A Basic Guide To Carbon


During the second week of COP15, it seems very appropriate, not to mention timely, to discuss all things carbon. Let’s start off with a basic fact: There is more than one type of carbon. Keep reading to find out about the rainbow of carbon ‘colors.’

First, we will look at good ole basic black carbon, also known as soot. It is produced by diesel engines, coal-fired power plants, industrial processes, and outdoor cooking stoves in Asia and Africa. Black carbon is the second biggest contributor to rising global temperatures, and is responsible for 18 percent of the earth’s warming, according to recent studies. Carbon dioxide is in the number one spot, and is responsible for 40 percent of earth’s warming.

Black carbon can be reduced using simple technologies. Over half of the world’s population burns fuel indoors to heat their homes and cook their food, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). One study found that 60 million low-soot cooking stoves, if sold in India for $5 each, would cost $300 million, which is much cheaper than the cost of many technologies. Envirofit International, a Colorado-based non-profit group sold over 100,000 low-soot cooking stoves in southern India. The stoves were sold mostly out of vans.

As Steven Chu, U.S. energy secretary said, “The energy problem can be advanced a long way by pretty low-tech stuff.”

Next we will go down a hue and look at brown carbon. Brown carbon both cools the earth’s surface and warms the atmosphere. Arizona State University research scientist, James Anderson said brown carbon has “light absorbing properties that lie between strongly absorbing black carbon and materials that only scatter light and do not absorb.” Anderson also said brown carbon needs to be factored into climate change models.

Now we move on to green carbon, which is stored in the Earth’s terrestrial ecosystems, such as forests. It is also known as carbon sequestration. Forest soils and vegetation store about 40 percent of all carbon. Deforestation exceeds regrowth globally. Land use change, namely tropical deforestation, releases an estimated 1.6 billion tons of carbon every year, which is equivalent to 25 percent of the carbon emissions from fossil fuel combustion.

A study by the World Wildlife Federation (WWF) Sweden concluded that preserving forestland is five times better than carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) to reduce carbon emissions. Stopping forest loss is also the most cost-effective way to mitigate climate change next to energy efficiency, according to the study.

WWF Sweden CEO General Lasse Gustavsson said, “One Swedish krona to stem deforestation results in the same emissions reductions as five kronor for the controversial carbon capture and storage technique.” Gustavsson added, “We should always prioritize solutions that are best for both the environment and our wallets, especially during the ongoing financial crisis. Sweden’s cautious attitude in this area is therefore very surprising.”

Finally, we will look at blue carbon, or carbon stored in the world’s oceans. Of all the carbon stored on earth, 93 percent is in the oceans. Protecting oceans is cost effective. “Protecting the world’s oceans will cost governments far less than the amount they spend on subsidies for fishing fleets and will lead to bigger catches in the long run,” according to a study by WWF International and Britain’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

The study estimated that a network of marine protected areas (MPAs) covering 30 percent of the world’s oceans would cost $12 billion to 14 billion a year. Subsidies to commercial fisheries total $15 billion to $30 billion a year.

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

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