood and used by people who do not want to face the difficult reality of climate change.

Yes, our climate varies radically over hundreds of thousands of years and this is natural – nothing to do with us. So what is driving natural climate change?

Measuring the Greenhouse Effect

The different Greenhouse gases have different heat trapping abilities. So, we refer to the global warming potential of different gases

Methane traps more heat than carbon dioxide.

Emissions of one million metric tons of methane is equivalent to emissions of 28 million metric tons (approx.) of carbon dioxide. So, although there is less methane than carbon dioxide, its warming impact is greater.

Water vapour is also a very significant greenhouse gas. As the earth warms, more water evaporates thereby doubling the heat trapping effects of Carbon Dioxide. Similarly, processes like the melting of permafrost, release large amounts of methane

Carbon dioxide equivalent is a measure used to compare the emissions from various greenhouse gases based upon their global warming potential.

For example, the global warming potential for methane over 100 years is 28. This means that emissions of one million metric tons of methane is equivalent to emissions of 28 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.

Feedback Loops

These processes are referred to as Positive Feedbacks. They re-enforce global warming, speeding up the rate at which the earth warms.

There are also Negative Feedbacks which slow down warming but scientists are worried that the negative feedbacks are being overwhelmed by the quantity and speed by which we are adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

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You can read a more technical and in-depth explanation of global warming potential on the Science Direct website.

The following websites further explain the relationship between methane and CO2 and the use of the term ‘carbon dioxide equivalent’:

*Factcheck.org – How potent is methane?

This article on Climate Reality Project website explains in detail how feedback loops are making the climate crisis worse.

The Consequences of Climate Change

Extreme Weather

On the 9th August 2021, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the first part of the sixth assessment report, Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis.

This Report is the most up-to-date physical understanding of the climate system and climate change, bringing together the latest advances in climate science, and combining multiple lines of evidence from paleoclimate, observations, process understanding, and global and regional climate simulations.

The report concludes that North West Europe will experience more extreme floods and more extreme winter storms. Sea level will rise, storm surges will cause coastal flooding and sandy shorelines will be eroded. The Mediterranean region will experience longer, hotter, drier summers and pulses of heat and drought will affect northern Europe too.

Every tonne of CO₂ emissions adds to global warming and each fraction of warming increases the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events.

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You can read a summary article on the IPCC website: Climate change widespread, rapid, and intensifying – IPCC

Warmer and Wetter? What About Wild Fires?

Recently we have seen devastating wildfire in Australia, California and other parts of the world. How is this coherent with Charles’ Law and the expectation of a wetter world?

California Wildfires
California Wildfires | Credit: Daria Devyatkina / AP Photo/ Los Angeles Times
Man wades through flooded high street in the village of Fowey. | Credit: Prawney from Pixabay

It seems that the dry, warm parts of the world are getting drier and warmer while the wet parts of the world, in general, are experiencing more intense rainfall.

In the News

The Guardian is a good source of information for the latest extreme weather events and natural disasters.

There is also a dedicated extreme weather service for Europe.

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