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12.20: Reducing Greenhouse Gas Pollution

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    What can the polar bear do?

    Polar bears evolved to hunt from ice. As arctic ice melts, polar bears are having a harder time finding food. Polar bears can adapt to finding food in other locations, like garbage dumps--unhealthy and unsustainable food sources. But they can't do anything about reducing global warming. Humans are responsible for greenhouse gas emissions, so humans can reduce those emissions. It's not too late to get started.

    Climate Regulations

    The Clean Air Act of 1970 was crucial for reducing air pollution in the United States. The Clean Water Act of 1970 did the same for reducing water pollution. The Montreal Protocol was even more important in some ways. This treaty was the first time many countries came together to solve a problem. They created a good plan for reducing substances that destroy the ozone layer.

    A treaty similar to the Montreal Protocol is needed for regulating greenhouse gases. The Kyoto Protocol was passed in 1997. The Protocol focused on controlling greenhouse gas emissions. Many nations signed the protocol, but not all. The United States, which at the time was the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, did not. The U.S. is currently the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases after China. Other treaties have been worked on but there has not been much progress. There are many people, organizations and nations that think that this is too vague and too slow.

    A stricter agreement must be reached very soon. By doing nothing we are actively harming the earth—continuing to raise greenhouse gas levels and failing to prepare for the coming environmental changes. Efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions are mired in politics. Meanwhile, crucial time is being lost.

    Ways to Reduce Carbon Dioxide Emissions

    There are several possible ways to encourage organizations to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. They include cap-and-trade systems, carbon taxes, and carbon sequestration.

    • In a cap-and-trade system, each nation is given a cap on carbon dioxide emissions. This is the most carbon dioxide the country is allowed to emit. Sometimes a nation may need to go over its cap. In that case, it can trade with another nation that is below its cap. Below, you can see how this works (Figure below).
    • Carbon taxes are taxes placed on products that produce carbon dioxide. An example of this is gasoline for your car. The taxes encourage people to use less fossil fuel. This naturally reduces carbon dioxide emissions.
    • Carbon sequestration captures carbon dioxide as it is emitted by a power plant before it enters the atmosphere. The carbon dioxide is then stored in another form. Carbon is sequestered naturally by forests. Trees take in carbon dioxide for photosynthesis. Artificial methods of sequestering carbon underground are being researched. This is just one of the geoengineering methods that are being researched for reducing carbon dioxide.

    Diagram of how cap-and-trade works

    This diagram shows how a cap-and-trade system works.

    New technologies can be developed. Renewable energy sources emit fewer or no greenhouse gases. These sources are discussed in the chapter Natural Resources.

    What You Can Do

    Reducing the amount that temperatures will rise will take all nations working together. But individuals can make a difference. What can you do? Many of the same things that you do to reduce air pollution.

    • Walk, ride a bike, or take a bus.
    • Turn electrical appliances off.
    • Reduce consumption of products and packaging.
    • Unplug cell phones and other chargers when not in use.
    • Use compact fluorescent light bulbs.
    • Use directed lighting.
    • Be aware: take shorter showers, do not use more boiling water than needed, etc.
    • BE INVOLVED! Learn more about climate change. Talk with people about the problem and what they can do. Write letters to the editor or to politicians. It's your world and your future.


    • A cap-and-trade system gives nations a cap on the greenhouse gas emissions. Those that have a higher cap than they need can trade with a nation that needs more.
    • A carbon tax taxes carbon emissions to encourage conservation.
    • Carbon capture and sequestration is a geoengineering solution. This method removes excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and stores it.


    1. Why is a treaty between nations needed so that we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions? Why is there a problem getting a treaty that will work?
    2. How does a cap-and-trade system work? Could it work for cities or businesses in the same way it does for nations?
    3. What is carbon sequestration? Does it prevent carbon dioxide from being emitted? Does it keep carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere?

    Explore More

    Use the resource below to answer the questions that follow.

    1. What is the purpose of carbon sequestration?
    2. What are the three pillars of the Global Climate Change Initiative?
    3. What is CCS?
    4. What is CCS being used for today?
    5. How is CCS done?
    6. What type of stone is carbon dioxide pumped into? Why?
    7. Why are cap rocks important? How do scientists know cap rocks work?

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