Evan Wilson - November 11th 2021
Greenhouse Gases 101
Before you dive into all things Neutral, calculate your carbon footprint, and choose an offset program that you connect with, it’s important to actually understand the basics of greenhouse gases and our impact on the planet. Most of us at least know what greenhouse gases are, and what a carbon footprint is, but do you actually know what goes into defining them. Not to worry — we’re here to give you the answers!
What are greenhouse gases (GHGs)?
Dust off your 10th grade trapper keeper and flip to your notes on climate science. You likely learned about greenhouse gases (GHGs) and why they matter. For a quick refresher, GHGs trap heat in the atmosphere to maintain living conditions suitable for life on Earth - more accurately known as the greenhouse effect. We often talk about carbon dioxide as the main culprit, but the other GHGs are just as important to minimize, including methane, nitrous oxide, water vapor, and fluorinated gases. As my mother tells me, “all things in moderation are fine”, and this idiom holds for GHGs. We should all wake up each morning and give thanks for GHGs - they are what make life on Earth livable. Sadly, the amount of GHGs in our atmosphere has rapidly increased over the past hundred years, and at our current pace we can’t bank on our existing climate conditions being possible in just a few decades from now. This all has to do with the greenhouse effect (keep reading!).
What is the greenhouse effect?
The greenhouse effect is what helps earth be livable for plants, animals, and humans. Earth’s atmosphere helps maintain a comfortable temperature by allowing only a portion of sunlight in and out of the atmosphere - roughly 70% of sunlight that hits earth makes it through the atmosphere while the other 30% is reflected back into space. When the greenhouse effect balance is maintained, we are happy and healthy. The atmosphere acts like a blanket on a cold winter night: some of your body heat is trapped under the blanket to keep you comfortable while you sleep.
How do greenhouse gases come into play?
Once sunlight hits Earth it is reflected back into the atmosphere in the form of infrared light; too many GHGs in the atmosphere impair that sunlights ability to escape our atmosphere, effectively trapping its heat under our metaphorical atmospheric blanket. This is the greenhouse effect in action, and too much heat being trapped is what causes the global temperature to rise over time. As you’ve heard for years, a slight rise in global temperatures, roughly 1.5 degrees celsius, can have dire effects on the billions of living things on Earth (including you).
What can we do about the problem?
This is an insanely complex problem to solve, and it won’t be accomplished overnight. Not to be dramatic, but the world depends on us to figure this out (and soon). The good news is that people all over the world wake up everyday to take this issue head on - including the team at Neutral. To oversimplify the solution, I think about two main actions we can all take:
Hold others accountable: We need to continue pressing our representatives to pass meaningful climate policy to scale renewables, reduce emissions, and set standards that will help maintain a sustainable climate. Private businesses also play a major role in this; we must demand sustainable practices from these players as they each have a meaningful impact on climate. Our parent company, IGS Energy, recently joined +200 businesses by signing the Climate Pledge, which holds businesses accountable to tracking and reducing emissions in an effort to reach net-zero by 2030. There is incredible financial and social value ahead for companies that take this responsibility seriously.
Hold ourselves accountable: By educating yourself on the issue, you’ve taken the first step in your own climate journey. Now, you’re ready to take personal responsibility for your impact on the environment. We built Neutral as a tool for our members to calculate their footprint and offset it each month through verified carbon offset projects. Want to do more? Write/call your representatives to demand responsible climate policies, buy from sustainable businesses, find ways to reduce your impact each day by buying second-hand clothing, walk vs. drive, eat one less serving of meat a week, talk to your friends and family about climate change. Be accountable.
Ready to take action?
You’re in the right place. Go to Neutral.io to calculate your personal carbon footprint, select a carbon offset program to invest in, and subscribe. Climate change is hard - Neutral makes it easy to take personal accountability. Don’t stop there - this is just the beginning. Find opportunities to hold yourself and others accountable, and take small weekly steps to live more sustainably. You can do this - WE can do this. In our next blog we will talk more in depth about carbon offsets and why they are a valuable climate tool.
Stay cool, and be kind 🌳