The Wealth Gap & CO2 Emissions

In the “What if only 100 people existed on earth?” video, the narrator started to discuss how the distribution of wealth is not only not well dispersed, but highlights that the top 1% (with an annual income of over $1 million) of the global population owns 50% of the global wealth. This kind of spending power resting on the shoulders, or should I say the wallets, of such few individuals really peaked my interest.

On further research I found that there is an interesting mathematical correlation between a state/country’s state of income inequality and their “aggregate rate of emissions is an increasing function of of mean income and that any inequality-reducing redistribution of income will increase the aggregate rate of emissions” (655). This research actually discusses an equation that proves this point:

I found it very interesting that there is actually a Y variable in the above formula to represent an inequality constant that is used in calculating the average rate of emissions.

Irreversible Climate Change

In her article, “Irreversible climate change due to carbon dioxide emissions,” Susan Solomon and her colleagues express how the human race has such a large impact on the world’s climate change. The paper focuses on how the effects of increases in carbon dioxide on the atmosphere take around a thousand years to be repaired. Human activities were identified as the most prominent cause of the rise in “atmospheric concentrations of key greenhouse gases.” These increases in greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide, will result in a wider range of damaging and possibly irreversible climate changes.

Solomon highlights how complicated the multi-step process of carbon dioxide atmospheric extraction can be. The process includes “rapid exchange with the land biosphere and the surface layer of the ocean through air-sea exchange.” Typically, 20% of the added tonnes of carbon dioxide stay in the atmosphere while 80% becomes mixed in with the ocean. Ocean warming is just one quantifiable aspect of climate change. Unlike methane or nitrous oxide, carbon dioxide is the only greenhouse gas whose gases persist over time rather than periodic instances. The graphs below display the amount of carbon dioxide that is “expected to be retained in the atmosphere by the end of the millennium.”

These three graphs display carbon dioxide and global mean climate system changes. Results are represented with an 11-yr running mean.

Overall, the main point of Solomon’s article was to highlight how irreversible these small but detrimental gas emissions can be to our climate. Changes in sea levels, changes in precipitation, and changes in atmospheric warming can all be traced back to the increase in CO2 emissions into the atmosphere. Not only are these changes dangerous to the environment, but also play a vital role in the timeline of mankind.

Connecting Cars and Carbon Dioxide

According to a 2016 study conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), transportation accounts for 28% of total greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.  The transportation economic sector includes the movement of people and goods by cars, trucks, trains, ships, airplanes, and other vehicles, however, the largest sources of transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions include passenger cars and light-duty trucks, including sport utility vehicles, pickup trucks, and minivans.  These sources account for over half of the emissions from the transportation sector. The remaining greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector come from other modes of transportation, including freight trucks, commercial aircraft, ships, boats, and trains, as well as pipelines and lubricants.  The majority of greenhouse gas emissions from transportation are carbon dioxide emissions resulting from the combustion of petroleum-based products, like gasoline, in internal combustion engines.

Based on 2014 data from an EPA study, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions totaled 6,870 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents. This total represents a 7 percent increase since 1990 but a 7 percent decrease since 2005.  So how can we keep this number decreasing as it has been since 2005?  By implementing regulations and restrictions for fossil fuel consumption and combustion, but also by introducing alternative methods of transportation and best practice methods for transportation.  An example of a regulation is the EPA’s light-duty vehicle greenhouse gas rules, which are projected to save consumers $1.7 trillion at the pump by 2025, and eliminate 6 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas pollution. An example of a best practice method would be to reduce the travel demand by employing urban planning to reduce the number of miles that people drive each day and reducing the need for driving through travel efficiency measures such as commuter, biking, and pedestrian programs such as the EPA’s Smart Growth Program. As a country the U.S. can learn from practices other countries have implemented such as Germany, who is testing out a trial run of offering free public transportation in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emission. The EPA on behalf of the U.S. is trying, but are we trying hard enough?

CO2 Levels are Rising

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is a naturally occuring greenhouse gas that is a part of our atmosphere. The reliance on factories and various forms of transportation to burn fossil fuels have increased the amount of CO2 found in our atmosphere today. While, carbon dioxide only makes up 0.04% of the atmosphere this number has increased significantly overtime. Today CO2 levels consist of over 380 parts per million (ppm) but, prior to the Industrial Revolution carbon dioxide consisted of 270 ppm. Specifically, throughout this decade, CO2 levels have increased on average, 2.3ppm per year. Also, we emit 400 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year. In metric units this is 362.874 Tonnes. Again, this number simply shows that while CO2 makes up less than 1% of our atmosphere, the unnatural increase of CO2 has shown negative effects.

