If every family decided to use green energy for their home, they would cut down on ‘greenhouse’ gases while taking a stand against climate change.
The four major greenhouse gases that are released into the atmosphere are carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, methane and fluorinated gases. Carbon dioxide is the number one pollutant. Its accumulation arises from fossil fuel burning in order to power our homes and fuel our cars and other methods of transportation. Deforestation also speeds up this accumulation because plants soak up carbon dioxide and release oxygen into the atmosphere. With fewer plants, this delicate balance is upset, resulting in less oxygen and more carbon dioxide.
The Problem with Fluorinated Gases
Another problem is fluorinated gases. These are by-products of industry and are entirely man-made. Hydrofluorocarbons are used in refrigeration, air conditioning, foams, solvents and aerosols.
Sulphur hexafluoride is used in insulation and is a by-product of aluminum.
Perfluorocarbons result from the manufacture of electronics, cosmetics, non-stick cookery items and microwave food containers. They are also produced by the pharmaceutical industry in the formulation of drugs. Other types of ‘greenhouse’ gas emissions have been reduced in line with environmental protection policies but fluorinated gases are the only type that have actually continued to rise. Between 1990-2012 the production of fluorinated gases increased by 83%.
In addition to causing the same damage to the atmosphere that traditional greenhouse gases cause, fluorinated gas residues can appear in mother’s milk and pass on to the most vulnerable in our society – babies. They can also cause pregnancy complications, hormonal imbalances, slower cognitive development, formation of tumours, respiratory problems and collapse of immune system function.
Widespread use of fluorinated gases may be contributing to a weakened ability to fend off viruses and bacteria. It is considered normal for young 21st century children to have 12 colds a year – that’s one cold for every month of the year! As colds can last up to two weeks, this means that some children are ill 50% of the time.
Paradoxically, pharmaceuticals that are manufactured to treat illnesses and chronic conditions may actually be causing them by spewing out these harmful by-products into the environment that suppress multiple body functions and cause hypersensitivity and allergy.
Streams are laced with pharmaceuticals after people who have taken medication go to the toilet. Sewage plants clean water for many viruses and bacteria, but don’t purify medicinal residues so these end up in our drinking water. They can also be deliberately thrown down the drain or dumped in landfill sites by people unaware of how to correctly dispose of their medication.
Air Pollution and Respiratory Disease
Air pollution from all these different sources of greenhouse gases can cause mass respiratory disease in populations. Over 20 million people in the U.S now have asthma, six million of these are children. Although asthma is often thought of as a mere irritation, it can be a serious disease that results in life-long medication reliance, hospitalizations and even deaths. Asthma caused 1.8 million emergency room visits in the year 2005 alone. Triggers for asthma attacks include ozone, volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides.
Other respiratory diseases like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, bronchitis and even lung cancer. Today, lung cancer kills more people than any other type of cancer. Although much of this is the result of cigarette smoking, environmental air pollution problems like particulate matter and ozone increase the risk of dying when you have cancer.
Consequences of Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Greenhouse gas emissions have been estimated to stay in the atmosphere for hundreds of years after they have been released. They cause many unintended consequences –
Increasing Average Temperatures
Hotter more extreme summers cause the spread of diseases, an increase in deaths, higher use of air-conditioning (and with that, more pollution), crop failures and water shortages.
Rising Sea Levels
As the oceans absorb more heat, they rise. This has the potential to destroy coastal towns and it is associated with a risk of storms, damage to homes and public amenities and mass loss of life due to environmental disaster.
Rising temperatures also cause the polar ice caps to melt and are destroying the natural habitat of many species (for instance, polar bears).
Changing temperatures also affect plant growth and seasons and alter the delicate balance of natural ecosystems so that the food source of animals and fish is affected. This has a ripple effect on all eco-systems including humans.
How Using Green Energy Can Preserve our World
Choosing a green energy company and using renewable energy is important because green energy programs reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Governments in various countries have introduced subsidized sustainable energy schemes (such as free installation of solar panels for homeowners) and meters so that consumers can measure how much energy they are using. The UK government have announced that they hope to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050 through schemes such as this.
In the US, some solar companies offer low monthly payments to customers to install their solar panels, helping to bring affordable clean energy to everyone.
Green energy also boosts the economy by providing people with jobs (of the 5,000 fastest growing companies in America, some are alternative energy firms).
Investing in greener forms of energy not only means cleaner air and an income for families, but it also secures an ethical source of power for future generations. Saving the world is as easy as changing your energy supplier – you can make a difference today.
Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions Data, United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), accessed December 21, 2014, http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/global.html
How Air Pollution Contributes to Lung Disease, Physicians for Social Responsibility, accessed December 21, 2014, http://www.psr.org/assets/pdfs/air-pollution-effects-respiratory.pdf
Emissions of Fluorinated Gases, EPA, accessed December 21, 2014, http://epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/gases/fgases.html
Treating Your Baby’s Cold, Today’s Parent, accessed December 21, 2014, http://www.todaysparent.com/family/family-health/treating-your-babys-cold/
Reducing the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050, Gov.UK, accessed December 21, 2014, https://www.gov.uk/government/policies/reducing-the-uk-s-greenhouse-gas-emissions-by-80-by-2050