What Can We Do?

In his Rough Guide to Climate Change, Robert Henson states that "the global-warming problem isn't going to be solved tomorrow, next week, or next year: we're in this one for the long haul. And there isn't one single solution. We need governments to agree and enforce targets; innovators to develop low-carbon energy sources and improve energy effiency; and individuals to do their best to reduce their own carbon footprints."

Consider the table below, which lists numerous technologies that are currently available or are expected to become available within the next 25 years. Please keep in mind that these are practices that would be implemented by governments, communities, and industries—we will explore steps that families and individuals can take in a later reading.

Sector Key mitigation technologies and practices currently commercially available Key mitigation technologies and practices projected to be commercialized before 2030
Energy Supply
Improved supply and distribution efficiency; fuel switching from coal to gas; nuclear power; renewable heat and power (hydropower, solar, wind, geothermal and bioenergy); combined heat and power; early applications of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS, e.g. storage of removed CO2 from natural gas). CCS for gas, biomass and coal-fired electricity generating facilities; advanced nuclear power; advanced renewable energy, including tidal and waves energy, concentrating solar, and solar PV.
More fuel efficient vehicles, including hybrid vehicles, cleaner diesel vehicles, & biofuels. Shifting from road transport to rail and public transport systems. Increased non-motorized transport (cycling, walking, etc.). Improved land-use and transport planning. Second generation biofuels; higher efficiency aircraft; advanced electric and hybrid vehicles with more powerful and reliable batteries.
Efficient use of lighting and daylighting. More efficient electrical appliances and heating & cooling devices. Improved cook stoves, insulation, and passive & active solar design for heating & cooling. Increased use of alternative refrigeration fluids and recovery & recycle of fluorinated gases. Integrated design of commercial buildings including technologies, such as intelligent meters that provide feedback and control; solar PV integrated in buildings.
More efficient end-use electrical equipment. Improved heat and power recovery; material recycling and substitution; control of non-CO2 gas emissions; and a wide array of process technologies used in industry. Advanced energy efficiency; CCS for cement, ammonia, and iron manufacture; inert electrodes for aluminium manufacture.
Improved crop and grazing land management to increase soil carbon storage; restoration of cultivated peaty soils and degraded lands; improved rice cultivation techniques and livestock and manure management to reduce CH4 emissions; improved nitrogen fertilizer application techniques to reduce N2O emissions; dedicated energy crops to replace fossil fuel use; improved energy efficiency. Improvements of crops yields.
Forestry Improved afforestation (the establishment of a new forest by seeding or planting on nonforested land); reforestation; forest management; reduced deforestation; harvested wood product management; use of forestry products for bioenergy to replace fossil fuel use. Tree species improvement to increase biomass productivity and carbon sequestration. Improved remote sensing technologies for analysis of vegetation/ soil carbon sequestration potential and mapping land use change.
Increased landfill methane recovery; waste incineration with energy recovery; composting of organic waste; controlled waste water treatment; recycling and waste minimization. Biocovers and biofilters to optimize CH4 oxidation.
Key mitigation technologies and practices by economic sectors. Sectors and technologies are listed in no particular order.
Adapted from Table SPM.3 in the IPCC AR4 WG3 Summary for Policymakers.

There doesn't appear to be a shortage of steps that we can take to reduce our carbon emissions, but there is no single fix. Rather than exploring each of the sectors, along with their associated practices, we'll take a closer look at a specific mitigation strategy and how one community is trying to reduce its climate impact before moving on to personal mitigation approaches.

One final caveat—some of the technologies listed here may be associated with other environmental concerns (e.g. increased uranium mining and the subsequent need for nuclear waste storeage that would be required by more nuclear power plants).

Last modified May 8, 2008 by Dennis Ward.

You might also be interested in:

Cool It! Game

Check out our online store - minerals, fossils, books, activities, jewelry, and household items!...more

World Leaders Developing a New Plan to Help Earth’s Changing Climate

Leaders from 192 nations of the world are trying to make an agreement about how to limit emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases, mitigate climate change, and adapt to changing environmental conditions....more

What is Climate?

Climate in your place on the globe is called regional climate. It is the average weather pattern in a place over more than thirty years, including the variations in seasons. To describe the regional climate...more

Earth's Greenhouse Gases

Less than 1% of the gases in Earth's atmosphere are called greenhouse gases. Even though they are not very abundant, these greenhouse gases have a major effect. Carbon dioxide (CO2), water vapor (H2O),...more

Space Missions to study Earth's Atmosphere & Climate

Television weather forecasts in the space age routinely feature satellite views of cloud cover. Cameras and other instruments on spacecraft provide many types of valuable data about Earth's atmosphere...more

Modeling the Future of Climate Change

Predicting how our climate will change in the next century or beyond requires tools for assessing how planet responds to change. Global climate models, which are run on some of the world's fastest supercomputers,...more

Effects of Climate Change Today

The world's surface air temperature increased an average of 0.6° Celsius (1.1°F) during the last century according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). This may not sound like very...more

What Controls the Climate?

A factor that has an affect on climate is called a “forcing.” Some forcings, like volcanic eruptions and changes in the amount of solar energy, are natural. Others, like the addition of greenhouse gases...more

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA