To learn more about this topic: you can watch the video or read the information below.
Over the past century, human activities have released large amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The majority of greenhouse gases come from burning fossil fuels to produce energy, although deforestation, industrial processes, and some agricultural practices also emit gases into the atmosphere.
Greenhouse gases act like a blanket around Earth, trapping energy in the atmosphere and causing it to warm. This phenomenon is called the greenhouse effect and is natural and necessary to support life on Earth. However, the buildup of greenhouse gases can change Earth’s climate and result in dangerous effects to human health and welfare and to ecosystems.
All forms of electricity generation have an environmental impact on our air, water and land, but it varies. Of the total energy consumed in the United States, about 40% is used to generate electricity, making electricity use an important part of each person’s environmental footprint.
The chart below shows that most of the electricity in the United States is generated using fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas. A small but growing percentage is generated using renewable resources such as solar and wind.
Recall, as discussed on the prior topics, that Energy is tightly connected to water usage and food production:
- Power production accounts for nearly half of all water withdrawals, both freshwater and ocean water in the United States, are used for thermoelectric power plant cooling.
- Hundreds of large-scale power plants across the country are highly dependent on water resources, withdrawing 58 billion gallons of water from the ocean and 143 billion gallons of freshwater each day, more than any other water use category, including irrigation and public water supplies.
- Industrial farms use synthetic fertilizers, which require fossil fuel inputs (primarily natural gas) to be produced. Other fertilizing agents (e.g., potassium and phosphorus) use energy as they are mined and transported.
- Most forms of agriculture are water-intensive. Pumping and moving large volumes of irrigation water requires large amounts of energy.
- Modern agriculture relies upon machinery that runs on gasoline and diesel fuel (e.g., tractors and combines), and equipment that uses electricity (e.g., lights, pumps, fans, etc.).
- Because the food industry has been consolidated, fewer companies now control production. Food is often transported long distances from a select few locations, requiring additional energy to power planes, trains, cars and trucks.
The evidence is clear. Rising global temperatures have been accompanied by changes in weather and climate. Many places have seen changes in rainfall, resulting in more floods, droughts, or intense rain, as well as more frequent and severe heat waves. The planet’s oceans and glaciers have also experienced some big changes – oceans are warming and becoming more acidic, ice caps are melting, and sea levels are rising. As these and other changes become more pronounced in the coming decades, they will likely present challenges to our society and our environment. Visit nasa.gov to see real data and evidence.
The Reality: Some changes to the climate are unavoidable. Carbon dioxide can stay in the atmosphere for nearly a century, so Earth will continue to warm in the coming decades. The warmer it gets, the greater the risk for more severe changes to the climate and Earth’s system. Although it’s difficult to predict the exact impacts of climate change, what’s clear is that the climate we are accustomed to is no longer a reliable guide for what to expect in the future. We can reduce the risks we will face from climate change by making simple decisions of how we live daily and our personal approach to these topics; we can also put pressure on political and industry leaders by becoming involved in who lobby and work with those in charge.