It is important that we find a way to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere because it has serious effects on the environment such as making our oceans more acidic and increasing the temperature on earth.  A New York Times article discusses the fact that removing Carbon Dioxide from the atmosphere is a potential way to stop global warming. The goal would be to keep the carbon dioxide below the two degree Celsius target estimated in 2015 by the Paris Agreement. However, this is an extremely difficult task. One suggestion would be to follow a process known as “direct air capture” to minimize its presence. All of the studies show that it is extremely hard to decrease the amount of CO2 currently in the atmosphere but it is crucial that we take conscious steps to reduce it for the future sake of our environment.

Driving and Carbon Dioxide Emissions

Part-time, I work for Vintage Pizza in Latham, NY. My aunt and uncle own and operate the business, and when I can I help out and work. Occasionally, I’ll take deliveries to customers if need be. I like to deliver, because I like to drive my car and it gets me out of the kitchen where I normally work. But I’ve noticed, more so recently as I’ve begun to pay more attention to my carbon footprint, just how much I drive and emit when I deliver.

When I got my car, it had 25,000 miles on it. Today, it has about 80,000 miles. I average about 30 miles per gallon, and my car’s tank can hold 12 gallons. If I’ve driven 55,000 miles in my car, at 30 miles per gallon, I’ve used about 1,834 gallons of gas over that time.

When I plugged this number into the Environmental Protection Agency’s Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator, needless to say I was pretty surprised. My emissions equaled that of the average yearly energy consumption of 1.8 homes. It was the equivalent of using 37.7 barrels of oil.

Now, not every mile I drove my car was a result of delivering pizzas for my family’s business. I drove countless miles around town and to and from various places. But using the calculator really put things in perspective. For as much as I like to drive, I need to be more conscious about just how much I emit when I do.

The Dichotomy of Excess CO2

Upon reading a study conducted by Phillip Hunter of the U.S. National Library of Medicine, it became more clear that excess Carbon Dioxide represents an interesting paradox that will have to be dealt with by humanity eventually. On one hand, CO2 represents an integral process that is paramount for the future development of trees and most non-marine plants. On the other, it can be attributed too the extreme degradation of Coral life, as well as, the stemming and expulsion of grass. Correlating excess Carbon Dioxide to the loss of Coral life is possible because of CO2’s effect at changing, ” the pH of their environment, which will challenge their biochemistry—particularly organisms such as corals, coccolithophores (single-celled algae), crustaceans and molluscs, all of which use calcium carbonate (CaCO3) to produce external skeletons or shell coverings.” This is important to understand because these creatures have evolved to accommodate minimal light and nutrients on the sea floor. Combining the presence of large amounts of CO2 can irreparably change their fragile environment. And while their is an estimated 406.99 PPM (according to, an estimated 75% of the Carbon Dioxide is sucked into the ocean. As humanity increases it’s CO2 output, the destruction of habitats for these creatures has the potential to become imminent.

While understanding CO2’s harmful effects on aquatic life, it can be considered a miracle grow for relatively all plants found on land. Accounting for approximately 96% of the mass of a plant during photosynthesis, the organic molecule of CO2 is the primary conductor that spreads the growth of plants. So much so that, “across a range of FACE experiments, with a variety of plant species, growth of plants at elevated CO2 concentrations of 475–600 ppm increases leaf photosynthetic rates by an average of 40% (Ainsworth & Rogers 2007). Carbon dioxide concentrations are also important in regulating the openness of stomata, pores through which plants exchange gasses.” How can this been seen as useful for humans? In gauging third world countries such as those find in Africa or Asia, the increased levels of CO2 in their atmosphere could act as the best possible fertilizer for most agriculture being grown. In addition, this increased output of plants represents an integral part of the many African and Asian towns and villages all over the world. This could be seen as a way out of poverty, with the increased promise of wealth coming from the stronger agricultural yield. So while, CO2 can be seen as having detrimental effects on one aspect of life, it can be viewed as an extremely prosperous and lucrative measure for many countries and people around the world.


Learning about Carbon Dioxide

An article published by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) discussed the effect greenhouse gases such as nitrous oxide, methane, and carbon dioxide, have had on radiative forcing on Earth. Energy from the sun is absorbed by Earth, and what is not absorbed radiates back into space, known as radiative forcing. Radiative forcing is responsible for rising temperatures on Earth, and rising temperatures are due to emissions of greenhouse gases that humans use for everyday activities. Carbon dioxide is the greenhouse gas that is primarily responsible for rising temperatures.


In the year 1990, the annual Greenhouse Gas Index ranked at a 1.0. In 2015, the Greenhouse Gas Index had increased by 37%, ranking at a 1.37. But what does this number, 37%, really mean for our planet, and how did this happen? First, in the United States, electricity generation, which occurs at power plants, accounts for 31% of greenhouse gas emissions since 1990, followed by transportation, which accounts for 26% of greenhouse gas emissions. Our economy accounts for a large percent of the greenhouse gases that are emitted each year. In the year 2010 alone, almost 46 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases were emitted in Earth’s atmosphere.

