Carbon emissions are rising


The coal-fired Plant Scherer, one of the nation's top carbon dioxide emitters, stands in the distance in Juliette, Ga., Saturday, June, 3, 2017.

Catherine Johnson

Carbon emissions in the United States are moving in the wrong direction, and the potential consequences are devastating.

According to the Rhodium Group, U.S. carbon emissions increased by about 3.4 percent in 2018, ending a three year decline.

This marks the second largest annual increase in over two decades, surpassed only by a 3.6 percent increase in 2010 when the economy bounced back from the Great Recession.

In the 2016 Paris Agreement, the U.S. committed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions at least 24 percent of 2005 levels by 2025.

The Rhodium Group notes that recent growth in carbon emissions and the lack of any new federal climate policy risks putting this goal out of reach.

For the third year in a row, the transportation sector contributed the most to U.S. carbon emissions, followed closely by energy.

Carbon emission is an important contributor to climate change. According to NASA, carbon dioxide accounts for 20 percent of the planet’s greenhouse gases.

The ocean has significantly slowed climate change by absorbing about 55 percent of human carbon emissions. Unfortunately, this process has taken a toll on marine ecosystems.

Carbon dissolved in the ocean increases the acidity of the water.

Aquatic life has a range of tolerance for the pH levels of the water they live in. If the acidity gets too high, the animals can’t survive in that environment any longer.

This is why coral reefs become bleached. The colorful coral polyps eject themselves from the reef when they become stressed, leaving behind the white calcium shell they built. The coral can not survive on their own.

Other marine life will leave their environments when pH levels become intolerable, which has devastating effects on ecosystems. Many will simply die out.

Eventually, the ocean will be unable to dissolve any more carbon. When that happens, atmospheric carbon will begin to build at an alarming rate, causing rises in global temperatures that will have ripple effects throughout the natural world.

Carbon emissions need to be significantly reduced, and quickly. Individual citizens can contribute by carpooling or walking when possible, turning off lights and electronics when not in use, and pushing legislators to make carbon emissions policy a priority.

This problem will not go away without change in the way Americans use fossil fuels.

Things need to change soon, or it’s possible the effects will be irreversible.