Did you know that nine of the ten hottest years recorded in the U.S. were from 2013 through 2021? According to experts, 2021 was the sixth-warmest. And judging by how hot the 2022 summer is, this year could also make it to the top ten.
Aside from the U.S., the U.K. also experienced severe heat events, notably last July 2022. Back then, the British government issued its first-ever red-level extreme heat warning.
Unfortunately, such events will be more common unless the world reaches net zero.
But what is net zero, exactly, and what does it have to do with extreme climate and weather events? Should you even care about it, and if so, why?
We’ll answer all those questions and more in the guide below, so keep reading.
What Is Net Zero?
Net zero is a state of balance concerning greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere. In particular, it involves reducing and removing GHGs that come from human activities.
In short, the end goal of net zero is to negate or zero out the amount of atmospheric GHG emissions.
What Are GHGs Anyway?
Greenhouse gases trap heat in the atmosphere. They help sustain life on Earth by keeping it at a suitable temperature. Thus, without naturally occurring GHGs, it would be too cold for living things to survive.
Water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, and ozone are some naturally occurring GHGs. However, they can also be anthropogenic, which means human-caused. These include GHGs from combusting fossil fuels for energy and methane from landfills.
The problem is that anthropogenic GHGs have become so abundant in the atmosphere. As a result, the atmosphere is heating up at such a fast rate. That’s what lies behind global warming and climate change.
How Can Reaching Net Zero Emissions Help?
The fewer anthropogenic GHGs in the atmosphere, the less heat it traps. So, completely removing human-made GHGs can slow global warming and climate change.
Mitigating those phenomena through net zero, in turn, can yield the following benefits.
Limit Atmospheric Warming
Limiting atmospheric warming to under 1.5° C (2.7° F) is a primary goal of net zero emissions. The Paris Agreement aims to achieve that by 2050. At the very least, it calls for reducing emissions by 45% come 2030.
If achieved, that can reduce the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events. For instance, fewer deadly droughts, heatwaves, and heavy rains could occur.
Prevent Rising Sea Levels
According to scientists, limiting global warming to 1.5 C can reduce sea level rise by about .1 meter by 2100. That reduction, in turn, can decrease the number of people exposed to risks, such as floods, by 10 million. Likewise, it can help protect habitats and wildlife from the dangers of flooding.
Protect Terrestrial and Marine Ecosystems
Global warming causes the planet to heat to a point beyond what many species can survive. For example, extreme heat contributes to or triggers mass die-offs among wildlife. In addition, high temperatures stress animals, making them ill or even causing death.
Climate change also modifies habitats that animals depend on for food and survival. For instance, in the Far North, global warming has caused sea ice to melt. As a result, many species, such as polar bears, Pacific walruses, and seals, are on the brink of extinction.
Even worse, scientists predict that over a third of animal and plant species can go extinct by 2050. They also forecast that to jump to 70% by the end of the century. They say such can occur if the current GHG emission rate continues or increases.
That’s why reducing GHGs and achieving net zero emissions can help protect wildlife.
Aside from GHGs, burning fossil fuels also emit many air pollutants. These include particulate matter (PM), ozone, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides. In significant amounts, they endanger humans, animals, and the environment.
Now, one of the goals of achieving net zero emissions is to reduce fossil fuel combustion. After all, burning them for energy accounts for the most significant emissions. In the U.S. alone, it accounted for 73% of the country’s total GHG emissions in 2020.
Thus, meeting the net zero goal also reduces fossil fuel combustion pollutants. As a result, the air can become cleaner and healthier for everyone.
Better Food Production
Droughts and flooding due to heavy rains reduce agricultural produce. After all, these events can prevent crops and farm animals from growing. Moreover, climate change affects soil health and causes reduced food quantity and quality.
Fortunately, achieving net zero goals can help lower the likelihood of extreme events. Thus, it can also help improve food production and produce quality. Ultimately, it can lead to better food security.
How Do We Achieve Net Zero Then?
Everyone on Earth must help reduce anthropogenic GHG emissions to achieve net zero. However, just as crucial is to remove excess emissions from the atmosphere.
Here are some ways that countries, businesses, and even individuals can reach net zero.
Preventing New Coal Power Plants
Burning coal adds more CO2 to the atmosphere than any other fossil fuel. That’s why many refer to coal as the dirtiest fossil fuel. For the same reason, eliminating its use is integral to reaching net zero goals.
Fortunately, more countries are making commitments to stop opening new coal plants.
Phasing Out Coal Power Plants
Stopping new coal plants from opening is vital, but so is phasing out existing power plants. The good news is that OECD member countries plan to do so by 2030. Moreover, a roadmap is in place for their global elimination by 2040.
Switching to Renewable Energy Sources
Humans still need electricity to survive, but fortunately, clean, renewable sources are available. These include solar, wind, falling water, geothermal, and biomass, to name a few. Moreover, their carbon footprints are much smaller than fossil fuels like coal.
In addition, renewable energy sources have become cheaper than fossil fuels. After all, many of them, such as solar and wind, are inexhaustible and self-replenishing. By contrast, fossil fuels are non-renewable, taking millions of years to form.
Using Carbon Capture Technology
Offsetting emissions too costly or challenging to avoid requires their physical removal. That’s what carbon capture technology does; it captures carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Moreover, such equipment can store the CO2 they trap permanently.
Investing in Energy-Efficient Products
Energy-efficient products consume less energy than their non-efficient counterparts. As a result, they also have lower GHG emissions.
Hence, energy-efficient products can contribute to achieving net zero goals. For the same reason, the more of these energy-saving products you use, the lower your GHG emissions. Plus, since they use less energy, they can also help you save on utility bills.
Light-emitting diode (LED) lamps are excellent examples of energy-efficient products. For starters, they consume about 75% less energy than incandescent bulbs. In addition, LED lasts far longer than any other lighting technology.
Switching to Cleaner Solar-Powered Vehicles
Electric vehicles and equipment can run on power generated by solar panels.
Solar energy, as noted above, is one of the cleanest energy sources with a small carbon footprint. Thus, using it to charge electric cars and equipment can reduce emissions. Moreover, it can serve as an alternative to traditional electric heating systems.
Water treatment and wastewater plants in the U.S. account for about 2% of energy use in the country. That energy goes into cleaning, treating, pumping, and supplying water to consumers. It may seem small, but that energy use is equivalent to around 45 million tons of annual GHG emissions.
Thus, businesses and consumers can be one step closer to net zero by reducing water use. You can achieve that in your business or home by using water-efficient appliances. Ensuring your plumbing system doesn’t have leaks is another way to reach that goal.
Once disposed of, organic waste contributes to emissions as it degrades. For example, decomposing organic waste emits carbon dioxide and methane. Methane is also a GHG, but its warming effect is 80 times that of CO2.
Inorganic waste also adds to atmospheric GHGs because it requires incineration for disposal. That combustion results in more gases like CO2 entering the atmosphere.
For that reason, minimizing waste is critical in achieving net zero goals. You can start doing so by simply choosing to buy products you need and refusing those you don’t. Reusing and recycling items instead of binning them can also help cut your waste.
Time To Go Net Zero
And there you have it, the ultimate guide that answers the question, “what is net zero?” Now you know that it refers to the goal of reducing and removing anthropogenic GHGs. You also learned that achieving this can help preserve Earth, wildlife, and humanity.
So, as early as now, consider doing your part in helping mitigate GHG emissions.
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