But what is 46 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas? According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, about 24 pounds of carbon dioxide are admitted for every gallon of gas used driving a car. 2,204 lbs is equal to 1 metric ton, so 46 billion metrics tons is equal to 101,413 billion pounds. 101,413 billion pounds is equal to 4,225.54 trillion gallons of gas. In other words, the emission of 46 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases can be explained in terms of the gas used to fuel cars each year, 4,225.54 trillion gallons of gas.

Thinking about Carbon Dioxide

Carbon dioxide, among other green house gases are naturally occurring. The green house effect/trapping of heat in Earth’s atmosphere is also naturally occurring. Warmed by the sun, our planet’s land and ocean surfaces constantly produce infrared radiation (heat). However, since the Industrial Revolution, there has been a lot of talk surrounding the use of carbon dioxide hurting our environment. The human population has been heavily reliant on the use of fossil fuels which exacerbates this issue of climate change. According to the video, “Climate 101,” we now rely on carbon-based fossil fuels to produce 85% of our energy, and humans produce up to 35 billion tons of carbon dioxide annually. Only 55% of this CO2 is absorbed by the ocean, land, and vegetation, while the rest is trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere causing an exponential increase in Earth’s temperatures. The biggest culprits to these numbers are fossil fuels, power plant and factories, and transportation. According to, “Without this natural greenhouse effect, Earth’s average annual temperature would be below freezing instead of close to 60 degrees F.” Despite this seemingly positive process, the way society functions today is hugely detrimental to the condition of our planet. Not only will temperatures continue to increase, but an increase in CO2 in the atmosphere also means an excess of evaporation, leading to an excess of precipitation, which will have the potential to produce catastrophic storms.

Climate Central also raises an inconvenient truth about the climate reality the human population now faces. “The world has blown past the 400 million parts per million carbon dioxide milestone, and is unlikely to return below that threshold again in our lifetimes.” Now naturally growing plants in the northern hemisphere will decrease these parts per million slightly, but until humans no longer need to rely on carbon-based fuels, we will bring a “one-step forward” too many steps back.

Finding a solution for high CO2 levels

A current environmental issue that is facing us today is how to control the rising levels of CO2 in the environment. CO2 levels have been increasing at a record rate, with the levels raising to 400.83ppm in 2015. This was an increase of 3.03ppm from the previous year, making it the first year that CO2 raised by more than 3ppm. Now, as of yesterday, the current CO2 levels are 405.19ppm. There is clearly a need to be concerned about the future of CO2 levels and a need to determine ways to slow their rising levels and begin to decrease the levels over time.

One idea that has been considered by scientists comes from the knowledge that trees consume CO2 in order to grow and, in turn, remove some CO2 from the environment. Additionally, they emit much-needed oxygen into the environment. In order to test the theory that trees may suck up CO2 and make strides in cleaning the atmosphere, scientists created a model environment that aimed to replicate the high CO2 levels that are inevitable in our future. They sprayed 2 tons of pure carbon dioxide into the canopies of trees in a 500 square meter plot every day for 6 months. This created an atmosphere with about 530 ppm of CO2, which is about 150% of what exists today.

Unfortunately, their experiment did not yield the results they had hoped for. The CO2 did not enhance the growth of the trees and leaves, rather the CO2 quickly passed through the bodies of the trees and quickly returned to the atmosphere. There was no decline in CO2 in the atmosphere and the extra CO2 did nothing to help with the photosynthesis of the trees or their oxygen emissions. Unfortunately, this demonstrates a need for more research to be done as to how to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere.

Article Link:

Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Increases

In reading an article from the Scientific American, I have learned that for the past five years, Carbon Dioxide levels in the atmosphere have increased at a rate of at least 2 parts per million, which is an “all time high” according to author Scott Waldman. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has been keeping a close watch on increasing Carbon Dioxide atmospheric levels due to the intense environmental threat increases in CO2 levels pose. Pieter Tans is a lead scientist at the NOAA’s Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network, and he is especially concerned at the rate of the increases of CO2 in our atmosphere, “The rate of CO2 growth over the last decade is 100 to 200 times faster than what the Earth experienced during the transition from the last ice age,” Tans said. “This is a real shock to the atmosphere” (Waldman 2017). Why the concern? High levels of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere can cause sea levels to rise, increase the existence of droughts, extreme weather including hurricanes, blizzards, and more. Outside of this article, I see my own concerns for rising CO2 levels in our atmosphere. A direct impact on all living things on this planet by the extreme weather is our ability to grow food. As the environment changes and becomes more hostile, it is also much more difficult for agricultural endeavors to thrive. This will end up causing food shortages and disastrous effects on all living creatures as well as the economy. Action must be taken to reduce Carbon Dioxide emissions and Carbon Dioxide levels in the atmosphere so that life can continue to thrive on Earth.

Link to article here.